Sunday, June 15, 2008

The singers shall remain nameless

(this post is somewhat related to last week’s: Getting to know you)

I’m just back from running a weekend workshop with about 40 singers. Weekend workshops are slightly different from one-day workshops in that you can spend more time building the songs up and can really get to grips with them so that people go home feeling that they’ve got something firmly under their belt.

Weekends also tend to be far more of a social event as the participants have plenty of time to get to know each other. Partly because of this, I usually include some kind of name game in the first session. I don’t do this in my one-day workshops as I don’t think there’s ever enough time to remember all the names, and it takes such a long time if there are 70 or 100 singers!

Since I was running a Beatles acappella workshop, I thought it would be a good idea to incorporate some kind of singing exercise into the name learning. I decided to work round the group three people at a time. I first asked them to speak their name, then I gave each one of them a note as part of a major chord. I then roughly divided the rest of the group into three parts and got each section to sing the relevant person’s name on the chosen note. After getting through about 12 people, I then went back and pointed at each person in turn and got the group to speak their names.

As I went round the group and people became familiar with the exercise, I added a fourth person each time and made more jazzy chords that can often be found in Beatles songs. It was quite a successful warm-up exercise, got people singing in harmony, and most people seemed to remember most names (at least for a few minutes!).

Except me that is! I found that, because I was focusing so much on the exercise, that after about three sets of three names my brain just went dead and I couldn’t remember any new names. So by the end of the exercise I hadn’t really learnt anything!

Do other workshop leaders find this? Do you have any better, more successful name game ideas? Do you think workshop participants even have to know each others’ names?

One of the things I love about singing in harmony, is that you can get a bunch of strangers together and make beautiful music in a short period of time. It is an egalitarian process so you don’t need to know anything about the people your singing with. An executive director can be standing next to a secretary, a university professor next to a shop assistant, a recently divorced person next to a person with a chronic illness. We’re only interested at this point in the sound that comes out of people’s mouths. Nobody is being judged on their career choice, life history, appearance, family background, education, etc. etc.

I have often had feedback from workshop participants that they have appreciated the fact that I haven’t done name games or gone round the circle asking people to say a little about themselves. It gives people a chance to just be without fear of judgment. Later perhaps, people might socialise and get to know a little about each other, but by then any shyness or inadequacies that people might have felt by others’ status or background has long past.

go to Chris Rowbury's website

Chris Rowbury


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