Sunday, May 30, 2010

Singing workshops: what is it you do exactly?

Back in January this year I shared with you my journey so far of Becoming a choir leader.

Singing safari 2009

Yes, I am a choir leader, and I have one community choir, but the majority of my living comes from running one-day singing workshops. By accident, I now earn my living entirely by teaching songs to people! This is what I do ...

what is it you do exactly?

“So what do you do for a living?”

I teach songs.

“Ah, a singing teacher! I wish I could sing.”

No, I’m not a singing teacher, I teach songs. And I believe that everyone can sing.

“Well, not me! So you work in a school?”

No, I don’t work with kids. I teach songs to adults who like to sing.

“What, you mean like a choir? That’s posh!”

Well, I do have a choir, it’s a community choir. We do it for fun, it’s not really posh. But most of my work is leading singing workshops.

“Singing workshops? Like how to make a song?”

No, more like a one-off class where I teach songs.

“Do you do songs from the shows? Pop songs?”

No, that’s really not my kind of thing. I did do pop songs for a while as I thought they would be popular workshops, but I realised that pop songs are very hard to learn.

“What kind of thing then? Mozart? Handel’s messiah?”

No, traditional songs from all around the world. Folk songs from different countries.

“We used to do ‘Kookaburra sings in the old gum tree’ at school! I remember ‘Kumbayah’ too.”

They’re not really folk songs, they were written in the 1930s. Also, I teach songs in their original languages, we don’t do many songs in English.

“But what if you can’t speak foreign languages?”

You don’t need to. I give out the words phonetically and you just learn them by rote. I spend some time on getting the pronunciation right though.

“I think it’s really clever when people can just pick up a piece of music and sing.”

We don’t use written music. You don’t need to know anything about music or music theory to come to one of my workshops. I teach everything by ear. Most of the traditional songs I teach are passed down orally and not written down.

“Do you use a piano or have backing tracks?”

Neither. I teach songs without any musical accompaniment. We make a wonderful sound just using voices and creating amazing harmonies.

“I couldn’t come to one of your things, not only can’t I sing, but I wouldn’t know any of the songs.”

You don’t need to. Most people won’t have heard the songs before.  Everyone will be in the same boat learning new songs from scratch. And lots of people are like you and don’t believe they can sing.

“What kind of songs do you do? I don’t think I know any foreign folk songs.”

I bet you do. They use loads of them on TV ads these days. There was one time they used a Ladysmith Black Mambazo song (they’re from South Africa and sang on Paul Simon’s Graceland album) to advertise baked beans, and the amazing Bulgarian women’s choir to advertise a make of car. You’d be surprised where this stuff pops up!

“So you think I could come along and learn something?”

Sure. I don’t assume any experience and my workshops are open to anybody over 16 who loves to sing, even if they think they can’t. I get people who only sing in the bath, people in their 50s who haven’t sung since school, and people in their 80s who’ve been in choirs for years.

“Won’t they all know more than me? It seems a bit daunting to walk into a room of people who think they can sing.”

You’d be surprised. Most people feel as nervous as you and assume everyone can sing better than them. Everyone’s a bit hesitant at first, but I always start with a warm up which involves lots of silly noises and actions so people are soon laughing and relax pretty quickly.

“How long are your workshops? I wouldn’t have thought I’d learn much in a couple of hours.”

My one-day workshops are usually six hours long with an hour’s lunch break, but I also do one-off workshops as short as two hours. You’d be amazed at how quickly a group of strangers can be singing in harmony and making beautiful music! I reckon to get through between four and six songs in one day. That means really getting to grips with them and singing them well at the end of the day.

“So where’s your next workshop?”

You can find details of all my workshops on my website. I go all over the place and work three Saturdays out of every four, so you can bet there will be one near you. I also do occasional residential workshops where you can go and stay for the whole weekend and learn loads of songs in a relaxed atmosphere.

“What if there are no workshops near me?”

I go where I’m asked! You can find out about the kinds of workshop I offer on my website, then you can book me to come to your area and run a workshop just for you and your friends or your choir.

“I’m based in Los Angeles. When will you next be there?”

Well I’m based in the UK, so probably not in the foreseeable future I’m afraid! The furthest I’ve been for a one-day workshop is Brussels, and I’ve also run a whole week’s workshop in France. But as I say, I go where I’m asked, so who knows!

“Are you the only person who does these kinds of singing workshops?”

Not at all! I’m a member of the Natural Voice Practitioners' Network (NVPN) which has over 200 members across the world. We all share the belief that everyone can sing, that everybody should have access to music-making and that no prior musical knowledge is necessary. You can find loads of singing workshops on the NVPN website.

“In LA?”

We only have a few members in the US, and none of them are in LA. But I have lots of contacts over there and I’m sure I can point you in the right direction. There’s an organisation based in Canada similar to the NVPN which covers North America: The Ubuntu Choirs Network.

“So this kind of work only goes on in the UK and US?”

Not at all. There is a lot of similar work in Australia, and to a lesser extent in other countries.

“I might check it out then, see if I can find a singing workshop to go to.”

You do that! You’ll find that you love it and who knows, maybe it’ll become a new lifelong passion.


Chris Rowbury's website:

Chris Rowbury


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