Sunday, February 12, 2012

“Singing workshop”: a building where songs are repaired?

I was at a business meeting recently and we were asked what we did. I explained as well as I could.


Photo © Copyright Anne Burgess and licensed for reuse
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A guy came up to me in the break and asked: “Yes, but what actually happens in one of your sessions? And what is a ‘workshop’ any way?

how do you explain what you do to outsiders?

He couldn’t conceive of what might happen when a bunch of people got together in a room to sing.

Maybe we just spontaneously burst into song together, or people took turns to sing solos, or we sang along to a karaoke track.

I realised that a lot of the descriptions I use to explain (and sell) my work rely on preconceptions and a certain amount of jargon (‘workshop’, ‘harmony’, ‘unaccompanied’, ‘by ear’).

We all do this from time to time. We’re so close to our own business or preoccupations that we forget that an outsider may not have any idea what we’re talking about!

I use the phrase “singing workshops” when describing what I do. I have a theatre background so am very familiar with using the word ‘workshop’. But other people may not have a clue what I’m on about.

what is a ‘workshop’ any way?

When you look at the meaning of ‘workshop’, you come up with things like:

  • a room or building where things are made or repaired using machines and/or tools
  • a meeting at which a group of people engage in intensive discussion and activity on a particular subject or project
  • to present a performance of (a dramatic work), using intensive group discussion and improvisation in order to explore aspects of the production prior to formal staging

Oh, wait, here’s one that’s nearer the mark:

  • a group of people engaged in study or work on a creative project

I guess that’s much nearer to what I mean, but it still doesn’t quite hit the mark.

just a teacher of songs

Basically, when I run a singing workshop, I just teach songs to a bunch of people.

Sounds simple, but there is a lot involved. Of course, teaching and learning take place (of new songs, of singing skills), but also:

  • art and creativity,
  • social bonding,
  • study,
  • rehearsal,
  • skill improvement,
  • cultural awareness,
  • music making,
  • team work,
  • developing self awareness,
  • exposure to foreign languages,
  • stress release and physical exercise,

and so on.

There is not much discussion, it’s not a democratic process (see The Benign Dictator in What the job of choir leader involves), we’re not repairing anything (except, perhaps, souls and inner lives!) and we’re not putting on a piece of theatre.

what’s a better term than ‘workshop’?

Some people who want to join my community choir refer to it as a ‘course’ or ‘class’ or weekly ‘lessons’. I’m not a singing teacher, I teach songs. There is a certain amount of vocal training involved, but people basically come to sing.

Sometimes my workshops have been called ‘singing days’ or ‘singing weekends’. Longer ones might be called a ‘singing holiday’.

Anybody out there got any ideas for better words than ‘workshop’ that describe what I do? I’m open to suggestions!

It has to be something that the general public can understand easily and hopefully be descriptive.

When I Google “singing workshops” I get 368,000 results.

When I Google “singing lessons” I get 3,270,000 results.


Chris Rowbury's website:

Chris Rowbury


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