Monday, June 01, 2015

Singing with a group of strangers – mixing and mingling ideas for learning names

It always amazes me how surprised people are that a group of strangers can sing harmony together in just a few minutes. It’s not necessary to know the other singers to be able to sing well with them, but some people feel that they need to be introduced.

How can you get a group of strangers to get to know each other quickly without taking up too much time? Here are a few ideas.

singing as the great leveller

What I love about singing – especially working with a group of people I don’t know and who’ve never met each other before – is how we can create beautiful music together without knowing anything about each other.

It doesn’t matter what someone’s job is, what their musical experience is, how much they earn, what their sexuality is, how old they are, what their life story is: it just matters what comes out of their mouths.

You can read more about my thoughts on this in We’re all equal here: singing together is the great leveller.

Yet many people still feel the need to know the names of the people they’re singing with.

name games

I don’t know about you, but I’m rubbish at remembering names.

Many workshop leaders use name games to introduce people to each other at the start of the workshop. There are loads of these games, but they all come down to repeating the names of all the participants at some point. If there are, say, 40 people in a workshop this can take an hour or more. And if we add a little bit of introduction too, it will take even longer!

I’m OK with the first five or six names, but then I blank out. There is no way that I’m going to put 40 names to 40 faces in such a short time. Besides which, haven’t we come to sing and not play name games?

There may be a place for name games (if you still feel you need to know names) in a longer workshop, say a week or maybe a weekend. Then there is more time.

I still maintain though that it’s best to sing together first and learn names afterwards. Knowing about someone too soon can hit your confidence, e.g. if you’re just starting out and the person next to you is a professional singer.

name badges

OK, for some reason you need to know everyone’s name, so let’s just ask people to stick name badges on.

That’s fine if you’re someone who need to use a person’s name in every sentence “Hi Dave. How are you today Dave? Have you come far Dave?” but not everyone does that.

In any case, name badges don’t help you learn names because you just have to look at their chest each time you talk to them instead of having to remember.

ideas for singing workshops

I’ve come up with a few ways of introducing names which don’t take precious time away from singing. Over time it can help a few names stick (at least as well as formal name games).

Whether you need to know people’s names or not it also has the effect of mixing the group up and mingling people together so you feel like you’re all in the same team.

Here is what I do.

1. organise the singers in a circle in a particular order
The obvious way is to order people alphabetically by first name. Fix a point that is ‘A’ and indicate that the alphabet goes round the circle clockwise so that ‘Z’ ends up next to ‘A’.

This means that people have to talk to each other and introduce themselves in order to find out where they fit in. It gives people a purpose for mingling and also helps those who find large groups hard to handle.

Once everyone has found their place in the circle get them to introduce themselves briefly to the person on either side – just a name will do.

2. continue with the warm up or singing
Then carry on with the warm up from these positions in a circle. Or if it’s later in the workshop you can teach a round or even sing a harmony song like this. It’s a great way of mixing voice parts up at random.

At a later stage in the session you can mix the circle up again so that people end up standing next to different people.

Here are some other ideas that I use to order the circle:
  • alphabetical order of last name
  • numerical order of birth date (don’t include the year!)
  • alphabetical order of town you were born in
  • numerical order of house number (put any house names A-Z before the number ‘1’)
  • alphabetical order of the town that you live in
  • alphabetical order of your first school’s name
There are plenty more possibilities!

ideas for regular choirs

If you run a choir that meets regularly you can also use the ideas above.

Inevitably you will have new members join from time to time who want to learn people’s names. But more importantly there will be people who’ve been in your choir for several years who still can’t remember that particular tenor’s name or that soprano’s name, especially if they sing a different part. It can be embarrassing after five years to ask someone to remind you of their name.

So use the circle ideas above and everyone will be in the same situation, especially if you use more unusual ways of ordering the circle (height, colour of top, number of years in the choir, etc.)

I also maintain a rogue’s gallery of mugshots on our (private) choir website. If a singer can’t remember someone’s name, they just go to the website and find the relevant photo. Avoids lots of potential embarrassment.

I ask people to supply a photo when they first join. If one is not forthcoming in the first few weeks, I just bring my camera along to rehearsal.

other ideas

Do let me know if you have other ideas for getting to know people quickly. Also I’m intrigued as to why it’s so important for some people to know names and have name badges. Do share your reasons, I’d love to know why!

I love getting your comments and I aim to reply to all of them as quick as I can.
I’m also always on the lookout for new ideas for articles and ways of improving my blog in general.

Thanks for reading!

Chris Rowbury




Chris Rowbury


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