The Marches/Knighton Wild Choir is taking a break but will continue later this year.
The Older Women’s Network in Sydney spent a great morning in February doing a Wild Choir workshop. No-one had done anything like it before and feedback at the end was totally positive. Sadly we could not fit in any more.
I was especially impressed by individual women’s knowledge of birdsongs – including an astounding rendition of kookaburra song.
Here are some notes to help groups run their own Wild Choir workshop – feel free to use, adapt or share.
Re-wilding your voice – Wild Choir workshop plan
These notes are to help you get started. Groups will soon work out their own ideas and find what works best for them. When working as a whole group, be in a circle, with seats for those who find it awkward or impossible to stand (and everyone when they want a break).
Does everyone know each other? If not, go round with each person saying her name. Then go around again with everyone singing or saying their name with a brief movement.
Obviously we breathe all the time and are pretty good it! However, to make full use of the voice we need to make sure to use the diaphragm. Which means: when breathing in, relax your shoulders (keep them down) and push your belly out, so your rib cage expands as the air goes in. If you want to check, rest your hands gently on your belly. Feel your rib cage lift as the air enters. As you breathe out, feel the rib cage collapsing inwards.
Start with slow breaths, and as you breathe in, take your arms up above your head and let the finger tips touch at the top. As you breathe out, slowly bring your arms back down to the side.
After a few breaths like that, change what you do with your arms: stretch up as tall as you can, arms straight above. If you are standing up, (if you can, then do, it’s easier) stand on your tip toes as you stretch the arms up. When you bring the arms down, bring them right down as near to the floor as you can get without any strain. Next time, start with the highest sound you can make, and as you bring your arms down, slide your voice onto the lowest sound you can make. No rush, just move at a comfortable pace.
After about three or four of those, have a shake of arms, hands, legs and feet. Give your face a massage, waggle your ears, rub your jaw and neck. If you are on your feet, try standing on one leg at a time.
Now step up the pace a bit, but don’t go on with this next exercise for too long as sometimes people can hyper-ventilate and get dizzy. People who have done yoga breathing will find it fairly easy.
Rhythmic breaths and vowels
Take a short but deep breath in, pushing your belly/diaphragm out. Suck your belly in as you breathe out ‘Ha’. Change the shape of your mouth, so ‘Ha’ changes to ho, hee, hi, hoo, or hey. Remember to breathe in as well as out! In-breath: belly out; out-breath: belly in. Consciously feel the way your stomach muscles move, expanding and contracting. Do as many out-breaths per in-breath as you can comfortably manage, don’t worry if you have to keep taking more breaths, but try and be observant. As you keep going do you find you need fewer in-breaths? Enjoy the feeling and the rhythm. If there are enough of you, divide into small groups, three or four, and see if you can come in at slightly different times or speeds, with different vowel sounds, and build up a rhythmic piece. But stop before anyone gets exhausted.
Lots of fun to be had experimenting with the different consonants of the alphabet, repeating, making them into rhythms, fast, slow, loud, soft. If you have different languages and alphabets in the group so much the better!
This explores all the non-vocal sounds we can make without needing any musical instruments: hand clapping, foot stamping, finger clicking, tapping cheeks and altering the pitch by changing the shape of your mouth, foot sliding… Try making up rhythms using different parts of your body; if people are confident enough you can go round the circle with each individual doing her own short rhythm and everyone else repeating it, try and do it quickly, without thinking about it much, just whatever comes out. (Anyone can opt out of this if they feel too shy). If there are children in the group, body percussion is great for using up energy, as they can do lots of jumping and stamping and twirling around and some children will come up with all sorts of wonderful ideas. But remember, it’s all meant to be fast, each person just taking a few seconds to make a sound that the rest of the group repeats back briefly.
Listening is a vital part of making music, wild or not. We need to listen, really listen, and may need to make a conscious effort to do so. Sometimes there is so much noise around in our immediate environment, and we try and zone sounds out. Cities are full of noises, traffic, alarms, people..and often so are rural areas, with hedge trimmers, chainsaws, tractors…
But in a calm workshop space we can listen and enjoy it.
This exercise is based on the dawn chorus. Best done with eyes closed.
Imagine it is that time just before dawn when everything is very still, and then the first bird starts singing, maybe just a few notes. Then there will be a silence before another bird responds, or the same bird sings again. Slowly others join in, with less and less space between each call, until finally they are all singing together in one amazing chorus. And all this before the onslaught of human morning sounds.
Our end sound may not be as amazing or beautiful as the birds but that’s not the point. The idea is that we listen to each other very carefully. No-one rushes to start. Slowly, each individual comes in with a short sound (it doesn’t have to resemble a bird, but something that you can repeat easily and that won’t require too much effort). Leave lots of space between the sounds. Don’t feel under pressure to come in with your own sound straight away. Initially, the bigger the gaps between the sounds, the better. Build it up very slowly, increasing volume as well as frequency of repetitions. Let it run for a while, and then slowly fade it all down again to silence. The group may need to do this several times before finding a spacing that feels comfortable and instinctive. Some people may do wonderful bird sounds, others brief body percussion; it doesn’t matter.
When there’s no pressure to sing an actual tune, people are more relaxed and can freely find comfortable notes to sing. A group can create a wonderful vault of sound this way. Again, the key word is ‘listen’. Sometimes it’s easier to do this with eyes shut.
Each person breathes in slowly and then out with a note, any note, any pitch, held for as long as is comfortable. Each breathes and sings in her own time. Listen to the voices around you, if you can’t hear everyone else you are too loud. Sometimes it’s good to take it in turns to stand in the centre of the circle and hear how it sounds without your own voice. The group will find its own rise and fall over time, including how to end. Again, you might want to have several goes and see how differently it turns out each time. Sometimes it’s good for everyone to move around slowly (but if so then keep your eyes open..)
This is an interesting way to create some structure in the pieces: divide into smaller groups, each group deciding on a group sound or rhythm that can easily be repeated or developed. Individuals take it in turn to conduct the groups in and out, thus composing an original piece. Beware, some people may fall in love with the sense of power this gives!
Other inspirations from the natural world
Sea, river, water in general, storms, creatures, trees and wind..what sounds might be made underground? By root systems, trees communicating? Or tiny insects or tunnelling mammals?
Maybe the larger group will want to divide into smaller groups each composing their own piece based on a scenario they choose.
Try and incorporate all the sounds and techniques explored so far into a group composition, conducted or free. Keep listening to each other and the overall effect. Enjoy it, let your voice and imagination expand. This is your space to be whatever you want, unjudged and unintimidated. Lose track of time.
Ending well is important – have a chat, give each other feedback, compare how you felt it all went, maybe over a cuppa – and arrange another session!