Choral CHARISMA 

 

Session Notes

IES Session Notes: Music in the Morning 
To All IES Attendees: Please contact me if you have any questions about what we did together or what you might be working on. 
If you'd like to apply any of these concepts with your group, I would LOVE to support you in whatever way I can!

tpcarter@earthlink.net

I try to do these or similar exercises whenever I begin working with singers. Going straight through the exercises takes about thirty minutes, and provides a solid foundation for expressive singing. With a comprehensive foundation, singers are much more likely to have full understanding, buy-in, and commitment to the authentic expression process. In these session notes, you’ll find my specific approach and some of my approximate language. Please change and adapt as you desire. J

All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players” (As You Like It, 2.7.142—).

We’re all incredibly expressive in our daily lives. In fact, if Steven Spielberg sent a camera crew to follow you around for a week, and then edited the footage to movie length, he would be impressed! Each of you would be so natural, so real, so authentically expressive that you might be nominated for an Academy Award! But if I told you to get onstage and sing, using those same expressive abilities, chances are you wouldn’t know exactly what to do.

In the next half hour or so, we’ll be exploring what we humans do in real life . . . so that you can use those same skills in your singing.

Bodymind & Mindbody: The Connection

Have the singers stand and slump while frowning or pouting. “Whatever you do, don’t smile. On the count of three, say, ‘I’m so excited!’ trying to get your neighbors to feel some of that excitement as well. But DON’T CHANGE YOUR BODY AND DON’T CHANGE YOUR FACE.  One, two, three, GO!

Now stand tall, bounce on your toes, pull your shoulders back, hold your chest high, and SMILE. Look at your neighbors and give them a thumbs-up if they’re smiling. Great! Hold that vibrant smile and overall energy, but stop the bouncing. Now your line is, ‘I’m so depressed!’ On my count: One, two, three, GO!  Wonderful!

Now, slouch and slump while you pout or frown. Your line is, ‘I’m so depressed!’ On my count. . . .

And one more time: Your line is now, ‘I’m so excited!’ Stand tall, chest high, bounce on your toes, SMILE, stop the bouncing but hold the energy, and . . . GO!”

Process the experience. “What did you notice? Was it odd to have the body and the truth of the text not line up? Did somehow feel right, congruent, and natural when the text’s meaning and the body matched up? Absolutely. This is all because each of us has a mindbody and a bodymind connection—the mind impacts the body and the body impacts the mind. While the mind and body send signals to each other, when humans interact on a daily basis, the mindbody connection is predominant, and the bodymind connection is secondary. Hold this thought. . . .”

Here’s how it works: When you have a thought and a related feeling, specific parts of your brain kick out neurochemicals that spark an electrical impulse, sending an electrical signal from the brain to the spinal column. The signal then travels down to a specific nerve or nerves that transport it to a particular muscle which then engages. Remarkably, and without you having to control it, that muscle engages. And your body displays your mind’s emotion! This might be a frown, a smile, a grimace, clenched fists, slumped shoulders, a bouncy step, a deep sigh, a yell, an epithet, or even a snarl!”

Just as the mind affects the body, so does the body affect the mind—the process simply goes in reverse. [At this point in the exploration, I asked participants on one side of the ballroom to look at me while clapping softly, smiling, and nodding their heads. At the same time, those on the other side of the ballroom were jabbing their finger towards me and glaring at me.] When a particular muscle engages, IT sends a message back through the nerve and spinal column to the brain, where the brain releases neurochemicals corresponding to that muscular action. So, if you consciously smile, your brain literally releases neurochemicals associated with happiness. If you make yourself frown and slump, your brain releases neurochemicals associated with depression. And when those neurochemicals hit, you experience a taste of those emotions. So. . . how many of you on on this side of the room [the ones smiling and clapping] felt angry? Irritated? Upset? Judgmental? [Nary a one!] Interesting! And how many of you on this side [glaring and jabbing] felt gratitude? Joy? Contentment? [Nobody!] All right, how many of you [applauding smilers] felt gratitude? Appreciation. . . ? And how many of you on the other side felt irritation? Judgment? Anger? Amazing! And I didn't give either side any reasons to feel any particular way; all you did was move your bodies a certain way."

So what? This is why it’s critically important for singers to allow themselves to move—and flesh out the truth behind the text. A stiff singer’s body will send a message to the brain akin to fear, apathy, or disengagement  . . . and the brain will experience similar thoughts and emotions. Conversely, a singer whose brain is focused primarily on singing well or making sure they smile at the right times will be a singer whose body reflects those particular thoughts—and not the human truths imbedded in the text. 

Take a stand: The Active Neutral Stance. Since the singer needs to be free to move so that their body and mind can work together to authentically express the song, the way singers stand is important.

1)   Stand with feet hip or shoulder width apart, one foot slightly in front of the other. This will allow the body to move side-to-side and front to back at the mind’s moment-to-moment prompting.

2)   Elevate the sternum, allowing for full expansion and flexibility of the ribs and back.

3)   Energize the hands and arms in a relaxed “six-shooter” position—ready for any gestural signals. Hands resting against the legs sends a particular signal to the brain; if that fits the text, go for it. Otherwise, energize.

4)   Tuck the hips under and lean just slightly forward, helping to give vibrancy and focus to the tone while encouraging an urgency to the mind’s messaging.

So far we’ve learned that humans’ minds affect their bodies and their bodies affect their minds. But what else do we do in real life that we might not be aware of? Let’s take a closer look.

“Think of a time when you experienced or witnessed a funny, scary, or exciting live event. Now, split up in groups of two, with both of you facing each other and standing in the active neutral stance. One of you will talk for about forty seconds while the other simply listens; even if you have questions or want to share with the speaker, just listen. That said, you may of course react to the story! Speakers, if it’s a funny story, see if you can get your listener to laugh. If it’s a scary story, see if you can get the listener to feel some of that fear. And if it’s an exciting story, see if you can get them to feel some of that adrenalin. Wait for my cue to begin. When the time is up, I’ll give a clap sequence and say, ‘Switch’ — and the speaker becomes the listener while the listener becomes the speaker. And . . . begin!”

After leading the exercise, I’ve found it helpful to have the singers gather together to process. I ask these questions:

  • By a show of hands, how many of you saw pictures or mental movies of what you were talking about? That’s called imagery, and the vast majority of us do that whenever we talk about a past event, a place we’ve been, a person not in the room, or even something imaginary like a fantasy vacation.
  • How many listeners saw pictures of what the speaker was talking about? We mentally model what we perceive to be happening in other people’s minds, resulting in our having similar thoughts and feelings.
  • How many listeners noticed that the speaker’s face had different expressions (it didn’t just stay in “passive neutral”)?
  • How many speakers noticed that the listener’s face had different expressions?
  • How many listeners noticed that the speaker’s body moved—it didn’t just stay in “passive neutral”?
  • How many speakers noticed that the listener’s body moved?
  • How many listeners noticed that the speaker’s voice had different levels of pitch, rate, or tone?
  • How many speakers noticed that your emotional state changed throughout the story?
  • How many listeners noticed that your emotional state changed throughout the story?
  • How many speakers tried to get your listener to experience any moment in your story a particular way? Anybody notice that your listener laughed, looked scared, or seemed really engaged with your story? If so, how many of you noticed that you felt a little victory at the time—a joyful “YES!” that went off in your head? This attempt to affect the other person is called the objective. When we communicate, we attempt to affect what the other person thinks, feels, or does. Our focus is on them as well as on our imagery, and when we affect them the way we want to, we experience a victory of sorts . . . and our brain registers it as such, rewarding us with a positive neurochemical release.
  • And this is key: How many of you said to yourself, “Alright, this is a scary story so I’m going to start by showing that I’m anxious about a noise I heard, with my brow furled and my head held still—and my eyes moving quickly right and left. When I talk about locating that mysterious sound, I’m going to raise my left eyebrow until I say the word, ‘werewolf,’ after which I’m going to relax the eyebrow and open my mouth one inch while taking in a reverse gasp for 3 seconds, clearly indicating to my listener that I was scared. I’m going to feel terror here, and my voice is going to get 60% louder with increased laryngeal tension. When I get to the ‘It-was-only-my-cousin-playing-a-trick’ part, I’m going to shift my expression to bemused relief; I’m going to smile, but I’m only going to lift the right side of my mouth while the left side scrunches—and I tilt my head slightly to the right while my eyes go cross-eyed. Right after, I’m going to open my eyes super-wide while lifting my hands up and out with a ‘Can-you-believe-it’ gesture.”  Did anybody take that approach throughout the story? Probably not, because. . .

The vast majority of us don’t function that way in day to day behavior. Our feelings, facial expressions, bodies, and voices change automatically as a result of our thoughts—we don’t normally control, manipulate, or exaggerate them that way. That said, we sometimes will exaggerate “for effect,” like when we’re trying to get a laugh. And because each of us has observed human behavior since we were babes in the cradle, most of us know when humans are communicating authentically and when they’re faking it. When we witness inauthentic communication, we are not affected in the same way—we aren’t as connected to the human truths being communicated.

The amount of authentic emotion and engagement—both speaker’s and listener’s—that we just experienced in the room is testimony to another very powerful truth of human communication. When we experience authentic communication, we are mentally, emotionally, and physically engaged—whether we’re the speaker or the witness. Due to mirror neurons, empathy, and a process called emotional contagion, watching and listening to an authentically connected speaker leads to our experiencing similar thoughts and emotions.

To summarize: humans have mindbody and bodymind connections, we use imagery, we play objectives, we focus on the Other, experiencing victories and defeats based on their response to us, and our moment-to-moment expression is automatic and based on all of the above. 

BUT. . . that story you just told was based on a real life experience, and you were speaking, not singing. What happens to authentic human imagery, objectives, expression, gesture, et cetera when we sing? When we use our imaginations rather than our real life memories? When the text is hard to relate to?

Here’s a scenario/story to play with: I tell the singers that I’m agoraphobic—afraid to leave my house—and I’ve become addicted to social networking as well. All I do is text and look at Facebook all day. The singers, meanwhile, know how wonderful life can be. . . and what I’m missing. Their objective in this scenario is to get me to come out of my imaginary house and enjoy life to the fullest.

To increase the imagination quotient, the singers will be communicating about an imaginary topic, something I KNOW they have never experienced. At my prompt and in unison, they will say something like, “I had a wonderful time on the moon last night, and you can too!” And they will use their imaginations about this moon experience as they play the objective: I want to get him to come out of the house and enjoy life. They will win if I “come out of the house.”

Standing in active neutral stance, the singers start by speaking (or shoutingJ) to get through to me. When I raise my hand up, however, the singers will actually sing their words. “If you were to read the text of everything you say, it would read like one big speech; when you sing, you’ll just be continuing your attempt to affect me as you keep tapping into your imagination.” When the arm comes down, they speak. Up? Sing. Down? Speak. And we’ll go for about three minutes—with me ultimately opening the imaginary door and stepping out of the house. [I try to block them out at first, but get more and more interested as I observe them through the windows. . . .]

At the end of this exploration, we process:

  • How many of you saw images of what you were talking about? What you were singing about?
  • How many of you noticed that your bodies were engaged—you gestured or otherwise moved?
  • How many of you noticed that your voice varied in pitch, volume, or other qualities—all related to the meaning of your words and the intensity of your engagement in the moment?
  • How many of you happened to notice that your face was expressive, not just stuck in passive neutral?

The singers now realize that singing can be just as authentically expressive as speaking, even when the subject requires them to use their imaginations rather than tapping into actual experiences. “The brain doesn’t know the difference between truth and imagination; virtually identical mindbody/bodymind processes occur with both.”

With most groups, there will be different levels of commitment to the exploration above. This presents a great opportunity to introduce a key concept related to performance commitment: the Inner Critic. “Did anybody notice that you got a little nervous when I said you were going to sing when I raised my hand? Did anybody get a little self-conscious during the activity? Any thoughts of, ‘I sound so stupid!’ That’s called the inner critic, but I also call it the Coolness Cop—the part of each of us that protects us from making a fool of ourselves. Did anybody think, ‘I don’t know what melody to sing here!’? That part of us wants to make sure we are not rejected for our self-perceived inadequacies. I call it the Perfection Police.”

We discuss two elements:

1)   To be a confident, empowered, and fully expressive performer, our Inner Critic must be small. If that part of us is too big, our fears rule us; we choose safe over vulnerable. Timid over fully committed.

2)   People have found several ways to lessen the Inner Critic’s impact. They’ve said to that part of themselves, “Hey, everybody else is going for it and they’re still OK.” And, “Thanks for protecting me all these years. But I’m a big person now, and I can do it myself.” Perhaps the most effective tool for minimizing the Inner Critic is the focus on the Other, raising the stakes and doing everything possible to impact that being. This is effective simply because the Inner Critic is all about SELF-consciousness, and OTHER-consciousness is its direct opposite. If you’re completely immersed in the act of impacting the Other, the brain will have no room for the Inner Critic. Even if your entire story is imaginary.

A Singer Prepares

As you prepare to connect authentically to a song, the following questions can serve as a guide:

1)   In what scenario or Story might someone speak this text? As you consider, leave the audience out of it initially. While you might sing it to them eventually (when they’ll probably be playing a different character), think of a Story in which “this audience” does not exist. Come up with a few possibilities and see which one would work for you or your group. Importantly, members of the group can have different specifics, but the emotional landscape of the story must be similar, and it must match the tone of the music (light, playful, intense. . .).

2)   After deciding on the story that supports the text—and fits the music—decide who you are specifically. The more details you create, the better, but you can have a strong and authentic connection to a song with a basic identity. Note: You can sing as yourself, or you can sing as a character—either choice yields authentic e3)   Whom or what are you singing to? You might decide that you’re singing to one specific person, animal, or deity, or you might decide you’re singing to a group. Either way, flesh out the details: Who is the Other? What is their name/s? What do they look like? Why do they need to hear your words? These can be people you know in your real life, or they can be people your imagination invents. If you do the work to make them specific, either choice will give you a path to authentic expression.

3)  Flesh out your imagery and truths. Pulling from your real life experiences as well as your imagination, create specific sensory images for every line of text. What would you know if you were a real person singing this truthful song? What specific thoughts are you thinking? What visual images? What specific sounds? Tastes? Smells? Sensations of touch?


4)   To whom or what are you singing? You might decide that you’re singing to one specific person, animal, or deity, or you might decide you’re singing to a group. Either way, flesh out the details: Who is the Other? What is their name/s? What do they look like? Why do they need to hear your words? These can be people you know in your real life, or they can be people your imagination invents. If you do the work to make them specific, either choice will give you a path to authentic expression.

5)   What’s your objective? How do you want to affect this person or people specifically? Do you want them to think something different? Feel something different? Do something different? All of the above? Relatedly, do you have any subtext whereby your literal words are different than your underlying thoughts or message (as in sarcasm or irony)?

6)   What is their resistance? Why aren’t they doing, thinking, or feeling the way you want them to? The more you specify and enhance this obstacle/s in your imagination, the easier it will be to commit to affecting your Other.

7)   What are the stakes? In other words, why is it so important for you to sing these words to them? What will happen to them if you do NOT affect them the way you’re trying to? The higher you make the stakes (positive or negative), the easier it will be to fully commit.

8)   How do they react to you? Do you affect them the way you want to? If so, when in the song? This moment will allow you to create a victory for yourself that will impact you in the moment.

9)   Are there other key moments (key changes/moments before major dynamic changes. . .) in which they have a particular reaction to you that might motivate a different tactic or different amount of energy on your part?

10)   What’s the time and place? When does this occur? Where are they? What’s behind them? To the sides. . . ? The more details you create, the easier it will be for your imagination to support you.

11)   What just happened that precipitated your urgent need to sing these words right now? Did they say something to you? Did someone else tell you something about them? Did you witness them doing something that’s got you itching to deliver this message?

12)  Who are the other singers onstage in your story? Are you members of a group with a particular mission to affect this Other or Others? How are you related? Have you all been through something together that affected you? Do you all know the same Other or Others, or are you standing alongside peers who are all singing to a different Other or Others?

13)   Do you have anything in your life experience that is similar to this scenario? Have you ever had a similar objective? Have you ever wanted to affect someone this strongly? Who were they? What happened? What was your experience in this true-life story?

14)  In your own words, what key message would you give your Other? What do you want them to know? To do? To feel? Fill the space below (or speak for about thirty seconds). . . .


The Director’s Special

Create a Safe and Supportive Environment

Respect singers’ time

  • Start rehearsals promptly
  • Have an organized rehearsal plan (but stay flexibleJ)
  • Rehearse efficiently
  • Give breaks (consider an organized movement game like “Bippity, bippity, bop!” below if the singers have been relatively still for a long time)

Show kindness, empathy, and sensitivity towards others

  • See individuals as precious souls, treating them accordingly
  • Avoid shaming and sarcasm
  • Avoid anger, yelling, and lid-flipping . . . and if you do shame or anger, apologize to rebuild trust
  • Have a healthy overall perspective. Get the big picture and don’t sweat the small stuff.
  • Be mindful of interpersonal and group dynamics, adapting to them or addressing them when appropriate

Be authoritative rather than authoritarian

  • Be firm when you need to be, but don’t be bossy or dictatorial
  • Have healthy boundaries around rehearsal management, but lead with kindness

Empower rather than overpower

  • Work consciously to create a community wherein all feel valued
  • Give singers choices, respecting their input
  • Collaborate whenever possible
  • Consider that “we’re all in this together, working with a shared purpose toward a common goal”

Maintain conscious awareness:

  • Cultivate self-awareness, understanding personal triggers and reactive thoughts
  • Have the ability to control your own behavior, acting for the good of all rather than reacting to personal frustrations
  • Reflect on your own leadership experience often, looking for ways to be even more effective

Create Support within the Group

Encourage kindness and thoughtful behavior

  • Give example: Even something as seemingly harmless as looking at the person next to you and rolling your eyes after hearing a fellow singer ask the same question somebody else just asked will introduce a lack of safety.

  • Introduce projection

                        We tend to dislike or judge traits in others that we don’t like—and often don’t even recognize—in ourselves. So, if you are thinking something negative about someone else, keep it to yourself while you look inside to find that same trait.

                                    Next step? Acceptance and forgiveness!

Building Mutual Respect

Language of Equality 

  • In order to create an environment in which all feel valued, use language that communicates equality. “I” or “Me” statements can communicate a power or value imbalance, shifting the energy in the room in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Using a predominance of the first person “I” sends the message that you see yourself as The More Important Person or The One to Please. The use of second or third person (you, we, us) communicates equality and respect.

          Instead of saying, “I want you to do a box step here,” try something like this: “Let’s try a box step here” or “You’ve got a box step here . 

                  Instead of saying, “I need more legato here,” consider something like this: “Sing this phrase with more legato.” Or “Can you sing this phrase   more legato?” Or “Let’s try singing this phrase more legato.”

                  Instead of “Do this for me,” consider something like this: “Try this.” Or “Can you try this?” Or “Let’s try this.”

                  “That’s what I want!” becomes “Amazing! Your vowel was so uniform there that you sounded like one voice!”

  • Give choices

                        Even something as seemingly small as checking in with singers about their need for a break—or asking them which music they’d like to end the                 rehearsal with—will honor them as valued collaborators.

  • Ask questions

                        Asking questions about their perceived progress toward mutual goals will help singers improve their own musicality. It will also reveal your valuing of them as collaborators.

                                    “What did you notice about that phrase we just sang? Anything we can take from that and apply to other sections?”

Empowering Authentic Expression

 Rehearsal Tools for Singers

  1. Move each other as the meaning moves you. Place hands on shoulders of people around you. (“Safety first” with young or potentially aggressive singersJ)

  1. After a few rounds of that, take hands away but move yourself as the meaning of the music moves you—and as you need to to affect your Other.

  1. Side-to-side connections; look right and left, trying to impact the singers next to you. Something as simple as sharing a Story-related smile will draw singers together—and begin to transform the experience for the audience.

  1. Whole-body draw (thanks to Tim Caldwell and Expressive Singing: Dalcroze Eurhythmics for Voice). Use your entire body to draw the meaning of the words as you sing. [This is great to help singers connect to meaning.]

  1. Pre-sing & Prime the Pump: “On my count,” tell the Other/s what you want them to know, feel, or do. Based on your Story and objective, “just talk to” the Other, using your own words related to your objective. If the objective is to get the Other to cheer up (think of “Tomorrow” from Annie), the verbiage might sound like this: “Jenny, I know you are having a terrible day. Your cat ran away, you lost your job, your partner broke up with you, and you just found out that your mom is in the hospital. But it will all work out! If you focus on the positive and just keep putting one foot in front of the other, you will get through this. [The sun’ll come out. . . . :-)]

  1. Paradigm shift? Directors, during rehearsal, have the singers try to impact you rather than the other way around. Feel free to connect authentically to the music and to your singers, but resist any temptation to use your own facial expression or body to try and affect them. If you want to give them more of an obstacle, resist them so they have to work harder. (If they are trying to cheer you up, stay grumpy as long as you can!)

  1. Give singers lots of opportunities for authentic movement during warm-ups. Whether they’re doing a sports activity, cooking, painting, or building a house, encourage them to move with a simple and pure purpose—to do the activity successfully rather than “showing” the activity to anyone, exaggerating the action, or “trying to get anyone to feel anything” about the activity.

The Journey from Day One of Rehearsal through Performance

  • Incorporate Story elements early, coming up with a potential Story yourself, or having them brainstorm and present ideas. IMPORTANT: The singers can have different stories if their general objective and resulting emotional affect are similar. But if it’s a sincerely joyful love song, one outlier’s sarcastic objective CAN NOT BE “to make my Other feel terrible because they jilted me”!
  • Keep connecting to and referencing the Story elements as you rehearse daily—musicality will proceed exponentially.
  • As you find ways to physicalize singers’ objectives within the Story and in the rehearsal/exploration process, keep an eye for potential staging opportunities. Singing to someone and physically trying to affect them is one way. Connect the physicalizing to the objective, and possibly to the Story itself. If your Story is that you are singing to a child who has just been bullied, and your objective is to "want them to feel loved" or "help them develop confidence again," one singer can be that child, sitting down with head in hands in front of the group (or breakout smaller groups). Once all are in place, singers do anything and everything they  can to achieve their objective. This could include stroking the "child's" hair, gently removing their hands from their eyes, sitting down next to them and taking their hands, giving them a massage, gently pulling them to their feet, giving them a hug, et cetera. 
NOTE: These physicalizations can often inspire ideas for stagingideas that can make it even easier for singers and audience members to connect with the humanity expressed in the piece.
  • If you find a compelling staging, play with it, constantly helping singers to be specific and committed in their objectives
  • If no staging is a better way to present the song, empower singers to use all of their tools during rehearsals and performances
  • Throughout the entire process, concentrate on the internal expressive process rather than the external expressive result of the singers. “Smile more here” might be what you think the song needs, but “Can you raise the stakes so you work harder here to get your Other to smile?” will keep the singers on an authentic expressive path.
  • As the Story takes shape, consider having the singers take a moment “during the applause after the previous song” to load in the specifics for the new one. If they have a compelling reason to sing the song, they can’t “load in” just with the downbeat.

Games for Enhancing Expression and Commitment . . . Minimizing the Coolness Cops and Perfection Police

 If you play any of the following games to help singers commit with greater presence, consider asking them some/all of the following questions when you process their experience:

 The Inner Critic Questions

         Here are some questions to ask whenever you sense the group is suffering from overactive “Coolness Cops” or “Perfection Police.”

1. How many of you were aware of your inner critic?

2. What was your inner critic telling you?

3. How did the inner critic affect your voice? Body? Mind?

4. Did anybody find a way to deal with your inner critic and commit more completely?

5. Was anybody’s inner critic just too strong to overcome that time? Why do you think that is?

6. What is it like to express yourself with a smaller, or even an absent, inner critic?

7.  After challenging the group to deal with the inner critic, you might say, “Did you happen to notice if your inner critic was quieter this time?”

I have used the inner critic questions with literally thousands of people over the years and am convinced: A person will become more confident and more expressive through awareness and discussion of the inner critic. As with all personal growth, awareness must come first. Only after the singer develops awareness can they take steps to free themselves from the inner critic’s stifling impact. With your guidance, their singing will “become more expressive as they learn to “know their enemy.” Once the inner critic is held up to the light of awareness, its power will fade.

Safety, Vulnerability, and Commitment

The way you facilitate the following exercises is crucial. Here are some guidelines:

        1. Help the singers process their experience (either in small groups or large, and it can be very brief—even as simple as them raising their hands if they noticed their inner critic holding them back). “What did you notice about your own process? What was different this time?” Encourage them to use “I” and not “you” when they respond. This will bring them back to themselves, and   help them realize that people have different experiences. This processing can be done any time       you feel it’s necessary, but works well at the end of each “round.” Invite volunteers to share, and   allow them to discuss only their own process, not thoughts about other individuals.

        2. Remind everyone of the importance of support. The way they support each other in these exercises will have a significant impact on their expression, and on their ability to trust one another and be trustworthy. Reinforce the notion that there is no “good or bad, right or wrong” way to do any of the exercises. They are all designed to help the participants explore process, both their own and the group’s.

        3. Avoid singling anyone out when you make comments. Saying something like, “The whole group had more commitment, but Joanne still “needs to work on it” is potentially shaming and not as supportive as saying, “The whole group had more commitment, and we still have room for growth. Fabulous!”

         4. If you’re concerned that a particular singer really needs to “hear” the message or grasp a critical concept, you can do more exercises with the group. (The odds are good that others could    also learn at a deeper level.) Checking for understanding and self-awareness is also helpful. Saying something like “How many of you notice that you get nervous when someone is watching you sing?” can give you a sense of whether or not individuals grasp their own particular needs. When all else fails and you just have to let an individual know that “you’re talking to them,” call for a slight break or create an assignment that will enable you to speak to that person without drawing attention.

THE GAMES

Zip! Zap! Zop!

The purpose of the game is to introduce the concept of commitment and inhibition, and give the singers an opportunity for both self-awareness and group awareness.

How to play: The director and choir members stand in a circle (or circles if the group is bigger than 30). One person extends their arm straight out towards another singer, looks them steadily in the eye, and shouts (projects loudly), “Zip!”  Whoever the person is pointing to “receives the energy,” extends their arm toward another singer, looks them in the eye and shouts, “Zap!” That singer extends their arm and shouts, “Zop!” This continues until someone makes a mistake by saying a word out of order. Then, the whole group reaches in front of them and pulls an imaginary cord, making the sound of a klaxon horn (“Ah OOOOO Ga!”). And the game continues with the last person to get the energy starting it off with a “Zip!”

About the Exercise

  • The game is meant to be fast and loud (but without vocal strain).
  • The singers will have varying levels of commitment. You might need to model what total commitment is, then challenge them once more.
  • Encourage them to get very specific about throwing the energy and sound “into the very soul” of their intended receiver.

This is a good exercise to do early in the group formation process, or at the beginning of a retreat.

Potential Questions for the Group

  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how many felt that your commitment level was above 6? Above  8? Above 9?
  • The Inner Critic questions (see above)
  • What did the group energy feel like that time as compared to the first time we did it? Anybody notice a difference?
  • How did you feel when the group energy was more completely committed?
  • How does this relate to singing?” (They might say things like, “When you sing, you are passing energy, too,” or “When each person fully commits, it makes a huge difference.”)

Bunny! Bunny! Bunny!

Similar to Zip! Zap! Zop!, the purpose of this game is to increase the opportunities to confront the inner critic.

The group stands in a circle again, but instead of one person sending and receiving the energy, this game has three people doing so, with one operating as the leader. Instead of saying zip, zap, or zop, “Bunny, (bunny, bunny…..)” is said as many times as the leader wants it to be.

Here’s how you play: The leader represents the “inner ears” of the bunny, and cups both of their ears with their hands, making their ears “bigger.” They then wiggle their hands. The person on the leader’s right is the right “outer ear” of the bunny. They cup their right ear with their right hand, and wiggle that hand. The person to the left of the leader cups their left ear with their left hand and wiggles that hand. When the leader starts saying “Bunny, bunny…,” the people representing the “outer ears” say it with them. So, you have three people all wiggling their “ears” and saying “Bunny, bunny, bunny…” (Some people find their inner critic very quickly here!) To send the energy, the leader extends both arms in front, hands palm to palm, and looks someone right in the eye when the last declarative “BUNNY!” is shouted. The receiver of the energy becomes the leader and the bunny’s inner ears. The two people on their sides become the two outer ears. And the pattern is repeated for as long as you feel the singers are benefiting. Then stop, process, and play again.

About the Exercise

  • The game is meant to be fast and loud (no vocal strain however).
  • The singers will have varying levels of physical, vocal, and mental commitment. You might need to model what total commitment looks like, then challenge them once more.
  • Encourage them to get very specific about what their arm does, where they look when they throw the energy, how they project their sound “into” their intended receiver.

This is a good exercise to do early in the group formation process, or towards the beginning of a retreat. It’s always good to “break them in” with Zip! Zap! Zop! first, however. 

Potential Questions for the Group

  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how many felt that your commitment level was above 6? Above 8? Above 9?
  • The Inner Critic questions (see above)
  • What did the group energy feel like that time as compared to the first time we did it? Did anybody notice a difference?
  • How did you feel when the group energy was more completely committed?
  • How does this relate to singing?

Sound Ball

Long a staple of improvisational theatre, this activity ups the ante slightly in terms of commitment, risk, and expression. It also introduces the element “of “trusting your creative process.” (As a precursor, you might do a warm-up, in which you make silly sounds—animal or otherwise—and then have the group repeat them in unison.)

How to play: The group stands in a circle. One person starts, “throwing” a sound with their hands, arms, and/or body. However they throw the sound, they must make committed and steady eye contact with their intended receiver. The receiver repeats the sound, “catching” it with their hands/arms/body, then throws a new and different sound to somebody else. This is where trusting the creative process comes in, because the sound they throw is spontaneous and created in the moment. Encourage them to allow “nonsense” sounds and gibberish to “come out,” and not words or animal sounds. If some singers do make those sounds, however, just ignore it or process it non-judgmentally when the round is complete.

About the Exercise

  • The game is meant to be fast and spontaneous.
  • The singers will have varying levels of physical, vocal, and mental commitment. Their inner critic will often show up when the singers are called upon to “catch” and repeat a challenging sound that they fear they can’t do “well.”
  • Encourage them to get very specific about the sound they “catch” and their intended receiver.

This is a good exercise to do before the next two.

Potential Questions for the Group

  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how many felt that your commitment level was above 6? Above 8? Above 9?
  • The Inner Critic questions (above)
  • How does this relate to rehearsing? Performing?

Sound Transformation Circle

This is a very effective, instructive, and helpful exercise that puts the individual more in “the spotlight,” requiring them to express themselves publicly for a longer period of time. The exercise does have an element of safety built in, however, which prevents it from being overwhelming. That safety element is the fact that everyone’s eyes are closed when the individual is doing the expressing.

Here’s how to play: Everyone stands (or sits) in a circle with one of their fists extending into the circle, arm bent 90 degrees at the elbow. All except one person have their eyes closed. The person with their eyes open is the first person to go. (If this were you, you could lead by example.) This person moves into the middle of the circle where they keep walking around, establishing and then repeating a random sound pattern. They continue to make the random sound pattern until they have a creative impulse to change it. They then let it change gradually, without intellectualizing or “forcing,” until it evolves into a new random sound pattern that they like. When they find that pattern, they move toward someone in the circle and tap them gently on the fist. The person tapped then opens their eyes and makes the same sound pattern in unison with the person in the middle until they are confident that they have a close approximation of the pattern. They then move into the circle (their eyes are open, remember) and the former sound-maker sits in the vacated seat and closes their eyes. (Their fist is now “down, not up.) This continues until all singers have been tapped. The last person to go does the sound transformation, but then ends the activity “dramatically, with either a “bang” or a “whimper” of sound. Is this exercise risky? You bet! Are there opportunities for growth? Absolutely.

About the Exercise

The possibilities for commitment and risk are endless. Volume? Pitch variation? Weird rhythm? Odd quality of voice? Yes, all these are possible territories for discovering self-expression and confronting inhibitions. Like in Sound Ball, some people’s inner critic will tell them that they can’t make the sound they are being given. This is a great opportunity for you to briefly side coach them through their Perfection Police resistance.

It’s sometimes helpful to demonstrate the difference between “pre-planning” the sound you are going to evolve to, and “allowing” the transformation to take place in the moment.

This exercise begs for complete processing, then an immediate do-over, time permitting. Lots of awareness of self-process will occur in the group.

Questions for the Group

  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how many felt that your commitment level was above 6? Above 8? Above 9?
  • The Inner Critic questions (above)
  • How many of you felt some moments where you were really present and connected, enjoying your commitment and creativity (being ‘in the zone’)? What was that like?
  • What did you notice about your own experience as you listened to those people who seemed to commit 100%?

Sound & Movement Transformation Circle

The purpose of this activity is to give the singers a huge opportunity to confront their inner critic, engage with full commitment, and explore the dynamic creative process.

This exercise is identical to the Sound Transformation Circle except for three key points: 1) everyone’s eyes are open, 2) the random and repeated pattern now includes whole body movement in addition to sound, and 3) the fists don’t have to be held out. When the person in the middle has found a new sound and movement pattern that they like, they then move to someone on the edge of the circle, continuing the sound and action until the outside person joins in. The new person moves into the circle, letting the sound and movement evolve. The former person in the middle takes the place of the new person on the circle’s edge. The last person does the dramatic “bang” or “whimper” ending. An alternative way to play is for the people watching to create a rhythm with their hands (Hit, hit, CLAP. Hit, hit, CLAP from Queen’s “We Will Rock You” works very well). This “sound foundation” gives some people more of a sense of support, and gives them something to work either with or against as they create their choices.

Does the idea of one person repeating “wild and crazy” moves while making really bizarre sounds in front of the group seem scary? It actually is very scary to some people, and since that is the case, encourage everyone to participate, but tell them that they don’t have to go if they feel they are too uncomfortable. They can still be a part of the activity, but they just cross their arms in front of their chest when the middle person comes to them. Though this activity can bring up a lot of anxiety, it is an extremely valuable exercise for anyone involved in artistic expression. People have learned a tremendous amount about themselves and their creative process from this activity, and grown as performers.

 About the Exercise

It’s a great one to do at a retreat, but make sure that the atmosphere is well on its way to being supportive before you do it. It can be done in an unsupportive atmosphere, but then the focus needs to shift to the people on the outside of the circle more. (What must they do to support and be trustworthy for the person doing the risking?)

As in the last two exercises, some people’s inner critic will tell them that they can’t do what they’re being asked to do. Great opportunity here—full commitment is the goal, not perfection. The “You’ll look like an idiot!” voice of the Coolness Cop will also be in full evidence, thus affording another opportunity for the singers to confront it and grow.

Encourage them to constantly push past their inner critic and explore “the edge” of spontaneous creative expression.

 This exercise also begs for complete processing, then an immediate do-over. Much awareness about their personal creative expression, and the forces that prevent it, will come from this discussion.

On the second go-round, it’s helpful to say something like, “This time let it all hang out. See what happens if you release all desires to control the outcome and just GO CRAZY! But remember, wherever your process takes you is great because that’s what it’s all about. Being aware of our process is really the ultimate goal here.”

This is NOT an exercise in “energy matching” or self-censorship. Be careful not to say anything that would imply that the singers should keep their energy within some “acceptable” boundary. When you process, avoid statements that make them feel that their exploration was somehow wrong because it was “too big,” “too loud,” or too “out there.” In this exercise, such judgments have no place.

Potential Questions for the Group

  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how many felt that your commitment level was above 6? Above 8? Above 9?
  • How many of you felt some moments where you were really present and connected, enjoying being “in the zone“? What was that like?
  • The Inner Critic questions (above)
  • How have you grown through the process of engaging in these exercises?

Move the Singer, Move the Audience

 Active Neutral Position vs. Feet Together and Sing Well 

1)   Stand with feet hip or shoulder width apart, one foot slightly in front of the other. This will allow the body to move side-to-side and front to back at the mind’s moment-to-moment prompting. 

2)   Elevate the sternum, allowing for full expansion and flexibility of the ribs and back. 

3)   Energize the hands and arms in a relaxed “six-shooter” position—ready for any gestural signals. Hands resting against the legs sends a particular signal to the brain; if that fits the text, go for it. Otherwise, energize. 

4)   Tuck the hips under and lean just slightly forward, helping to give vibrancy and focus to the tone while encouraging an urgency to the mind’s messaging

Many of you probably do this already since you usually are doing a lot of moving when you sing. That said, let's just take a look at its effect.

            All participants explore the difference using one of the songs

             Harbor City Music Company plays with the two stances

Process the difference for both singer and audience.

Add Story, objectives, imagery, fleshing out, and Other several Harbor City Music Company songs.

WAYS TO HELP SINGERS MOVE


Thanks to Ryan's suggestion, we compared and contrasted singers standing still versus singers moving.
  • Add Whole Body Draw using the active neutral stance 
  • Pull Whole Body Draw down to a more authentic gestural frame, allowing your body to move as it connects to images, objectives, and Other
  • Move Each Other as the Meaning Moves You, using any song.
  • Move Yourself as the meaning of the song moves youthink of your Other and your imagery as well, even if you create them on the spot.

Process

Add Side-by-side Connections, creating a workable relationship between singers so that they can authentically interrelate. This is such an easy way to help audiences and singers connect! If the Story involves a GROUP of people trying to affect an Other or Others, then the singers can authentically turn right and left to look at one another. Objectives can be to support each other, to commiserate, to give strength, to share a human connection. . . . When a singer turns and does any of the above, the audience feels that connection. When the singers of HCMC did this, they connected powerfully with each other and included natural and authentic physical connections as well. Hands on shoulders, side hugs, et cetera. 

Play with simple ways to rehearse, using various scenarios requiring non-choreographed movement. 

Singing to someone and physically trying to affect them is one way. Connect the physicalizing to the objective, and possibly to the Story itself. If your Story is that you are singing to a child who has just been bullied, and your objective is to "want them to feel loved" or "help them develop confidence again," one singer can be that child, sitting down with head in hands in front of the group (or breakout smaller groups). Once all are in place, singers do anything and everything they can to achieve their objective. This could include stroking the "child's" hair, gently removing their hands from their eyes, sitting down next to them and taking their hands, giving them a massage, gently pulling them to their feet, giving them a hug, et cetera. NOTE: These physicalizations can often inspire ideas for staging-- ideas that can make it even easier for singers and audience members to connect with the humanity expressed in the piece.

Having the director (or volunteer Other) stand in front of the group and turn their back is another. The singers can then mime pulling a "tug-of-war" rope to pull them around. They can also physically try to turn them (this can be done in small pods as well). 

The singers can do "anything and everything" while standing in place to get the Other's attention.

Move around the space, playing specific objectives as you meet one another. For "How We Sang Today," let the Other person know how much you appreciate them as individuals and fellow singers. As you do this, allow any and all physicalizations, from high-fives to hand-holding to hugs.

Whole Body Moving through Space: Use your moving body to connect to the meaning of the words as you sing.

What About the Audience?

Harbor City Music Company sang several songs, graciously applying basic authentic-expression concepts. 

Explore how to tie choreography to Story, objective, and Other. What do you want your Other to think, feel, or do when you do that piece of choreography? The more specific you are, the better. And the more you actually focus on the Other/s, expecting to win and checking in to see if you are, the better.

Harbor City Music Company explores these approaches with "What a Wonderful World," "That's Life," and "[Baby, You Can] Drive My Car." [BTW, WHAT AN AMAZING GROUP—SUCH COMMITMENT, VULNERABILITY, GENEROSITY, AND WILLINGNESS TO SHARE! KUDOS TO THEM AND THEIR FABULOUSLY EMPOWERING DIRECTOR!!] 

  • HCMC sang "Drive My Car" with the following quick-sketched story: Imagine you're singing to a group of seventh-grade girls. What's the message you want them to get? ["Empowerment, free agency. . ."] In this story, let's play with the audience being the group of girls. And. . . downbeat. 
  • HCMC sang "What a Wonderful World" with two different objectives and Story: 1) Your dear friend or family member has just been emotionally devastated by someone's words. Your objective? Lift up their spirits, make them feel worthy of love, build their confidence. . . . 2) You are a group of hospital patients who have each been in the hospital for three months or more. You have invited all the people who supported you during that time to come together for this special event. Objective? To let the members of the audience [your supporters here] know how much you love and appreciate them for what they've done. Before they sang, the singers took about 30 seconds to establish the specifics of their hospitalization. And. . . downbeat.
  • HCMC sang "That's Life." Step one: "What's the message?" Answer: "Don't take life so seriously." A relatively simple way to come up with a Story is to then ask yourself, "Who might need to hear this message?" Here, I suggested a former student of one who had a full-on tantrum in the cafeteria after he asked someone to hold his place in line . . . which they failed to do. One attendee volunteered to lie on the floor so that the singers could address her directly. First objective: "To get the student to stop taking life so seriously." After HCMC sang with that objective, they sang again, this time overlying the tactic of "getting the student to laugh" while still playing their main objective of getting him to take life less seriously. Both experiences affected the singers' individual and collective performances, with subtle but obvious differences. 
With all of the work that Harbor City Music Company did, I didn't bring up the word "emotion" once. I never asked them to identify the emotion of the song or lyrics, nor did I suggest that they try to connect with any personal emotional experience. That said, the emotional experience of the singers and the audience members was palpable and powerful. Many people on both sides of the footlights were crying or otherwise emotionally engaged. The singers were subtly and poignantly authentic, simultaneously engaging whichever audience member looked at them. 

The goal of this work was to show how transformative real-life behavior can be. In real-life, if you were compelled to express a certain text would know the following: Who are you singing to? Why? What just happened? Why is it so important? And as you sang, it would be most helpful to connect to the fleshed-out truths behind the images and ideas within the song. "Trees of green": What trees? Where did you see them? What's so wonderful about them? [While we didn't take time to address these questions in the session, the singers did some of the foundational work when they used Whole Body Draw.]

When applying authentic-expression concepts, watch for pitfalls of trying to get the audience to feel or do something (sadness, poignance, crying, laughing) in the moment. That's called adjusting, and it will take you away from authentic expression and your truthful connection. Watch as well for indicating, the process that occurs when you are trying to let the audience know what you are thinking or feeling. A similar trap is "playing the emotion" whereby you try to "be joyful" or "be sad." Playing the emotion, indicating, and adjusting can definitely get in the way of your—and your audience's--connection. Simplest way around these traps? If you're not singing to the audience directly, keep your thoughts and desired objectives on your Other.



"What a Wonderful World," by Bob Thiele and George David Weiss

    I see trees of green, red roses too
    I see them bloom for me and you
    And I think to myself, What a wonderful world.

    I see skies of blue and clouds of white
    The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night,
    And I think to myself,
    What a wonderful world.

        The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
    Are also on the faces of people going by.
    I see friends shaking hands, saying, "How do you do?"
    They're really saying, "I love you."

    I hear babies crying, I watch them grow;
    They'll learn much more than I'll ever know,
    And I think to myself, What a wonderful world.
    Yes, I think to myself, What a wonderful world.

Warm-ups

            The more they move during warm-ups, the more comfortable singers will be with moving, and the less likely they will choose standing still as their go-to mode.

                        Sports shout-outs (basketball, fishing, tennis, weight-lifting, football. . .)

                        Random activities (Follow the leader who is doing random "meaningless" movements)

                        Specific activities (juggling [vary the size/kind of object being juggled], window-washing, painting a mural, building a house. . .)

                                    See the Movement and Warm-ups page for many more ideas (choralcharisma.com/Movement.html)

  












 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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