Imagine standing or sitting in a circle while a singer stands in the middle. He sings, and turns to one section of the circle; they pick up what he’s singing and continue it. Then he turns to your part of the circle and sings. Imagine listening deeply, waiting a moment until you’ve absorbed what he’s singing, and then picking up that part. It’s easy because you’re surrounded by people singing the same thing, and it’s been declared a judgement-free zone. It’s fun because you don’t have to know how to read sheet music. It’s rewarding because you can hear the interweaving harmonies, as well as your own contribution to the overall sound.
That’s a community-singing event in a style known as “Circlesinging.” There are groups that organize such events all over the world; here’s one list of such groups. As a member of the improv vocal group VoiceExchange, I’m involved in ones that meet on the second Sunday of each month near Washington DC, which has events listed here: Circlesinging in DC .
Perhaps you’re interested in participating and you’re asking yourself “is it for me? I don’t know these people… am I welcome?” Well the answer is YES; if you want to sing, you are invited, whether you’ve sang with us before or not. Read on!
What Is “Circlesinging”?
I was inspired to get these community-singing events started by a workshop he took with Bobby McFerrin. The main idea is to get people of all levels of singing ability together to sing, usually in harmony, usually more-or-less spontaneously, without the aid of sheet music.
We focus on expression, using your ears, holding your ground, and leaving space for other singers to sing in. There are all sorts of techniques that we touch upon for developing better rhythm, tone, intonation, remembering melodies, and improvising melodies.
Inspirations and Examples
Below are examples of the kinds of things that inspired this, and the kinds of things referred to above. By no means do we do things in quite the way they are done in these examples. But, perhaps the following will illuminate or excite:
- Bobby McFerrin performs part of his song “Drive,” then leads a Circlesong with contestants from Season 1 of “Sing-Off”
- Kristian Skårhøj, a music graduate student in Denmark, leading a Circlesong as part of his thesis recital. It just happens to be an excellent, and beautiful, example.
- Bobby McFerrin’s recording of his song “The Garden”
- Bobby McFerrin leading a Circlesong with Voicestra (including three people – Rhiannon, Joey Blake, and David Worm – who would later become the group WeBe3)
- A collective improvisation with mouth-percussion at Kristian Skårhøj thesis recital.
- Bobby McFerrin’s recording (with Voicestra) of his song “Say Ladeo”
- WeBe3 in a montage of collective improvisations
- If you’ve gotten this far and found that you just can’t get enough of this stuff, Kristian Skårhøj’s full thesis recital is 75+ minutes long, as is the concert he gave the following night.
Come Sing With Us
These Circlesinging events are free (we ask for donations to cover rent) and open to everyone. The only thing asked is that you respect each participant’s need for free space in which to sing, and give it to them. You might be amazed at what results.