Two sessions ago, we began with a silent sit followed by a guided meditation through an inner soundscape. I asked the group to envision a place, physically existing or completely internal, where they feel or have felt no need to be anywhere else. I asked them to imagine the sounds of this place, and then to express those sounds using their voices. While the group was reticent at first, a sound collage began to emerge, often carrying with it verbal observations regarding the place in mind (‘I’m going out to the barn to ride a horse, now I’m riding a horse [horse-hoof sound and neighing]’). My immediate aesthetic response is to discourage such observations, under the assumption that descriptions of a soundscape can distract participant-listeners from the soundscape itself. I am curious, however, about how these observations signify a certain kind of engagement with a place, distinguishing between narrative and sensory memory.
The sound collage petered out earlier than I had envisioned it would, which frustrated me. Without my prompting, the group took turns describing the places that they had visited and why they had chosen the sounds that they did. One participant expressed the frustration she felt at being asked to imitate what for her was a primarily silent, internal place, while simultaneously expressing surprise at hearing her close friend calling to her there. Inspired by the depth of information available on each of the places, I decided to introduce a writing activity into the workshop. We moved to the table, and I asked the group to write descriptively about the places in mind, without incorporating feeling statements. Following this exercise, I asked the group to write about how they felt, physically or emotionally and everywhere in-between, when they were in the place. We closed this section of the workshop by sharing what we had written, followed by a second group soundscape based on the same place.
After these more contemplative soundscape exercises, I led a noisy voice warm-up that seemed to bring more cohesiveness to the group, and also allowed participants to relax into sound-making and singing with each other. In previous weeks I had attempted to create cohesion around single long-tones, with little success. Many of the participants feel convinced that they can’t sing or hear pitches, and there has been much conversation surrounding supposed inability. During this voice warm-up, which I led by example as opposed to explanation, the group followed my loud, open-mouthed pitches exactly, with more enthusiasm than I have witnessed so far. I learned that sometimes people uncover great gifts when given no opportunity to doubt themselves: I assumed that they would be able to follow me, and they did so without hesitation. Sonja commented afterwards that my own loud and ridiculous demonstrations might have also played an important role in allowing the group to relax.
Following this loud warm-up, I introduced once again Christine Duncan’s ‘ku-lu-lu’ exercise, which is strong model for self-regulating group singing. The idea, which formed spontaneously during an Element Choir rehearsal, is that a small group sings a single tone quietly together. One person changes the tone and holds it, so that two tones juxtapose each other. As the other group members notice the new tone, they attempt to match it. A group member may change the tone at any time, with the only rule being that each participant truly listen before shifting their own pitch. The result is a focussed, gently moving fabric of soft tones blending into each other. If two people begin a new tone at the same time, the ‘game’ is over and the ‘piece’ comes to a close.
I have attempted to introduce this activity in earlier sessions, regarding it as an ideal to work towards. So far, we have had very little success. On this particular occasion, however, the energy inside and around us vibrated quietly and intensely. We broke into small groups for demonstration, bringing in new participants one at a time. While the participants struggled to hear each other and the exercise didn’t flow quite seamlessly, I witnessed a kind of piercing attentiveness that I have rarely seen with this group – they all participated, and they hardly spoke. Magic.