May 162007
 

Thank you for all your kind comments on my last post. And I’m sorry to have let you hang with the suspense, it is really not nice to tell the world, “I’m nervous, I’m nervous.”, and then vanish from the blogosphere for days. The workshop was in some ways the best I’ve ever been too. To get a feeling for how exceptional Rhiannon’s workshops are I first have to tell you what most jazz singing workshops look like:

Usually there are about 15 to 30 participants, mostly female. Or to be precise, one rarely meets a male singer. Each of the participants then takes a seat, the famous singer enters the room, and talks about singing and warming up and technique. Then she proceeds to do some warm-up exercises that leave everybody slightly hoarse. Then she introduces the pianist, or the band if there is one, and asks the first singer to come up front to sing his first song. “Which song?” the singer replies. Well, the one that we were asked to prepare for, including lead sheets for the pianist or band. It said so when we signed up. The singer doesn’t have a song prepared. She doesn’t quite know what a lead sheet is. Somebody produces a “real book”, the bible of jazz standards. The singer doesn’t quite know which song to sing. After much thinking she decides to sing “I got rhythm” (I don’t know why, but they always do). She doesn’t know which key she wants. She decides to sing it in the original key. Bad decision. The original key is too high (it always is because it was written for an opera singer). After about half an hour of this she is finished. On the second day of the workshop it’s my turn. I stand up, get in front, tell the band, “I want to play “I should care” in G, please give me an eight bar intro, I’ll do a solo after the first chorus then you can solo if you want. Then I’ll sing it all through again, and in the end we slow down on cue. A one, a two, a one, two, three, four.” I sing my song, the band doesn’t look at me when they should for the ending but otherwise all is well. I finish. The very famous singer from the United Stated looks at me and says, “Nice voice.” And that’s it.

That was the workshop where I decided not to go to singing workshops again. But that also was the workshop where I met Laila, the woman who organizes Rhiannon’s workshops in Munich. She told me to go because it would be totally different and she was right. When I went to the first of Rhiannon’s workshops in Munich about eleven years ago, it went like this:

There were about fifteen women in the room. Rhiannon entered, said, “Hello, I’m Rhiannon. please sit in a circle.” Then she stood in the middle, closed her eyes and started to sing. Five minutes later everyone in the room was singing with her. And not a song from the “jazz bible” but one that she made up in the moment. This is called circle singing. We pretty much kept up singing for the remainder of the workshop. We did other things too. Stream of consciousness-like exercises with language, dancing, looking at a picture and then singing whatever came to mind. Singing in small groups, singing with everybody, one of us singing and all the others listening. Scores of different exercises all designed to get our creativity and music flowing. We even learned songs. Like “Throw it away“. (The link leads to a recording of me singing it.)

At the first of her workshops there were exercises that I dreaded. Anything to do with language, with moving and singing at the same time and especially the picture-thing. But over the years I have come to love all of them. Of course I’m getting used to this. And then Rhiannon started adding more structure into her exercises. In addition to all the wild, free-flowing, bursting out into song-stuff, we had tasks like soloing for four patterns and then stop. Ah, I love those. That’s quite easy for me.

This workshop of course was different because there were two other teachers. Men! (I don’t mean what you think. No! But male singers. Wow. That’s like finding a female bass player or drummer.) And we even had three male participants. This time we learned a lot about mouth percussion and singing bass. Which I never had done before. Having studied drumming really helped with that.

Oh, and nobody said anything about my weight. And I wore green on Saturday and orange on Sunday. Jeans, t-shirt, and sneakers really is the look for the fashionable singer these days. On Saturday I lacked the really cool and artsy necklace but on Sunday I changed that. And answering some of the comments about why I was so concerned with the way I looked, I’m always concerned with how I look, especially when I’m feeling insecure. When I have to attend something I feel nervous about, my thoughts go to what to wear. At least that’s something I can control. Thanks to limited funding I didn’t turn into someone who buys a whole new wardrobe when feeling anxious, and I totally know that it’s futile and silly. And I don’t have that much clothes anyway. Since I have about three pairs of pants and two skirts, and all my t-shirts look alike, all my thinking and wondering gets down to: orange, red, green or brown?

The two days of the workshop felt very different too me. On Friday evening me and my husband had been at the concert the teachers gave. They were great. The only thing I didn’t like about it (apart from the fact that the waitress forgot my husband’s beer twice) was that the audience was a little over-enthusiastic. I don’t know why but the minute somebody next to me gets all “Ooh!” and”Aah!” with admiration and applauds even when the singer is only taking a sip of water my experience gets tainted by it. Nonetheless I enjoyed the concert tremendously. But when the first day of the workshop came I had decided to stay in my body and concentrate on myself as much as I could.

So I felt a little distant that day, also I was very, very tired. After that day I was mildly happy and knew that the decision to make my own music by myself had been the right one. The next day I felt quite different. I felt safe and open, I looked forward to spend the day with all these great singers. (The evening before I was less enthusiastic and briefly thought of staying home. But this is how these workshops always go for me. The day before last I’m ready to quit.) I went there and sang and was happy, and content. When the workshop was over I was sad to part, and we all hugged each other and (as every time) we promised to meet again and sing together soon.

I’d like to, but for the eleven years I have been attending these workshops I only once met with another of those singers to improvise. It was real special but a little complicated to set up so we never did it again. On Sunday evening I barely could go to sleep I felt like music was bubbling inside of me all the time. When I taught my first singing student on Monday I almost blew her away because my voice was so strong.

So here i probably have it, the answer to my question if I’m really a singer. Yes, I am and my urge to do it is fairly strong. I’d like to close this post by giving heartfelt thanks to the three teachers: Rhiannon, David Worm and Joey Blake. They are touring Europe right now, as a trio (check out their blog) or with Bobby McFerrin’s voicestra.

  10 Responses to “Back from a very enjoyable improvisation workshop”

  1. I know what you mean about the overly enthusiastic audiences.

    I looked at the We-3 blog, and I can see what a lot of energy and fun is being created. And doesn’t Italy look luscious? I’m starting a vacation bank account tomorrow!

    I think it’s great that such workshops exist and that you can participate and come away with confidence! and ideas! and enthusiasm! Can you tell I’m envious?

    I have never had a talent that I developed and mastered. I can’t think of one right now anyway. I believe this could be why I was so very regimented about exercise for so long – it was something I could do, see improvement, be competitive…

    Must go ruminate.

  2. I know what you mean about the overly enthusiastic audiences.

    I looked at the We-3 blog, and I can see what a lot of energy and fun is being created. And doesn’t Italy look luscious? I’m starting a vacation bank account tomorrow!

    I think it’s great that such workshops exist and that you can participate and come away with confidence! and ideas! and enthusiasm! Can you tell I’m envious?

    I have never had a talent that I developed and mastered. I can’t think of one right now anyway. I believe this could be why I was so very regimented about exercise for so long – it was something I could do, see improvement, be competitive…

    Must go ruminate.

  3. So many of the elements you spoke of can be applied to other courses or conferences. It was interesting to see how important it was for you to hunker down into your own being and discover a safe place there before venturing into the flow of the workshop.

  4. So many of the elements you spoke of can be applied to other courses or conferences. It was interesting to see how important it was for you to hunker down into your own being and discover a safe place there before venturing into the flow of the workshop.

  5. wow. this sounds amazing. i would love to have been a witness to the magic you all made. and i love that you do it w/ your zen guitar master, too.

  6. wow. this sounds amazing. i would love to have been a witness to the magic you all made. and i love that you do it w/ your zen guitar master, too.

  7. What a wonderful experience! I love the thought of people getting together and singing jazz. It seems so rich and real and beautiful.

    I wish I could hear you sing.

  8. What a wonderful experience! I love the thought of people getting together and singing jazz. It seems so rich and real and beautiful.

    I wish I could hear you sing.

  9. Sounds really, really lovely.

  10. Sounds really, really lovely.

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