It has been a week since the Music that Makes Community workshop wrapped up. I have had time to digest the information and even try out a few techniques. What the leaders from the All Saints Company were sharing with us is the way church services are held at St. Gregory of Nissa in San Francisco, especially how the music is used. We learned all music without and paper or other resources except the leader. Musical phrases are straightforward but interesting due to the use of many different modes. Complexity is achieved from rounds, canon, layering of different parts and rhythm. Most of the songs were learnt within a couple of minutes. It is a very powerful tool. Their philosophy is that ingesting the music fast without having to rely on any technology (paper, overhead screens) we get to the core of singing with our neighbours. This then moves us towards a communal prayer space more easily. Many of the songs have repeated single line texts that act like chants or mantras that do put you into a zone.
The communal singing aspect is one of those ideas that when you hear and discuss it causes you to think "but of course!" It makes so much sense it just seems obvious. The thing is I've been experiencing this in a few different places. The first is the Taize style of worship. In this worship a small piece of music is repeated a number of times directly to put the singer into a meditative place to facilitate prayer. With Taize they have unique songs and style of worship. The next similarity struck me quite suddenly while at the workshop listening to a discussion of the neuroscience of communal singing. While strictly secular, Music Together works really hard on fostering communal singing. As an instructor we try very hard to create a safe place for people to sing at whatever comfort level they have. We also try to foster a sense of fun and guided improvisation. These terms would not sound out of place at all at an All Saints Company workshop. At a Music Together class all songs are taught and sung a capella with a little bit of recorded music for dancing. The neuroscience of music, especially in regards to young children, is very important. Much of the psychology of how music connects people in groups was shared between the All Saints and Music Together. From my understanding this topic is still not well understood. As human beings we know something is going on but to be able to boil it down or pinpoint it to a few theories we have a ways to go. What we do know intuitively and scientifically is that it is good for us as a group and individually. Singing uses the entire mind and body. It brings everything in our core alive. When you get a group of people singing the same song the actual physical vibrations from the sound in the air and in the bodies electrifies the room and the soul.
I experienced this just last night. I was at a gathering of the Good Hearted Women Singers at the University of Waterloo. My group SlanT has partnered with them for a piece of music and we attended their meeting to reconnect before a show. The Good Hearted Women are not a performance group. They are made up mostly of Indigenous women who gather to sing and drum songs from indigenous cultures. This singing is done for healing purposes. What healing is needed varies of course from person to person. At a meeting each person, if they wish, brings a concern or maybe a celebration, to the circle and leads a song. The circle becomes a sacred and spiritual place. There is a palpable sense of something special in that circle. The Good Hearted Women Singers meeting is the epitome of what the All Saints company would espouse.
There is something going on here. I don't think it is just me noticing a few coincidences. Within the last hundred years we have abdicated music making to the technology of recorded sound and professionals. There is a somewhat unconscious desire to reclaim it. That is a good thing. We need to trust our voices and our neighbours. A community that sings together is a happy community.
Next Monday, August 20, I'll be heading off to spend roughly three days in Kitchener to participate in a workshop entitled Music that Makes Community. It is put on by the All Saints Company out of San Francisco. Their schtick is teaching and singing paperless music in a worship setting. From the videos I've seen it reminds me a bit of John Bell's technique. I guess now we'll learn how to do what he does. The event is co-sponsored by St. Peter's Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Anglican Diocese of Niagara. I'll let you know how it goes when it's all done.
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