I was thrown into an improvisatory singing situation last week that I was not prepared for, or familiar with.
A friend of mine surprised a group of us last week with a drum circle. We were all there to celebrate her birthday and she had hired these women to come in with lots of drums for us to play together. How neat…
It was of course very interesting. I was enjoying being a part of this circle and looking forward to the leaders she hired running it, but they were not singers. I guess in a drum circle it is the time in which to have someone lead chants and singing while everyone drums.
So my friend, the birthday girl, said to me in the middle of the beat, “You sing Ariella, you lead us”. (Of course this opera-singing voice teacher was totally trained to pull out an American-Indian style chant to lead in front of 10 women hat she did not know, right…? ha ha)
So as I always try to sing when asked, I did, (not warmed up or prepared in any way).
It was very uncomfortable for me. First of all I had to lead all these women in a “repeat after me type of thing”, so I started with some “tribally” chest voice sounds. I was completely out of my element and extremely uncomfortable with the imposed improv. Everyone was relieved that I was doing it (since no one else wanted to). I personally had not improvised melody in front of people like that for MANY years and was quite jarred by the experience.
So then I stopped at some point and we kept on drumming. I was hoping someone would take over, but no one did. So we kept drumming and it became clear to me that I should continue with my leading. This time, I dropped the whole repeat after me concept and went into my head voice where I am most comfortable and just improvised melody- still “a la” tribal/opera (if there is such a thing).
I really sang out, sang high, and improvised right in front of all these women.
Needless to say it was quite an experience for me.
Kind of horrible, but invigorating as well.
What was horrible about it was that I was not AT ALL in my comfort zone and felt a lot of pressure. The improviser in me, who was quite free in her guitar playing high school days, was all pent up. I knew I had the ability to really let go and have a spiritually freeing musical experience, but I had to fight a huge battle within myself to get through it and look casual doing so.
The invigorating thing about it was that I let go. I felt like a linebacker running through the pack, but I did it. I got that voice out and free.
I’m not sure if I felt sick, or charged after all of it. But what I do know is that in music as singers, we don’t always have opportunities to be creative. (If you are writing your own songs for a band it is one thing), but if you are singing opera or musical theater, you cannot often just break out into your own melody on stage as you feel it. It is really a wonderful thing to get to do when you are tapped into it on a regular basis. It takes a lot of trust.
I invite you to try some improv for fun, or for some challenge. It helps to free you no matter if you enjoy the process or not. Whether it be singing or even acting. I can only imagine how good it is for your brain to be “in the grey”, (as they used to call it in my comic, improv days).
And no matter what it will help you on stage, because unplanned things always happen. And you need to react appropriately to them.
It was good for me in an awful way, that drum circle.
Ah, the life of a singer.
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