I imagine all previous generations have had similar thoughts, but we really are living in a crazy world, going through crazy times. We could despair, shake our heads, and lose hope. But I see hope all around us and nowhere is it more obvious than when I’m taking part in vocal improvisation.
“Huh?” I hear you cry. “What does vocal improv have to teach us about a society facing difficulty, division, and people in conflict?” Bear with me here.
Because when you break it down and think about what makes vocal improv such a positive and uplifting experience, you can’t help but spot the bigger lessons it provides about how we can all do our bit to make the world that little less crazy.
Lesson 1: You gotta love what comes out of your mouth.
We all let our inhibitions get the better of us from time to time. We bite our tongues and hold back from saying what we really mean. We fear judgment if we say something “silly” or worse, something “controversial”. We worry we’ll say the wrong thing and embarrass ourselves.
So we stay silent. We deny the world our thoughts, our feelings and yes, our gifts.
Attending a vocal improv class is a surefire way to overcome these fears, to prove to yourself that your contributions are valid, that they really matter. Wonderful things happen when you step out of your comfort zone and let your voice be heard.
Lesson 2: Embrace the chaos.
Order and perfection do not reign supreme at vocal improv. As Bobby McFerrin says, “usually what comes out is total chaos. But every now and then there’s a gem.” In improv, and in life, chaos is inevitable, perfection unattainable. The key is to stop fighting the chaos and embrace it instead. That way you’ll be ready to spot the gems when they appear.
Lesson 3: Live generously.
Vocal improv is all about generosity — the focus is very much on making your partner sound good. It’s about embracing whatever is happening and facing it as a team, asking ourselves how to support each other through the process, how to show up TOGETHER.
One of the most moving moments in my improv training was when I was lucky enough to have the chance to sing with Rhiannon. She stood in front of me, tall, chest wide open, glasses raised so she could look me straight in the eye, and she said, “I don’t know where we’re going, but I’m with you”. Isn’t that a beautiful sentiment?
When we start thinking about “we” instead of “I” is when we find magic, and not just when it comes to singing.
Lesson 4: Leave your ego at the door.
How many moments in your life have you wasted by worrying about looking cool? How many opportunities missed because of a fear of looking silly, damaging your image, or feeding your ego.
Improv is the best way to lay all of that to one side — at least for an hour. It’s not about looking cool or making the right impression. It’s about following your heart and your passions.
But it’s bigger than that, and it’s bigger than you. It can take some getting used to, but the process becomes a million times easier when you abandon your ego and contribute what the music — and the group as a whole — needs.
So in crazy times, let’s all pledge to bring a little more improv to our lives; let’s embrace the chaos, leave our egos at the door, and start living for “we” instead of “I”. Let’s give the world more of what it needs. Amazing things might just happen if we do…
If you’re looking for some refuge from our crazy world, if only for a little while, we’d love for you to join us at Sing Portland! See you there?