Introducing the Vocal Freedom Project

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VFPlogoToday tickets have gone on sale for the first of what will probably become a series of workshops called the Vocal Freedom Project. We’ve got quite detailed info about the VFP’s rationale and aims over on the project page, but I thought it might also be useful to give a little background into its genesis.

The project was born in a conversation back in early December with my friend Myra, who sang with me in Magenta for ten years. I can’t remember exactly how she phrased her expression of her need to sing, but she crystallized a lot of the observations I had been making over the months since live singing had restarted in the UK about what the lockdown experience had done to people’s voices.

I wrote back in autumn 2020, when the Telfordaires were taking advantage of what turned out to be quite a brief window of opportunity to sing together, about how we’d come back finding that our voices had become somewhat disconnected from our bodies. That experience informed a lot of our work on Zoom during the subsequent lockdowns – focusing a lot on bodily engagement and extending ourselves imaginatively beyond our little boxes – but we still had a lot of work to do on vocal (and indeed mental!) stamina once we could finally get together again properly.

Other directors I have talked to have also commented on atrophy of vocal technique, loss of range, and loss of volume in their singers over the pandemic. I have likewise heard a loss of support in solo singers in the various assessment roles I have been involved in over the last year.

My over-riding impression was that, as singers, the whole experience had knocked the stuffing out of us, both physically and psychologically. The conversation with Myra brought that impression to full conversant awareness as a need that I could potentially help to meet.

And the form the idea took to address that need can also be attributed to who it was who sparked the thought. Myra is a wise and thoughtful person whose professional expertise gives her particular insight into the relationship between people’s emotional health and physical being. If I were ever tempted to consider vocal recovery in purely technical terms, it wouldn’t be when Myra is in the room.

Our history together also provides a context for how the idea developed. Magenta was my sandbox for a decade, where I trialled all my outlandish ideas for facilitating singing together. We drew a good deal on the improvisational games and exercises I’d used teaching musicianship at the Birmingham Conservatoire, but it was more than that – we had a culture of creative experimentation. We were all about up-for-it-ness – giving it a go was the highest virtue. Things might or might not work, but we’d learn something either way then go home as more interesting musicians as a result.

The Vocal Freedom Project offers an opportunity to reconnect with that holistic, creative universe, creating a safe, collaborative space in which people can explore their voices away from the pressures of preparing for performance. It is inherently pleasurable to immerse yourself in group vocalising for a couple of hours: at the very least, we’ll all emerge having shared a satisfying musical experience. But the intention is that the experience will continue to nurture us beyond the one evening, that we’ll find a vocal and expressive confidence we can carry back into our lives beyond the workshop.

The project is, at this initial stage, open-ended. We envisage workshops every few weeks, with a combination of new and returning participants each time. But it is the nature of creative collaboration that you don’t entirely know how it will turn out, because so much depends on the ideas that develop once people get together. We have dates for future events pencilled in, but are hanging fire on publishing them until we see what the take-up is like for the first one. (So if you’re interested but can’t come on June 17, let me know!)

In the meantime, if you have any friends in the midlands you think the Vocal Freedom Project might appeal to, please send the details onto them. And for those beyond convenient travelling distance of Birmingham, there’s always the option of setting up something local to you – I’d be quite happy to travel if there is interest in running VFP workshops in other areas.

You couldn't have conceived of a more perfect event! This sounds wonderful Liz, and exactly what I've been looking for. I really miss singing (particularly with you and Magenta) but I just don't gave the bandwidth for a regular commitment. I will see you there x

Oh, I am so glad it speaks to your condition Lara. It will be lovely to make music with you xx

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