And the truth is, I really believe that there’s not a lot that singing can’t do. Which got me thinking of what a society would look like if it was modeled on circle singing.
Circle singing is fundamentally un-elitist. Every single person is welcome, from novices to professional musicians. It’s accessible enough for those who are just starting to explore their voices, and it’s challenging enough for those who’ve been singing for years. The circle serves different people in different ways, because circle singing recognizes that we’re all different, and celebrates that — because that’s what makes it work.
While there’s usually one person who starts the circle song, the whole thing is built on shared leadership. Anyone can step into the circle to lead or to solo, and everyone’s contributions are appreciated. A smashing solo is just as loved and admired as a novice’s first attempt at leading.
Less is more.
While you might not think it, simpler is actually better when it comes to improv. The more basic you start, the more room you have to play. It’s kind of like embryology: the simple, omnipotent cells that can become anything are fullest of life. The more developed, specialized cells are much more fragile.
Everyone’s contribution is important.
This applies to any kind of group singing, but it’s especially apparent in circle singing. You can hear the different layers as they come together: the drone to build on, the bass line forming a foundation, the accents, the ornaments, the harmony, the cool descant up top… they all have a place, and the circle song is not the same without any one component.
Generosity is the goal.
“Circle singing is built on a foundation of trust. No one contributes anything that shakes the circle. Instead, everyone focuses on generosity”. Because when it comes down to it, the heart of singing is taking care of the other people you’re singing with — knowing when to take a step back and support them as they shine and when to step forward and have the guts to build on them to create a distinct melody.
I love this quote from Rhiannon, because I think she really encapsulates this concept:
“To create across boundaries and form requires the right combination of willing souls with the same intention, and time and space to work out the kinks. It is a valued and respected aspect of art extending back into all of history and across cultures. This is collaboration as prayer all of us lead and all of us follow. No one makes choices that would shake the foundation. We want our partners to shine. Generosity is the goal Trusting these other humans across all boundaries. All that is left is a fragile, powerful, potent adventure. May it always be so.”
It all comes back to connection.
No matter how divided we may be by our politics, our religion, our moral beliefs, you name it; when we sing together with strangers we’re reminded of just how easy it is to create together. We can see how all those differences that seemed to separate us before are actually what makes us stronger. Having different backgrounds and perspectives make what we create together all that much richer.
I’m not naive.
I know that there are all kinds of things happening in society that don’t line up with this model. But truly huge, historic moments have had their roots in singing. As Dr. Ysaye M. Barnwell reminds us, “The Civil Rights Movement was a singing movement.”
That’s why I would encourage you to pick just one concept from the list and see if you can bring it into your world a little more this week. Change does truly can start with us — so I hope you’ll join me as we create our own circle song in society.
Want to try actual circle singing for yourself? We do that! Click here to find out how and when you can join us.