Pat Motherwell reports on Breath Voice Spirit Workshop – Cambridge 22 July 2007

Artist Visiting Cambridgeshire
The Breath Voice Spirit Workshop was led by Michael Harper for 11 participants (aged 16+) on Sunday 22nd July in my home in Cambridge. Its aim was to explore ways to free your breath and voice for better communication in singing and speaking through breathing exercises and gentle relaxation techniques. Then Michael enabled us to use these techniques to express ourselves (our spirit) more confidently. It is open to everyone who wishes to explore their speaking or singing voices whatever their perceived abilities are.

So, what was it like? We began by moving to music from very different CDs e.g. Elvis, Leontyne Price, John Lennon, Dolly Parton and Roberta Flack. We then introduced ourselves and said why we had come to the workshop and what we wanted help with.

Various breathing and stretching exercises were interspersed with explanations about how the vocal chords worked or about different kinds of breathing and how our diaphragms worked. What I mainly remember is the frequent gales of laughter. Some exercises were to make us more aware of our hips or how we were connected to the ground. Another called Authentic Movement allowed us to do what we wanted for about 12 minutes and make any noises, but without talking to another person. (You can all try this at home; it`s really interesting!) We spent some time on rhythm games involving voice and clapping. (More gales of laughter.) We also all walked round the room together singing our favourite songs for a few minutes.

Somewhere in all that we had lunch; we had all brought food to share.

Finally each person had a 10 to 12 minute lesson with Michael in front of the rest of the group. Songs from many traditions were sung (including a Hungarian folk song). The only instruction was that the person receiving the lesson had our undivided attention and all was done in the understanding that nothing would leave that room. We sing from where we laugh and cry and people have to feel safe here. However, I have been given permission by the participants to quote some responses to this and to the whole workshop.
‘I am a complete stranger to you and have felt very welcome in your home.'
‘You push people and are persistent when you see what you want them to understand and are very supportive to them.'
‘I was going to recite a poem but you encouraged me to sing. Thank you; I`m so glad you did.'
‘You have a tremendous wealth of knowledge and experience, lightly borne and generously shared.'
‘I want a bigger voice; you have helped me to find mine.'
‘We learn things from watching other people being taught as well as in our own lesson.'
‘This is the third workshop I`ve been to and each time they`ve been different as you`ve geared them round a different group of people.'
‘Will you come back and teach us again?'

Michael said he would. He then sang to us.

Writer: Pat Motherwell