Welcome to the Songtaneous Blog

ProfileSongtaneous is where spontaneous singing happens. Once a month, singers (and other creative people) gather to share their voices and their selves while making beautiful, complex and fleeting music. I always learn something about singing and myself when I facilitate Songtaneous. In this blog, I'll share what I learn and experience while traveling in the intuitive, joyful, beautiful, expressive, challenging, abstract world of vocal improvisation.

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Being Songtaneous

Posted by Sarah M. Greer on Oct 19 2014 | Songtaneous

This year, I returned to the 33rd annual Women & Spirituality Conference to lead two Songtaneous sessions. Due to my Between project (and life in general) I had been away from the conference for a couple of years. So while I was feeling excited to get into a room full of singers, I was feeling some nerves about facilitating and “making things work” for participants.

Sometimes it’s not about you. *smile*

The two sessions I hosted were completely wonderful and entirely different from each other. Each one was so satisfying and while I think that I facilitated the sessions well, in the end the what happened during the sessions had less to do with me than it had to do with the intention and energy of the singers who showed up.

And, I mean showed up. With their nerves and their shyness about singing in front of others or their lack of experience or their singing trauma. They came in the room willing to sing and supported each other with such ease and joy. I have been taking a class in which we are discussing the power of intention and I could see it here. These women intended to share and connect and build community and we did.

My Saturday singers were energetic and a bit boisterous. In this group of 12-13 singers, we explored harmonizing and holding the rhythmic groove. Friends delighted and flat-out astonished each other with their inventions and ideas, especially when we worked with personal language. We invented music and I shared some of the songs from my Between shows this past winter and some newer songs with the group and they sang beautifully. We sang and laughed til tears came to our eyes and our time together flew by.

Sunday morning was a more intimate group – I sang with four other singers. With this smaller group I got to share more about my own journey with spontaneous singing and the life lessons it helps me discover. I talked about how we make up rules that don’t exist and construct narratives that aren’t necessarily true. How these rules and stories can make us feel stuck and incapable. During one exercises, one of the singers got stuck. We finished the round and then stopped to discuss briefly. When singing spontaneously, I always strive to talk through stuck before it becomes “failure.”

I used the analogy of a closed door and talked about how we all have doors. Sometimes we know about the door, sometimes we see it looming in the distance and other times doors just … appear. I have learned through improvising that there are many workable and wonderful ways to approach a closed door. (And that the goal isn’t always getting through the door. Sometimes it’s what we learn about ourselves as we encounter a door.)

With both groups, I got to talk about how singing together is a model for community making. When we sing in a group, we have to hold our individual parts (identity) while blending with all the others in the ensemble (community).

I was moved when one of the women shared that, in singing with us, she learned why she came to the conference and to my Songtaneous workshop in particular. She shared how the song I had taught them inspired an idea for how she could work with her own poetry using melody, repetition and space. I again felt strongly the force that singing is for me and the wonder and wonders it continues to bring into my life.

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Thinking Up a Plan

Posted by Sarah M. Greer on Sep 28 2014 | Songtaneous

I was talking with my friend C last week and she shared the idea of creating a “thoughtful plan.”

With the workshops that I have been planning, this idea of a thoughtful plan really resonated for me. It took time (and a couple of starts) for me to sort through what workshops to offer and when and how to tell folks about them.

I thought it was because I wanted to work out all the logistics so the singers who participated would have fulfilling and instructive experiences. (It may have also been the teensiest bit perfectionism and stuck, too.)

Whenever I’m feeling stuck, I go to my improvising experience.

Why?

Because I don’t experience stuck the same way when I am singing. It’s not that it never happens, it just doesn’t seem to last as long (or feel the same).

When I improvise, I am creating, but I am not “planning.” I am willing — and able — to release an idea that’s not working or head in a new direction if what is going on around me leads me there.

When I improvise, I plan (ha ha) on being flexible, adaptive and responsive. On interacting. Focusing on that keeps me open and creative.

When I start a new project, I rarely feel flexible, adaptive or responsive. (I’m working on this.)

(As I have shared,) starting can jam me up. I get focused on being efficient and making sure there are no unnecessary steps. (The irony that I can’ t actually know which steps are necessary is not totally lost on me.)

Still, I try to be thoughtful. I want to be efficient. I want to move from step to step, sequentially without any side trips or distractions.

In other words, I get in my head and I can get stuck there. I think (and think and think and think) and it can keep me from acting.

So, while very attractive, the idea of thoughtful planning is a bit of trap for me. It caters to the part of me that would rather keep perfecting an idea than undertake it.

Sure, it’s good and important to plan some things.

And spending time thinking through a plan to see if it can work more smoothly or efficiently or get better results is valuable.

The problem is that my mostly Type A self hears thoughtful plan and thinks “precision” or “perfection.” Thoughtful plans must be neat and orderly, definitely sequential and, most important, completed on time. A thoughtful plan should be efficient and save time.

Thoughtful plans do not contain learning steps or flights of fancy. And there are certainly no do-overs.

Of course, none of that is true.

A plan that is well thought out should allow time for thinking and research and – I hate to say it – mistakes.

A thoughtful plan should be thorough and adaptable, flexible and comprehensive.

Most important, the time you spend thinking during your planning, should help you to ACT.

P.S. I am offering a series of workshops for singers. *smile* You can learn more about them here.

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Art, Art-making & Artists

Posted by Sarah M. Greer on Aug 10 2014 | Songtaneous

My singer friend C visited this past week and during one of our many long chats, we began discussing art, art-making and artists. (I say began because the conversation was long and winding and, I think we’d both agree, far from finished.)

We asked each other questions. You know, simple questions like:

What is art?

Is art the creative process in and of itself? Or is art the song/painting/music/play/dance, etc. created?

Is it art if no one but the person who creates it interacts with it?

And what does it mean to make art? For the artist and for the audience.

How do/will I make my own art? What does art mean to me?

Does art need to be understood? How is it understood? Does it instruct? Educate? Enliven? Enrage? Entertain?

Does it have a primary purpose? Is its primary purpose social or individual (or both)? And, does its primary purpose depend on your perpective? (i.e. artist vs. audience)

In our conversation, we eventually focused on two perspectives — one based on the meaning of art and artmaking to society and another based on the meaning of art and artmaking to the artist. For me, my individual experience of art as the creator or maker of art is different from art as a social idea or concept. (It’s interesting that in my mind, the first of these is art and the second is Art.)

Perhaps that’s because, for me, holding the idea that I’m making Art with which society must interact is a bit paralyzing. It invites a whole host of editors, critics, fans and others into my head and can crowd out my individual perspective or impulse for creating.

Worrying about if it’s good art or important art (or if it actually is art) inhibits my artmaking.

That’s not to say that interaction and witnessing aren’t extremely important to the art I make.

After all, I am a performer. An improvising performer. Presention and interaction are huge parts of what much of my art is all about.

But, I also feel I’m making art when I improvise in my house for no one but me, with no plans for anyone but me to ever hear what I sing. When I sing simply for the joy of feeling my voice in my body and for the freedom of self-expression.

So at the moment, my social definition of art/-making is pretty broad (kind of like art itself):

Art and art-making are an attempt to share/outline/identify/crystallize/catalyze/unearth/discover a unique and often individual perspective or experience and in doing so reflect on themes that are universal.

My personal definition is much simpler.

Art is what an artist makes.

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