A term coined by Bobby McFerrin, CircleSinging refers to a group collaborative song created in the moment. It is typically led/conducted by a singer who improvises all the parts and gives them out to the rest of the circle. However, the parts are not meant to be simply repeated back just as they were given. There is often room to embellish, and the dynamics of any given part shift frequently.
Here’s what my friends at CircleSing.net have to say:
What is CircleSinging Anyway?
CircleSinging can be described lots of ways: vocal improvisation, vocal “jamming”, add-a-part/change-a-part, vocal orchestra, “voicestra”, a “drum circle” for singers, or just plain “make it up” singing. It’s done all over the world in countless different ways and it dates back to the earliest forms of human singing.
Circlesongs is where a circle of singers takes melodic and rhythmic cues (parts) from a skilled facilitator creating repeated rhythmic and harmonic patterns that create songs unique to the moment.
Most Circlesongs are revolving wordless vocal patterns, yet the syllables help distinguish one from the next. At times they are pure scat, but in some songs they sound like an invented language. As the facilitator cues out old parts and introduces new ones, the song continues and changes without stopping, the backgrounds evolve in subtle variations as the facilitator (and at times other singers) groove on top, yet are always staying grounded in attentive listening.
Circlesinging pulls from all kinds of African, Middle Eastern and other vocal or vocal percussive techniques. Under the creative guidance of the skilled facilitator, the group is lead in completely improvised music performance; every moment is free of preconceptions and is created anew. When you enter the circle, you are in a “Mistake-Free” zone.
This vocal musical form invented by 10-Time Grammy-Award Winner Bobby McFerrin steeped in an oral tradition that summons the ancient magic of tribal gatherings. Many tribes from around the world did something similar to this. Bobby took this idea and brought in his own unique vocal abilities and his music training and conducting skills and created Circlesinging.
As Bobby McFerrin explains, “One of the simplest and most direct ways of praying and meditating is through singing and singing in community is exceptionally powerful.” Each song created in the moment within a Circlesinging experience becomes an individual mantra. Circlesinging is akin to a religious experience, providing the participant the rare opportunity to witness as well as participate in a musical celebration of spontaneity.
I was captivated by CircleSinging when I first saw Bobby McFerrin and Voicestra in concert when I was 15 years old. Years later I would find myself on stage singing Bobby’s parts on some of the very songs that I witnessed then, with original members of Voicestra backing me up! It is definitely one of the high points of my life.
As a member of SoVoSo (a spin-off of Voicestra), I led parts of the annual Sing For Your Life gathering (a 12-hour CircleSong). To this day I remain one of the few people to participate in all 12-hours of this marvelous event. I’ve also led CircleSong gatherings and workshops in America, Canada, Australia, & New Zealand. I love CircleSinging, and enjoy fusing this form with things I learned from TaKeTiNa and drum circle facilitation.