In Hull and hitting Heads Up Festival with Neverland, Tom Penn took the time to lead a vocal workshop. One of the festival’s producers – Dave Windass (not known for his dulcet tones) – joined the participants in order to find his voice.
I was chatting to Tom Penn about 90 minutes before the Finding Your Voice workshop that he would be leading and told him I’d sit in on it. But not until I made it clear that I wasn’t a singer.
“You don’t have to be. That’s not what it’s about. This is about the joy of your own voice and finding out what it can do. I’m not interested in the noises you might make, whether you’re in tune with anyone else. This is for you. I’m really pleased you’ll be joining us.”
Too late, then, and too embarrassing, to skulk off and pretend I didn’t know the workshop was running. Especially as I’d be checking in the 15 participants at the door.
“You’ve not heard the kind of noises I can make,” I said to Tom, looking for an escape route.
“I don’t care. See you at 4!”
I’m at my happiest when I’m sat in my pants, typing away, and occasionally writing, far away from interacting with other human beings. But come 4pm, joined by those that had signed up, I found that I was in my worst nightmare and paired off, having to hit a body part target with my feet that my partner made with their hands. Then we swapped roles. Then we swapped body parts and partners. Hang about, what about the voice? Oh, right, we’re loosening up.
The loosening up continued for quite a while. Long enough to start thinking that, after stretching ourselves out, rolling our shoulders and suspending ourselves in the room from virtual strings, that opening our traps wouldn’t be so bad after all.
The vocal work out started with some sirening. Tom might not be interested in the quality of the notes and scales we might emit and our range but nor did he want to break what we did have. We all got lost in our own tunelessness, found some notes we couldn’t hit, and were asked to focus on the parts that we knew needed work.
Naturally, by this time, we’d stopped concerning ourselves with what anyone else in the room actually thought of us and were pretty much oblivious to anything save for Tom’s instructions.
At last, we’re about to do a song. He sang it. It sounded like an impossible bunch of words to remember, never mind to the right tune. He broke it down, we learned it, and as we grew in confidence we opened our mouths wider, like those people that never normally go to church do when they get on Songs Of Praise. I can’t remember the song now, a few hours later, aside from it involved spelling out words a la T-H-I-N-E and M-I-N-E and L-O-V-E and something about a bamboo tree. But it was F-U-N.
With the time flying, and our confidence growing to the kind of levels that led us to briefly ponder why we didn’t join that band as frontman when we were 15, we gathered in a tight circle, and with some further coaching and instruction, closed our eyes. Tom started us off with a vowel sound, and we went round the circle, each of us joining in however we fancied.
As we ooohed, aaahed, eeeeehed and the like, and led the direction of what would come next, Tom offered further guidance. We were to visualise the building of a cathedral. And, as we did so, we responded to what everyone else in the circle was doing and the sound, at times, became quite fittingly ethereal and otherworldly. We drifted and stumbled into moments when we were completely in sync, filling the room, our souls and feeding our minds and bodies. And finding our voices, as we created this cathedral of sound. As another participant wrote on their feedback form – we joined together as one to craft a “spiritual moment in a cruel world.”
Apparently it doesn’t always go like this – someone will start beatboxing or make a sound like a petrol engine stuttering and things will take a somewhat different – but equally valid – turn.
Lovely workshop Tom Penn. Another wonderful Heads Up moment.
You can follow Tom on twitter at @GrenvillePenn