Black Lives Matter Commissioning Project 2022

I’m excited to be participating in a project with a difference - crowdfunding commissioning black composers to write songs for community choirs. The project is being co-ordinated by three song leaders in the UK and US, and is designed for choirs all over the world. I'll be participating as an 'independent practitioner'.

I’ll be running workshops teaching the songs once they’re written - online and in various locations in Aotearoa. Right now I’m inviting you to get involved by supporting this project up-front. You can show how much you enjoy singing these kinds of songs by contributing to the commissioning fund, and I’ll keep you posted with how things are going. I’m hoping they’ll be ready for workshopping later in the year and will organise some events to share them with you.

“As singers living in the western world, for generations we have had access to songs and culture from all over the world, often shared without acknowledging or paying the traditional singers. This hasn’t been in the context of a reciprocal sharing; it’s been in the context of occupation and colonisation of one group of people by another. As there remains a power imbalance in the world, so there is a power imbalance in how songs have been both shared and taken.”

 - Recent statement from the Natural Voice Network about cultural appropriation, appreciation and honouring

Rebalancing the power

How would it be if we, as singers, could have a direct connection with the person who wrote the song? If we could help to financially support the creatives who are the source of so much musical joy? If we had a way to show our respect for the cultures and traditions that have already given us so much?

Music is a living tradition, and songs change as they pass from singer to singer, from community to community – a chain of song that can be traced from its origins through to this moment when *I* teach *you*. One way to ensure these songs move ethically from one to another, voice to voice, is to shorten the chain so the singer can know the tradition-bearer or songwriter.

“The songs we sing don’t exist in a vacuum; they interact with the world in which we live. Songs and contexts change, just as people and communities change. Our understanding as individuals and as a community is constantly evolving…”

The story so far...

I’m a song leader of community singing, I came originally from England and have been settled in Aotearoa since the early 1990s. Although I’ve only been involved in singing since I came here, the songs and style of teaching I use are based heavily on the Natural Voice movement that flourished in the early 1980s in the UK and elsewhere.

Ideas like “everyone can sing” and “singing is our birth right” are still popular today with groups such as the Natural Voice Network, which I’m a member of.

As a song leader, I’ve had the greatest pleasure in meeting people from cultures other than my own, of learning the songs that they share with me and to better understand myself and others through this joyful act of singing together. As I share the song onwards, at a workshop or to the regular choir I lead, I try my best to contextualise the song; I know this is important to respect the originating writer or culture, to preserve their status and the integrity of the song itself, and to maximise the flow of energy that the song carries.

A song truly can convey so much more than words. And that ‘essence’ is almost beyond describing. I don’t always get it right, but this is what I try to do – I’m a ‘work in progress’ that will no doubt take at least a lifetime!

So here is my offering today: to introduce the singers who I’ve had the pleasure of sharing songs with over the years, to a special group of song writers, composers and culture-bearers from a background that is different from ours. To give you the opportunity to support these creatives directly, and to be part of a worldwide movement to connect originators with participants through crowdfunding and targeted commissioning.

The 2022 Crowdfunding initiative

individual singers each paid a small sum into a central fund which was then used to pay for new songs to be written by black composers, specifically for community choirs and singing groups. Once written, the songs and all teaching materials will be released to participating choirs and practitioners (that’s me) – and in my case I’ll be teaching them in workshops in early 2023.

Ongoing contributions

I'll be including a contribution to these composers within my budget for the workshops I'll be running where these songs will be the central focus. Those who have previously contributed via the crowdfunding in 2022 will be able to attend the workshops at a small discount.


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