Sam Queen: In Search of Spirituality

Detail from collage created by participants of Wealth and Poverty

Sam Queen is a vocalist, composer and trainer and one of the artists taking part in our current project, In Search of Spirituality. We have asked Sam and six other artists from various disciplines to record and share their experience as they take part.

“My involvement with Outside in Pathways began when I sang with the group in two performances of London at the V & A, in 2014. Through Saffron van Zwanenberg [Artistic Director at Jackdaws], I was invited to join the group at an earlier stage of the creative process for Wealth and Poverty [an earlier project from Outside In Pathways]. Over a series of Thursdays at the V & A, then Tate Britain and finally Westminster Abbey, I led music sessions with the group. These incorporated general musical games, physical and musical warm-ups, and working on technical singing skills alongside composing and building a programme of songs to present in two performances at Westminster Abbey. Each session blended exercises and games that Saffron has used with the group already, with new challenges. I tried to give each participant the chance to sing by themselves, to sing in unison with the group, and introduce harmonic and other rhythmic elements to our musical palette.

We would start each session with a physical and singing warm-up. We used a mixture of familiar games and songs, and also new material. I planned some of the material we would use, while allowing flexibility for the group to choose some of the songs we sang, or games we played. There were two main strands to my task: developing the singing and musical ensemble of the group; and, to compose a work based on the group’s visits earlier in the Wealth and Poverty project, and their written accounts of these visits.

To develop the singing and musical skills of the group, we explored the resonance of singing with different voices. Some of the group responded especially to when I demonstrated in falsetto, whereas others seemed more stimulated by my lower register. We also learned a spiritual, Poor Wayfaring Stranger, and walked slowly through our rehearsal space. We started by humming the tune, or singing it to a simple voice sound like ‘ooh.’ There was a profound response amongst the group when we sang and moved, and also when we were still and sang this melody with our eyes closed. These responses inspired me to compose a wordless refrain and descant for the final song of Wealth and Poverty.

I firmly believe that the primal sound quality of some of the singing was directly related to responses in the Emotional Motor Systems of the participants. This links to the pedagogical model that my vocal teaching follows in other contexts. It is based on the approach of Janice Chapman, in her book Singing and Teaching Singing: A Holistic Approach. Janice is my own voice teacher.

Furthermore, we worked on the three pillars of musical proficiency: accuracy/ musicianship; (vocal) technique; and, communication/interpretation. In other words, we rehearsed week after week to become more and more familiar with the musical material, with the aim of singing the final performances without needing prompt sheets. I noticed that the musical/aural skills of the group improved. For instance, musical ensemble (starting phrases together, or staying ‘in time’) showed a great progress over the project. As I mentioned above we worked on using different vocal registers. In addition, we used different vocal effects at points, such as whispering, or more sustained vocal lines. To develop the communication and interpretation of the group we used physical moves to demonstrate ideas, or words, and these became known after the singer who ‘created’ them.

I anticipate my role with the group to follow similar lines as we work on the vocal music for In Search of Spirituality: taking the words and responses of the participants to create songs and ensembles to form a work that reflects the experiences that their other visits and inspirations has given them.”

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With thanks to the Arts Council of England

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