Finding a Voice

I recently co-delivered a Ramp It Up! in Birtenshaw School in Bolton, alongside Fil Hill. Fil has written a blog post that gives a good overview of our experience at the school, which can be found here.

I wanted to write in a bit more detail about something that Fil touched upon in his post: namely, the transformative effect that an amplified microphone can bring to a participant’s engagement.

One of the items that we had recommended the school invest in was a portable amplifier with mic and stand, as well as a Roland Vocal Transformer vocal effects unit.

We firstly recommended the mic and amp as we have seen this equipment lead to extraordinary engagement in the past. Additionally, the vocal effects unit gives more options for exploration and fun, providing a range of different vocal effects in an intuitive layout.

Our previous experience of using this equipment was repeated at Birtenshaw, most notably with one particular participant, M.

On our first session, M was very quiet and shy, not speaking or vocalising at any point, and only participating tentatively, touching the instruments carefully on encouragement. There was no direct interaction with other participants. At one point during the first couple of sessions, she suddenly became very distressed, and had to be taken out of the room.

During the third session, we started singing a version of Bob Marley’s ‘Three Little Birds’ (“Every little thing’s gonna be alright”). Participants were picking out chords and root notes, and some were singing along or playing percussion.

M was passed the microphone, which was amplified with some reverb from the effects unit. She began singing along, much to the delight of the staff in the room. Not only was she singing, but she was singing confidently, in key, in time, and knew the words! She was also clearly delighted with herself, and a number of times had to stop singing because she couldn’t help laughing. The times when she did stop singing, the song continued, and she would then join back in at the right point in the tune. All of these elements showed that not only could M vocalise, but was in fact a very proficient singer. And once she had started, she didn’t want to stop, to the extent that she stayed behind when the others had left in order to keep singing!

When it was time to leave, we remarked to her assistant that she had done very well, and enquired whether she often sang. Her assistant told us that she had never sung – or spoken – in class before.

There is clearly something about amplifying the voice that can encourage those who are normally reticent to vocalise. We have found this time and again, even with cheap, plastic ‘echo mics’. It seems that the degree of objectivity given by hearing an altered version of the voice – or the voice coming from another source – is enough to remove some of the inhibiting factors that prevent some people from feeling able or confident to vocalise ‘acoustically’. Or maybe there is something of the novelty or fun of hearing your voice transformed or amplified that makes the reward worth the challenge of making that sound.

Either way, it is clear that through this opportunity to explore and play with music and sound, this young woman – and many others in different settings – felt ready, willing, and able to sing and communicate through sound, and greatly enjoyed the experience. This could have a positive impact on self-confidence, interactions, self-expression, and potentially many other aspects of day-to-day life.

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