Women In A Cappella Music

by Rhiannon

When I hear voices in song, I want to sing with them. The Compelling nature of singing is universal. Every student I have worked with talks about the songs they hear inside that won’t let them rest til they release them, about feeling alone in their music and needing the company of other singers to inspire them and help break thru the terrifying places, about how much it means to sing with other voices. Yet we are in this culture that is so much about the solo singer in front of the band and how to “make it” in the music industry. It doesn’t leave much space to dream about how voices in song maintain culture and stand in the center of social change movements.

I guess like many things in life, there are parts to this discussion and we need to see the whole picture.. It is great to sing alone in front of a band and be heard as a soloist with a message to give. To take up space and direct the instruments into the heart of your music. There is no reason not to do all of it. Nothing except time of course and that is often a precious commodity. I am currently spending my music time working on a new CD project that I hope will allow me to fill that space I have been hearing inside with my own music, and with and ensemble to fulfill the vision of the sound. Yet the voices I hear inside me want to sing with other voices, and voices only. Something profound about using the same instrument and knowing the joys and challenges of it. There is no place to hide and that is a beautiful thing in his case. I know how hard it is to hold that particular note for 4 bars and that if we all do it, that phrase will be seamless. That the first hour of recording has alot to do with getting the voice really warm and supple and that surely one of us will show up with throat lozenges and hot tea with lemon and honey. That even though we are singing the same note, there is something about our voices and placement that is making the pitch wobble and that if we make deep eye contact and work on the technicalities of the sound we will be able to get it pure.

Being a musician is the wonder of making music out of pieces of paper, sound waves that we organize, words that we write that somehow fit the notes and feeling. It is a bit of magic and I need that in life. I love songs and even more or just as much, I love free improvisation where we find a pitch or rhythm and then make music out of the air and where we are, and of course all the studying and training over the years. I have started a new free form group in the Bay Area called AIR PRAYERS. It is a gathering of singers in public places making improvisational music with an intention to promote peace, joy and harmony. So far we are working at farmer’s markets, plazas, picket lines. The possibilities are endless in this vast San Francisco Bay Area and surrounding counties. We gather in a circle, declare the intention for this particular sing, and go at it starting with one common held tone and ending in the same musical way. In between there is rhythmic and melodic interlocking parts, solos in the center, stories and dance in the center, all held by the voices. It is fulfilling a musical place in me and the others who come, and the people passing by hearing music for free in the open air. There needs to be a central conductor who holds the energy of the circle and creates the parts, but each singer helps to form the musical core. It is in infant stages and will be ongoing. You can find out more about it by calling 415-927-1335 or checking in the AIR PRAYERS section of my web site at www.rhiannonmusic.com.

The music of the world is full of a cappella singing. It is important to stay open to all the cultural a cappella music to get a true picture of this form. It isn’t just bands of singers with bass, percussive singing, harmonies and solos. It is so varies from tribe to village to city to concert hall. But a cappella music is international as you know. Just last night I was listening to a cd of pygmy music from the Cameroon called HEARTS OF THE FOREST. It is the children singing a beautiful line over and over with an adult playing a rhythm drum. It is the women singing and laughing in their work day, making music at the river using the water as percussion. I went to sleep to it smiling, feeling a part of their life just in that listening. I buy more world music these days that anything else as it satisfies some longing in me to be part of the world and all the music that flows through. The language, the spirit of the people and the land, their troubles and joys come through the music for me. I dream and plan for visits to places where I can study the local music, give back what I can, and make a connection that is beyond language.

I hope you have someone to sing with. I hope you are singing and taking up space. I hope you are sharing your song. SING ON, SING ON ENDLESSLY.


Rhiannon is a vibrant, gifted singer and teacher who has been bringing her unique and potent blend of world music, jazz, improvisation and storytelling to international audiences for three decades.

Her journey has taken her from the South Dakota farm to New York, where she studied theater and earned her MFA from Cornell University. In the Œ70šs Rhiannon co-founded the groundbreaking all-female jazz quintet Alive! This pioneering group toured internationally and released three albums during their ten years together. Rhiannon has enjoyed a longtime musical collaboration with vocal improvision master Bobby McFerrin. In 1997 Rhiannon recorded Circle songs with Bobby and was featured soloist on the 1997-98 US and European tours. She is a founding member of both Voicestra and the innovative a cappella ensemble SoVoSo.

Rhiannonšs current work is focused on international collaboration, social change, and her ongoing exploration of the transformational and healing qualities of music.

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