• Ash Brockwell


Updated: Sep 16, 2020

The rise of talent shows like 'The X Factor' and 'The Voice' has left millions of people too scared to enjoy one of the best mental (and spiritual) health interventions in existence.

Mention the idea of joining a singing group and people often back away in horror - 'Oh, I can't sing, I'm hopeless, I'm tone-deaf, I can't hold a tune.' But how did we get to the point of viewing singing as something you shouldn't even attempt unless you're planning to make a career of it?

Spirituality and song have gone hand in hand for centuries

I blame TV talent shows. Seeing ordinary people, whose voices might be slightly off-key, harsh or out of time, being ripped to pieces by the likes of Simon Cowell in the name of 'entertainment' is enough to scare anyone off singing. But what if it was never meant to be about performance at all? What if the important thing was the quality of the experience, not the quality of the sound?

Traditional church services often get this right. Whatever you might criticize about church-based worship, one thing it doesn't include is judgement of people's singing voices. What matters is the collective intention, the emotion, and the feeling of surrendering to something far greater than the small individual self. But with the decline in church attendance, many Westerners' only experiences of shared song are at football matches, weddings and funerals.

Songwork Gatherings: reinventing a folk singing tradition

I use the term 'songwork' to refer to a shared singing activity that doesn't rely on a rehearsal-and-performance dynamic, but focuses on the experience of singing together.

Much like the folk songs that were once woven through daily life (and still are, in many societies!), songwork isn't converned with the quality of the sound but with the meaning of the lyrics. Songs can be life-changing when people commit to implementing the insights drawn out from them, both individually and collectively.

To facilitate this process, I've created the Songwork Gathering as a structured activity in three main sections, each of which is opened with a specific song:

The first part is the Circle of Talking, in which people take it in turns to talk freely about whatever's on their mind - how they're feeling, what's happening in their lives right now, their hopes and dreams, or anything else they want to share within the confidential space of the group. Whle they're talking, the others listen attentively without offering any judgement or advice.

The second part is the Circle of Listening, which is defined by silent meditation, writing or other ways of 'listening for the inner voice' - often as a way of seeking answers to questions raised, or problems discussed, during the talking circle.

Finally, in the Circle of Co-Creating, people's isnights from the meditation time are woven together to create something new - whether it's an artistic creation, a project, a vision for the future, or just an uplifting conversation.

This broad structure, which I like to call the 'TLC Gathering' - representing tender loving care, as well as Talking, Learning and Creating - can be used as a container for any type of songwork, whether it's based on religious, spiritual, mystical or secular songs. You can find the Songs of the Gathering (including the 'Call to the Gathering' and 'Closing Song' as well as the songs to open the three circles) on the Way of the Rainbow website.

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