Singing in the Workplace – A Director Makes it Happen

How do you get someone to sing who 'doesn't sing'? Dan Cooper shares his methods with us.

Dan Cooper runs “SingForce”, a program which promotes well-being in the workplace through music. SingForce is even able to get people involved who would otherwise shy away from singing. These fun session are accessible regardless of singing experience.

We asked Dan to tell us how he overcomes barriers to singing. Those who run and recruit for choirs may just be interested to hear his perspectives!

How did this all start?

When a local zoo wanted to start a workplace choir. They contacted me back in 2012, and the rest is history! I still run sessions at the zoo every single week and have done for the past 8 years. Such a great bunch and we have such fun.

What barriers do you encounter when working with people who don’t usually sing?

It’s so funny; so many people are worried about the way that their voice sounds and they don’t feel that they’re any good. I continually support and encourage participants to give it a go, often saying ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’. Slowly, but surely, they realize the quality is not the important bit, but in fact, it’s the taking part. My motto at SingForce sessions is; ‘strong and wrong’. It’s giving singers a safe space to expose a vulnerable side to them in a supportive environment.

What are some of the experiences people have that are a surprise to them?

A lot of people are surprised by how good a group of people singing together, in harmony, can sound. They’re often surprised when a song has been completed because they managed to remember their parts and sing it confidently. We also don’t use any lyric sheets at SingForce sessions. We learn everything (parts & lyrics) by ear, using call and response, so many people are often surprised when they remember lyrics too!

Dan (on right) with some of the staff choir of Solent University in Southampton, UK.

Have any grumpy skeptics been transformed by the experience?

There are a number of people who enter the room, often encouraged by a colleague, very unsure, arms folded who say ‘I’m not singing, just here to listen’. This doesn’t last long. Within minutes, their arms unfold and not long after that, they’ll start humming along and before you know it, they’re part of the group, singing! They’ll often encourage other colleagues to come along too.

What do you do now that you didn’t when you  started?

I ensure all songs are in a 3 part harmony. Sometimes, previously, I’d venture up to 4 part harmony in songs but this was sometimes a little too challenging for some of the singers. I arrange all songs in-house so ensure that all songs are now in 3 parts only. These songs are also used for other SingForce leaders to deliver sessions across the nation too.

What can choir directors, looking to grow their choirs, learn from your experience?

I think it’s all about the environment and taking the pressure off the end product. In turn and over time, the sound output develops to be great but I really think nurturing singers to feel comfortable is super important and should never be overlooked.

What holds people back from singing more?

In the workplace, usually the fear of their colleagues knowing they sing. It’s so sad that this still exists, but it’s why I’m making it my aim to change the perception of the word ‘choir’. A lot of people think choral, church, traditional, whereas SingForce is fun, accessible and popular. One man turned up, nervously, to one of our workplace choir sessions, and he wanted to hide at the back so that the colleagues on his particular team didn’t see him and tease him for it. Over time, he’s come out of his shell and in December 2019, he stood in a visible position at a full staff event to perform a few songs. Incredible.

Dan (on left) with the staff choir of Mayflower Theatre in Southampton, UK.

What most releases a person who doesn’t usually sing, to sing?

I think this comes down to repertoire. When they turn up to a session and we’re teaching a well known pop song that they may well sing along to in the shower anyway, it helps. This encourages people to sing more and connect to something (a song or artist) that they’re already familiar with. Doing that in a supportive setting is the cherry on the cake.

How do you usually begin sessions?

We often start with a lip bubble but this really is a short warm-up. As mentioned earlier, all songs are arranged in house. These are in 3 part harmony referred to as ‘high’, ‘middle’ and ‘low’ to be super accessible. Our songs range from artists like Fleetwood Mac & ABBA to John Legend & Dua Lipa.

Any favorite vocal warm ups or exercises?

We really don’t do many vocal exercises and this is because I just want participants to do something that feels as familiar as possible. Lots of vocal exercises can sometimes put skeptical people off and can make them feel uncomfortable. My ethos at SingForce is fun. We’re just singing for fun; we’re singing songs, for fun. The second somebody, in a room with their colleagues, feels uncomfortable, that isn’t fun for them. It’s not easy to address every time, but its being aware of the small things which help the majority enjoy their time with us, all the time.

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