Many Whitireia creative writing students over the last several years will have experienced the playful word activity called a word choir. Participants come up with words or very short phrases around a theme. Then they stand in formation like a choir and are conducted to create a soundscape.
"Participation in art is a big thing at the moment," says Mary-Jane Duffy, who has just returned from presenting papers on word choirs at three international conferences.
"Each paper took a slightly different angle. One looked at working with audiences a lá Miranda July, and another used Theodore Zeldon’s ideas about the difficulties of connecting in contemporary societies and then explored how a word choir provides an opportunity to engage with others through language. The third paper looked at relational ethics — how artworks model ways of living. The word choir demonstrates working together to create something on the spot. It involves cooperation, listening, leading, communication, negotiation and developing group dynamics."
"In Barcelona, at the end of my presentation, people were keen to try it out. We did two separate choirs: one on otherness and the other on belonging. Repetition, silence and sound all working together."
Mary-Jane’s keen to know if similar activities are happening around the world. "There was a man from Malaysia at the Istanbul conference. In Malaysia you perform text theatrically — you don’t just stand up and recite a poem. Other conference participants liked the idea as an exercise across creative mediums. Word choirs are a seemingly simple activity, but presenting these papers has highlighted how potent the idea is," she says.