On Wednesday 8th February, songstress, vocal coach & recording artist, ShezAr, came down to Talent House for the fourth UD Masterclass, an ‘All Things Vocals & Wellbeing’ workshop. Jojo Jones reports on the night…
Before any attendees enter the room, I am lucky enough to chat to ShezAr about what her plans are for the Vocal Masterclass. A larger than life character exuding positive energy and good vibes, ShezAr tells me the main goal vocal attendees should take from her class is to ‘learn respect for and importance of vocal care.’ And with over 15+ years experience in the music industry, there is no-one more qualified to provide tips for the budding vocalists than her (check out ShezAr’s full biography here to understand more about her work over the years).
The semi-circle of chairs, that the 25 or so attendees for the night file in and sit down on, don’t stay in place for long, as ShezAr soon gets everyone up and moving. ShezAr opts to begin her workshop with a full on physical warm up, of two stepping and dancing, that gets everyone smiling and connecting, united in a rhythmic two-step. SheZar mentioned to me that her holistic workshops focus on aligning the body and mind to be present and in full control of the voice box. This physical warm up fills the room with energy, everyone shaking out the day they’ve had and joining together through music. I can see endless smiles around the room, and a complete absence of inhibitions as ShezAr leads a series of stretches and physical exercises, getting the body ready for singing.
Spread out across the room, ShezAr takes the attendees back to the very basics, reminding them of the fundamentals of breathing. As she says, we breathe on autopilot, not thinking about our actions. But as singing is such a physical activity that requires presence from the body and mind, it is so important to bring awareness to the breathe. This is not the first time that ShezAr’s words carry importance far beyond the walls of Talent House, telling her class that this breathing exercise can and should be used to check in with yourself daily. ShezAr ironically brings everyone in the room together by suggesting they all focus on themselves, and every angle of their breathing. All the while there is a continual beat in the background, music leading and empowering the room.
The group is then led in a series of breathing and vocal exercises, expertly conducted of course. Humming runs, lip trill runs and ‘revving your engines’ are all guided through for the group. They are reminded of the importance of emotion in this practice; ShezAr is very clear that how you’ve been feeling can affect your vocal chords, and that connecting with your feelings can benefit your singing ability. Encouraging the group to close their eyes and engage with the body, ShezAr suggests that singing is medicine, and can help you tap in to feelings you’ve never had before and “learn to be in control of what we’re carrying daily…” This was something I personally had never considered and by the end of the masterclass was in firm agreement.
Next is a series of facial muscle massages and exercises, with an emphasis on self care and looking after yourself. As ShezAr emphasises again, looking after your vocal chords is showing self-compassion and giving yourself grace and real life methods that the group can employ outside of the class, such as facial massages that they can do daily to help care for their vocal box. ShezAr uses humour and confidence to bring an ease and comfort to the room.
Our workshop leader then challenges the group to self assign themselves to the vocal group of tenors, altos and sopranos, without physically grouping themselves together to find their vocal harmonies. Singing along to the soulful house track ‘Days Like This‘, the first time the group is let loose to sing freely is magical, everyone moving dancing and feeling themselves.
The main portion of the workshop is a set of lyrics taught to the group and dividing up the altos, sopranos and tenors, with the task of creating their own 8 counts of harmonies and lyrics to fit into the song. SheZar acknowledges this is a big task to achieve in a short time, but the group is eager to take on the enjoyable challenge. Before coming back together as a group, ShezAr seems to realise she hadn’t learnt anyone’s name, with not long left of the workshop, chooses to dedicate the time to again learning and singing every persons name in the room, impressively completing the task with ease. The group then starts an impromptu singsong and harmonise each others names – everyone in the room gets the same treatment! It is safe to say I very much enjoyed having my name sang with harmonies by a group of beautiful singers.
While the three groups are working together and creating beautiful sounds, ShezAr is burning incense and adding to the vibe of the room. I am impressed by the lack of nerves in the room, and the whole group feel cozy performing what they had had barely 30 minutes to prepare. Standing in a newly formed semi-circle, ShezAr conducts the group encouraging and beaming at the new song and singers she has helped create. We over-run on time but none of the group seem to care, happy to continue singing laughing, and being in the moment! Although singing could be stereotypically very vulnerable and soul-bearing, this group of people shared a moment of togetherness, with laughter and music at the heart of it all, energetically led by ShezAr and her ear-to-ear smile and attitude.
Words & photos: Jojo Jones. Jojo Jones is a freelance writer, photographer, DJ & radio host. Listen to Jojo Jones on the 3rd Wednesday of the month on voicesradio.co.uk and check out her work @jojo_j0nes jojojones.uk