Briony Greenhill a folk-soul improvisational artist who teaches Collaborative Vocal Improvisation (CVI) internationally, plus political activist (Twitter, Bandcamp, YouTube, Patreon).
She tells her story of performing different sorts of music when she was young, but not fitting with a music degree. After her 20s in political campaigning, she stopped believing we could have ‘business as usual, but greener’. An experience of Indian improvised music then inspired her to a different direction, which became Collective Vocal Improvisation.
Our conversation asks: what could politics (and all of our society become) if we acted like people do in Collective Vocal Improvisation: not placing one person as most important; creating positive sum games; and starting in the void then, crucially, working through the mess to get deep?
Briony uses the word ‘sh1t’ a few times, in reference to the state of the world.
The interview was on Mon 18 July, the first day of 40C heat in the UK.
Debut studio album Crossing the Ocean.
Briony’s history of Collaborative Vocal Improvisation, a modern approach to vocal music emerging in the last 40 years in the US. The most famous practitioner is Bobby McFerrin (of ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’).
Four Columns form the HEART Community Group: 1. Mainstream; 2. Business as Usual but Greener; 3. Emergency; 4. Collapse Aware.
Hospicing Modernity by Vanessa Machado de Oliveira (also know as Vanessa Andreotti of Gestures Towards Decolonial Futures).
Rhiannon, one of Briony’s teachers.
Spiral Dynamics is a model of the evolutionary development of individuals, organizations, and societies.
Edge Retreats with Kim.
Alex Steffen on how the planetary crisis is not an issue, but a change in era.
Briony’s app Your Song – “Learn to improvise: set your voice free. Magnificently.”
Term ‘anthropocene’ explained on wikipedia here.
Chris Smaje – A small farm future.
Sometime a Wild God by Tom Hirons. “Sometimes a wild god comes to the table./ He is awkward and does not know the ways / Of porcelain, of fork and mustard and silver./ His voice makes vinegar from wine / And brings the dead to life.”
Jewels Wingfield – “Re-wilding love, earthing soul…”
Vision Quest: according to wikipedia (here): “a rite of passage in some Native American cultures”. Way of Nature (amongst others) offer a Modern Vision Quest, where you are supported to go into nature alone to seek guidance.
0:50 – Q1 What are you doing now? And how did you get there?
10:41 – BONUS QUESTION: Why do you think you responded so strongly to this improvisational approach to music, and what is igniting the community around your teaching?
19:31 – Q2. What is the future you are trying to create, and why?
34:02 – Q3. What are your priorities for the next few years, and why?
39:09 – Q4. If someone was inspired to follow those priorities, what should they do next?
42:34 – Q5. If your younger self was starting their career now, what advice would you give them?
45:36 – Q6. Who would you nominate to answer these questions, because you admire their approach?
46:54 – Q7. Is there anything else important you feel you have to say?
-“So to improvise you, you stand in the void you, you you kind of cherish the not knowing the unknown as your starting point. And then see, allow, you know, what is the first thing that comes in, you give voice to it, and then you keep following and following that. You do that alone and with others.”
-“We’re asking the question, is it time? And do we have the capacity to foment a new political movement and perhaps a new political party for the UK is edging towards some shifts in their political system design?”
-“With an ensemble of singers, and you’re all in the void together, you’re listening, and you’re following them, and you’re co creating. It’s kind of emergent magic, really. How it feels to stand in a room with a group of people and co-create music in the moment together. It’s just when it’s good, it’s extremely, you know, it’s better than drugs. It’s like, really friggin good. And it brings you close to the people and it makes you feel incredibly well. And it’s fun, and it’s thrilling. And it’s terrifying. It’s like a theme park meets a good trip meets deep community meets. All these kind of experiential benefits of of doing this art form to people and try it.”
-“I’m trying to create in an authentic healing, regenerative Culture of power ‘with’.” [which Collective Vocal Improvisation gives some models for how to pursue together.]
-“how do we bring that kind of a different way of relating into political culture in a way that might invite more voices into politics?”
-“this principle of not putting one person in the middle”
-“And I think we desperately need more different more diverse voices in politics. And I suppose it’s a slightly different point. But this authenticity piece, you know, when music and lyrics are coming out of your mouth faster than you can possibly edit. At some point, you just have to crack open and allow your authenticity to be heard.”
“I think France is on fire right now like California has been on fire for years and the world is not getting any safer. And I don’t think we can carry on perpetuating industry industrial modernity the way we have been for 300 years and it’s beyond. lightbulbs, it is about looking at what we did pre-industrial revolution, and looking at how we can weave that with some of the gifts in modernity and build a future that’s actually viable and actually has all of life and balance with all of life. So basically, I want to build a future where all of life is in balance with all of life, a culture, a way of communicating a way of relating and way of doing politics, way of doing community, where all of life can find a way to be in balance with all of life.”
“I think there is a thread for each soul to follow. And it and it takes some listening and acceptance and allowing it to surprise you.”
-“I think there is a thread for each soul to follow. And it and it takes some listening and acceptance and allowing it to surprise you. You know, you might have a first class degree in political science and this great CV as a behaviour change specialist. And then one day you hear a man play violin, it sends you into a trance, you have tears running down your face, and you, you go to him and he becomes your teacher, and you just meet with him every day. And the next thing you know, you’re teaching four year olds to play piano. It’s like, I think there is a thread to follow. And with improvisation, you know, there’s always that you start with the void, and you start to sing, and it has this path, it flows, it starts messy, and then it gets musical. And then it gets deep.”
-Q: If you’re if your younger self was starting their career now what advice would you give them? A: Don’t believe that your culture around you has everything in it