Ask everyone to think of the first vowel of their first name.
When ready, invite everyone to make the sound of this vowel loudly and constantly as they mingle with others.
Mingling continues until every person who is singing the same type of sound find each other.
A maximum of five different groups may form.
Video Transcript of Vowel Orchestra
presented by Mark Collard
I’d like you now to consider… consider your first name. My name is Mark. And consider in particular the first vowel in your name. So mine is an ‘A’.
It happens to be the only vowel, but hopefully everyone has at least one vowel in their name. Anyone having trouble with that task first of all?
Okay. Your object now is to imagine you’re in a grand aria, an opera let’s say, and that you’re going to be able to use that vowel sound to find everyone else who’s in the same group as you.
So I’m looking for all the other people who have a ‘A’ or a ‘Ah’ or however you choose to do it, you’ll be recognising the sound to identify them in your group.
Belt it out. Imagine you’ve got whatever is necessary, the whole frame, the barrel chest to be able to punch out that operatic sound of the first vowel of your name. Got the idea? You’re looking for everyone else in your group, without otherwise speaking or indicating, using just the sound to find your partners. Go!
(people forming groups as part of Vowel Orchestra)
Nicely played. I think some of you did that all in one breath. Impressive. Very good.
Alright. Let’s go our way through the vowels and identify where each of our groups may or may not be. So we can start with the ‘A’s, where are they? And you’re going to give us a good choral sound once we identify where your group is. So the ‘A’s.
Very high ‘I’. Very nice. We got ‘O’.
Sounds like a pack of wolves. And ‘U’. Are there any ‘U’s? Not many ‘U’s.
(What noise would you make?)
‘Uuuu’ or ‘Oooo’, I don’t know what they’ll make. Maybe they didn’t want to turn up today because they didn’t know what to do.
Alright, so you found yourself a group. Note that what is the size of each of your groups? Are they even? Not necessarily. So this is another random way in which you can divide your groups up. There’s a billion different ways of doing it.
One of my favourites is using that vowel sound. You frequently don’t end up with many, if any, in the ‘U’s. It’s not a particularly popular vowel in many people’s names.
However, if you do need an even number of people, just divide them up and say hey, you and you over there and move people about, but you’ve had some fun on the way.
How To Play Narrative
You could use this simple little exercise as an example of Categories. However, if you have the time and the inclination, it can take on a life of its own.
Ask everyone to close their eyes, and to think of the first vowel of their first name.
Then, invite them to imagine in their mind’s eye the most beautiful voice in the world singing that vowel out loud. Think of the treatment a full-bodied, no-holds-barred opera singer would give that vowel.
Now, invite them to open their eyes, and reproduce that magnificent sound as best and as strong as they can.
After a few tentative starts, you will soon hear a cacophony of “AAA”s, “EEE”s, “III”s and “OOO”s, and if you’re lucky a few “UUU”s (there never seem to be many of these.) The idea is for each person to keep belting out their vowel until they find everyone else who is singing the same sound. Like attracts like.
Now, you could just stop here and move onto whatever activity you planned that required four or five smaller groups. Or, as I would recommend, have some harmonic fun on the way.
Invite each group of vowels (suitably separated from everyone else) to perform, so to speak, a little choral masterpiece. Waving your conductor’s baton in the air, tempt each group as you point to them to sing their ‘vowel aria’ in harmony together.
Blend the vowels together, make some short, others long, soft notes and loud notes, whatever. You get the idea. Clearly, the more enthusiasm you put into your role as conductor, the more your group will respond.
This never ceases to inspire a lot of smiles. Often, people who would never consider themselves singers are amazed at how gorgeous their voice sounds when it’s mixed with a large group. They may also think they sound good in the shower too!
Practical Leadership Tips
This exercise works particularly well in groups where people don’t know each other much, if at all. That is to say, people familiar with each other’s names may not even bother to sing or certainly listen to others, and instead, simply congregate with those they know share the same vowel.
As most people have an aversion to singing in public, consider your sequence before launching into this exercise. It’s very fun, but people do have to feel confident that they won’t be ridiculed as soon as they open their mouths.
It’s not essential that you conduct the vowel orchestra, but it is fun and gives a further reason for asking people to vocalise their vowels in the first place.
Encourage the emerging vowel-infused groups to keep up their melodies. Often, once people find their ‘home,’ they stop singing, which makes it more difficult for others to find their rightful group.
You could integrate Vowel Orchestra as part of a well-designed SEL program to promote and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse people.
Specifically, this activity offers ample opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Linking Feelings, Values & Thoughts
Identifying Personal, Cultural & Linguistic Assets
Anticipating & Evaluating the Consequences of One’s Actions
Promoting Personal & Collective Well-Being
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
There is no specific health & wellness perspective to this activity other than promoting the benefits to one’s wellbeing of enjoying a short dose of mixing and interacting with others.
In a small way, you could argue that the effort (and mindset) required to interact and sing publicly in front of one’s peers may speak to the benefits of having developed a set of supportive and healthy behavioural norms in advance. Or, if not, you could use these less-than-desired interactions or outcomes to explore what sorts of behaviours your group would prefer to see. For example, you could invite your group to reflect on the level of comfort (with singing in public) that was observed and demonstrated during the activity and discuss how this general willingness to take risks intersects with your group’s ability to achieve results.
If you can think of more explicit ways in which Vowel Orchestra could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
Last Name: Use the first vowel of a person’s last name. This way, you have a better chance of getting closer to five small groups that are more or less even in number.
Alphabet Sounds: For a more complex version, ask people to sing the sound of the initial of their first name. This, of course, will include all of the consonants, attracting all sounds of a similar harmony (you know, the last part of the sound.) For example, everyone whose name starts with an E, D, P or T will associate with the EEEs.
Take a look at Categories to explore a similar but far more diverse form of this game.
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Useful Framing Ideas
I know, I know, you would never consider singing in public for fear of ridicule, but in this exercise, you don’t even have to hold a tune. All you have to do is say one letter…
Even if you have never been to the opera, images of larger-than-life men and women filling the auditorium with their wholesome choral tunes will immediately come to mind. The over-the-top costumes, the horned viking-style helmets, draped curtains and so on. Close your eyes for a second, and just imagine you are on stage and you are singing the most beautiful full-bodied aria…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after playing this fun energiser, group-splitting exercise:
What did you think when you first heard that you would need to ‘sing’ out loud?
How did you feel during the exercise? Why?
Was it difficult to find your group? Why?
The inspiration for Vowel Orchestra, and many more innovative and random-mixing energisers, was sourced from the following publications: