Designed and implemented in Plaisance by Frédérique Drolet and Mariane Lacroix (2022)
The birdsong course was designed by Frédérique Drolet (soprano) and Mariane Lacroix (naturalist from Parc national de Plaisance) in 2022. The activity was created specifically for the Grand défi ornithologique des parcs nationaux, organized on June 11, 2022 by the Sépaq network, the magazine QuébecOiseaux and the bird watching clubs of several regions of southern Quebec. It has been developed for an intergenerational family audience, suitable for birdwatching enthusiasts or neophytes.
This workshop was designed to combine :
- The educational mission of the Park regarding the conservation and protection of biodiversity
- A creative artistic approach through the exploration of the voice
- The goal is to make art in nature and to sharpen our sense of observation of nature, thus opening us to the infinite source of inspiration that it offers us.
2. Educational objectives
To discover a number of bird species in Quebec (in particular the breeding birds of Parc national de Plaisance)
To learn specific information about these birds with the help of :
- scientific data
- sound recordings
- warm-ups and playful vocal exercises inspired by their songs, their approaches, their characteristics
- Learn to recognize bird songs using the human voice
- Explore the different sounds of our voice
- Discover our creative potential
- Introduction to certain musical and theatrical concepts such as rhythm, pitch, timbre, nuances, physicality, etc.
- Collaboration and socialization through intergenerational teamwork
3. General course of the workshop (90 minutes)
- Welcome and presentation of the activity to the participants
- Icebreaker game in a circle to get to know each other and establish the group dynamic
- Vocal, body and rhythmic warm-up activities inspired by birds
- Discovery of the breeding birds of the Parc national de Plaisance (between 3 and 5)
- Activity of creating imaginary bird songs
4. Warm-up activities
Most of the warm-ups are inspired by birds from here and elsewhere, whether by their song, their call, their gait, their physical characteristics or certain characteristics of their habitat or behaviour.
To elaborate these warm-ups, we can be inspired by the observation of birds in our environment, but also by videos, recordings (the Merlin Birds application is a real treasure!), books and photos. Here are some examples:
- Stretching and mobility exercises: wriggling, moving only your eyes like a pigeon, spreading your wings
- Rhythm exercises (walking/body percussion): with fun sounds, such as moving in a hoop doing the “chicken cha-cha” (123-pock-pock-pock) or doing a courtship with coloured scarves
- Breathing exercises (low/rhythmic breathing with walking): raptor glide (exhale on tsss… as long as possible while extending arms)
Bird inspired vocal warm-ups:
- Wild turkey (ah! Gobble-gobble!)
- American Bittern (woodblock, water sound, tongue click, imitate cattail in the wind)
Singing sparrow (brrr…)
5. Discovering nesting birds
This section was developed jointly with Mariane Lacroix, naturalist of the Parc national de Plaisance, with the goal of introducing participants to some of the breeding birds of the Park or the surrounding area, which they could then identify during their future walks.
The selection of the few birds was made by Frédérique, from a long list provided by Mariane. To reproduce bird songs with the voice (and not by whistling) requires many hours of listening to the songs (on the Merlin Birds application, for example), of vocal exploration and… imagination! The goal is not to perfectly reproduce the bird’s song or call, but to make sure that the participants will be able to recognize the bird’s song in nature after having practiced it while having fun. For this reason, the birds to be presented in this section must be carefully selected.
Procedure for each of the birds chosen:
- Singing quiz: the artist-mediator does a free imitation of the bird in question, without revealing its name to the participants. The participants try to guess the name of the bird in question.
- Presentation of the bird (name, habitat, biological characteristics, photo, etc.) by the naturalist
- Listening to the bird’s song/cries on the Merlin Birds application
- Vocal exercises and fun games inspired by the bird, sound specificities: briefly discuss certain musical concepts such as timbre, pitch, rhythm
- Learning the bird’s song (voice and staging): break down the different parts and create a fun little choreography!
6. Imaginary Bird Activity
Following the previous discovery activity, which contains both information about existing birds and their natural habitat, and musical exercises, participants are now invited to create their own imaginary bird song.
- Form teams of 2 or more people
- Explain the process
- Give the instructions to be respected:
- The song must be repeatable
- The song must be short
- The song must be teachable to the other participants
- You must find a name for your bird
- Give an example with certain parameters chosen at random or given by the participants
- Invite teams to pick up colored scarves during their preparation, if they wish
- Distribution of parameters to teams
The parameters written on paper are prepared either by the mediator in advance, or by the participants themselves during the workshop (this can be a preparatory activity for the creation of imaginary bird songs, see point #7 below).
Teams can therefore receive a “coconut” with parameters already defined inside, or they can draw the parameters from containers. If there are 3 different parameters, 3 containers will be prepared and the teams will be asked to draw one or more papers from each container, depending on the established parameters.
The teams have 7–10 minutes to create their bird song. If they wish, they can also find a particular physical expression for it (walk, posture, etc.)
Invite teams to present their bird (the entire team can present, or designate one member to present solo)
If time permits, one designated member per team will teach the imaginary bird song to the entire group.
7. Setting parameters and possible preparatory activity
It is essential to provide parameters for inspiration for the creation of the bird songs, especially if the workshop is for participants who have no musical experience. If time permits, I suggest doing a preparatory activity with them to create these parameters, which can then be mixed and picked up. If not, we can provide parameters on chart paper or “coconuts” with some parameters inside.
Setting parameters with participants:
In a brainstorming session, invite participants to propose the parameters that will be used to create the bird songs. Anything goes, since these are imaginary birds! Here are some suggested parameters with examples to inspire participants:
What might the imaginary bird’s song sound like?
A leaky faucet
The sound of high heels clicking
Wind rustling through the leaves
A car that has trouble starting
Which family would be the bird’s cousin?
In which habitat could the bird live?
In the sand
On the planet Mars
On the roof of a cathedral
On the water lilies
In what situation is the bird?
It is taking his bath
It meets a rival
It is looking for a mate
It is about to incubate its egg
What onomatopoeia could be found in the bird’s song?
8. Equipment needed:
Speaker and phone
Merlin Birds application
9. Notes to the Facilitator
Establishing a joyful and welcoming group dynamic is essential for the activity to run smoothly. Participants should feel that this is a group exploration session, not a technical singing class.
Encourage participants by example to come up with ideas, to laugh at themselves, to be silly… don’t take yourself too seriously and put your ego aside!
Ideally, the activity takes place in nature, in a place where the group is not observed by people who are not participating in the activity. This avoids the embarrassment that some participants might have and allows them to dive into the proposed activities in a more natural way.
For more information or for any questions, please contact
Frédérique Drolet, soprano/artist-mediator