Gossip and Hoeing

Purpose of the exercise

To create a playful, non-threatening, non-judgmental opportunity for students/participants to extend vocal range and colour.

To help students discover that chatting, gossiping, hollering, chanting and singing are all on a continuum.

To recreate a sense of community and continuity.

A brief history of the exercise:

I used the simple potent call and response from the very outset of my workshops in 1975. This was based on the warm-up exercises learned from Ethel Raim’s Balkan singing workshops. For the first two years of workshops, I had a room with chairs and we moved between sitting and standing. I then moved to a dance studio with no seating. It got tiring either standing or sitting on the floor for the entire duration so I started to use simulated work movements. Initially, the calls were “hay” or “ee”, but over the years they have elaborated into made-up language with a much wider range of sounds, colours and expression. Frankie Armstrong


This would most likely be within the first hour or so following a playful-style body/voice warm-up. This would have ended with “copycat” sounds which create the call-and-response pattern.

  1. Now I’d like us to come into a circle and imagine that we are people of a pre-industrial village community or somewhere in the world where people still work together in the fields. Today we need to turn the topsoil, so imagine you have a hoe or rake – the soil is lovely and soft, so it isn’t hard work. You can keep arms and shoulders relaxed as you sway in and out. Have strong but flexible legs and really sense the earth under your feet and make sure that your knees are soft. I’ll continue calling for you to respond to – we’ll simply have the additional rhythm and sway as we work. Now, at this point, I want to say that if anyone here has been told they’re ‘tone deaf’, can’t hold a tune, or simply aren’t confident of holding a melody, this doesn’t matter at all. I shall call, gossip, holler, yodel, chant and who knows what else. You simply send it back with the intended or unintended harmonies.
  2. I’ll say “forward and back” a few times so we can co-ordinate our work action, then “you echo my calls”.
  3. This is where it becomes difficult in the print version to convey the sounds that I use. I’ve written some phrases below as an example. Imagine how they’re being spoken, chanted or sung. Some move between these tones in the course of one call. I gradually increase the range both pitch and colour/timbre-wise and continue to segue between the heightened spoken and sung voice.

Hay za shama. Repeat.

Sha day maanow. Repeat.

Seska me leshco. Repeat.

Na taylo horska. Repeat.


I make these sounds up on the spur of the moment and continue this process for some four to five minutes so the sounds can gather impetus and energy.

The thing that still excites me about this exercise, which has become the “leitmotif” of my work, is the number of people over the years who, despite being convinced they’re “tone deaf”, have within an hour or so of the start of a workshop found themselves following quite complicated pitches perfectly. This was summed up beautifully by a woman who said: “I came here convinced I couldn’t sing – and you snuck it up on me – and I can!” She was right.

The Complete Voice & Speech Workout (book and CD), edited by Janet Rodgers

ISBN: 1-55783-498-9