Collaborative Performance

Creativity is contagious. If you are creating something, then in that moment you are doing something that attracts others. Even if we can’t do what you are doing, we want to participate somehow. It’s inspiring to watch.

Even more fun than watching is joining in, if only the creative would invite us in and give us a part to play. Some creatives know this and actually create a space for audience members to do just that. Nobody does this better than Bobby McFerrin.

Here is a great example. Let’s watch what Bobby does and then we’ll talk about it.

Bobby McFerrin collaborating on Ave Maria by Charles Gounod and J.S. Bach


Let’s start with the obvious—he’s done this before. Not only the years of training, performance, and singing practice, but also the collaborating with the audience. He picks a piece they can do well, he sets up the right conditions, and knows ahead of time that they can be successful.


He doesn’t just say, “Let’s sing Ave Maria together.” That’s not compelling. Instead, he tells the story of how he came across this piece, and how Gounod composed a piece on top of a piece, and has he does we are swept into the story ourselves. We wonder if it can even work. How would this go, exactly—two pieces in one, him singing the Bach, us singing the Gounod? The only way to find out is to enter the story and find out.


Even the way he invites us in is so winsome. How can we say no?! The way he speaks about section leaders and singing out give the less confident singers a way to enter in with confidence. And notice the humor. The Jewish joke really lands with them, and it loosens them up so much. This is the perfect place from which to risk opening up your voice and singing in a large group. Masterful.


Notice how Bobby looks when he performs? Closes his eyes, hands moving on the mic as if playing a recorder, offering minimal directions to the collaborators—all this helping him and all of us get into flow and lose ourselves in something beautiful.

Smile and Thanks

If you had any question about how that went, just look at his face when it’s finished. Money.

Now You

What would it be like if you invited someone into your creative process? Even if you are not a performer per se, where are the opportunities for co-creating?

Who would you invite, and what part would they play? Look at the elements: preparation, story, invitation, and flow. How could you shape those elements to produce a collaborative performance worthy of a smile & thanks.

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