Bobby McFerrin


Steve Yurvetson, Bobby McFerrin @ TED, CC BY 2.0

Bobby McFerrin (b. March 11, 1951) is a broadly known vocalist and improviser. When considering his music from the perspective of music games, there is quite a lot to talk about.

First, let's look at his Circlesongs which are improvised vocal pieces based on repetition. Usually singers repeat pattern shown to them by a leader until another cue is given/sang to them. McFerrin established his vocal ensemble, Voicestra, in 1986 and the album of circlesongs was recorded in 1997. On their tours they could compose on the spot some very complex multi-layered songs that were vocally quite demanding.

This form of singing is nevertheless not restricted to vocal virtuosos. Bobby McFerrin initiates circlesongs very often when collaborating with different choirs and you can also find performances with audience members. As a game/activity it has a rather high skill floor, at least for one person if the responsibility for sound is taken by a musically inventful leader. Also on every occasion McFerrin encourages people to engage in circlesongs as a private group activity, which relates to a general approach of spotaneity, inventiveness and importance of good fun:

Music and play can take people out of their everyday worries and remind them of freedom and joy.

Volunteer audience participation can be seen in McFerrin's concerts regularly, for example with a song Whole World where you can often sing a verse on stage (if you are fast enough to get to the queue on the call). Also the piece Ave Maria might be sang together with the audience, who as a group does a main melody (the one written by Gounod), and Bobby McFerrin sings a much more difficult lower part taken from Bach's preludes.

McFerrin's biggest hit "Don't Worry, Be Happy" is an exemplar of body percussion. And if you see in McFerrin's music any other playful elements or good inspirations for games, just add it to this article! It's a wiki and no word is set in stone here ;).


In the end, let's just have a look at one of the most playful audience interactions which was shown (among other places) in Montreux:

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