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  • Barb Bickford

You can sing "1-2-4-All"

I use Liberating Structures a lot, because they foster lively group interaction while generating effective results in less time than large group discussions.


One of the foundational Liberating Structures is “1-2-4-All.” This activity gives people time to think alone before they share in pairs, in fours and in the large group. Everyone feels heard, and the best ideas rise to the top.


Recently, I asked participants in a facilitation class to try leading a Liberating Structure for themselves and report back on how it went.


One of them, Dr. Pamalyn (Pam) Lee, a choir* director, shared her experience:


"I chose to use the Liberating Structure 1 – 2 – 4 – ALL during a choir rehearsal. I explained to the choir that they would never reach their full potential until they learn to listen to one another, their section, and all of the other sections. Before starting, I had them sing a short unison passage from a familiar song and a brief 4-part passage from the same piece.


A woman singing into a microphone

ONE: "I asked each person to think about what it means to listen to self, neighbor, section, and all of the sections. They were to determine what this means for them and how to best utilize this with the group.



An older woman and a young man singing together

TWO: "I then had them pair off and discuss what this means, what they should be listening for, and how to utilize it as a pair. I had them sing the unison passage together. I told them it was not just an exercise on listening, but also having fun together. They were given permission to laugh at themselves.


"As a group, we discussed what they experienced in pairs. Some of the things that were shared were: “I was watching and listening, not just to the singing, but also the non-verbal cues of my partner” “I had better focus when I listened” “I found myself matching vowels” “My intonation was better.”


two men and two women singing together

FOUR: "I then sent them out to sing as quartets. Again, they were to discuss what it means to listen, what they needed to be listening for, and how to utilize it in a quartet. Then I asked them to sing the quartet passage, and again reminded them that this was about listening AND having fun and it was OK to laugh at themselves!!


"We gathered again as a group to discuss what they experienced and learned. They shared: 'My pitch was right on' 'We all leaned in to hear one another' 'I didn’t need to look at my music' 'With no music in front of me, I could hear better' 'It was rewarding to hear the other parts' 'Correct breathing helped us stay together.'


A choir performing on stage

ALL: "I then had the choir stand up, get back with their quartet, and make a circle in order to sing as an entire ensemble. I reminded them to listen, not only to their small quartet, but the group as a whole AND have fun one more time! We did the same passage again twice, and then sang the entire piece together in the circle.


"In our final discussion, the choir members shared: 'It was not as easy to listen' 'It was better to sing next to different voice types, it made my tone better' 'Our blend was better' 'I was listening to the song as a whole' 'Our intonation and diction were better' 'Our sound was richer and we were singing more legato.'


"Over all feedback to me was: 'It was a very good exercise' 'The group was energized' 'The exercise was fun and educational' 'I learned a lot from the exercise' 'I really enjoyed the vibe' 'We need to do this more often' 'We are a choir.'

"I enjoyed this exercise with the group and appreciate that they were so willing and brave to be my 'guinea pigs.' "

I loved this! It's the most creative story of 1-2-4-All I've ever heard. Pam ended by sharing:

"I had never thought that leading a choir could be similar to leading an actual meeting at a church! I just need to remember to put on my conductor hat if and when I ever lead a church council meeting!"


Pam has every reason to feel confident about leading non-musical meetings.


How about you? If you aren't confident about leading meetings, what leadership qualities you have developed in other areas of your life could you lean on?


* * * * *

* Pam directs the Northwoods Singers, an adult community choir based in Land O' Lakes, Wisconsin. She invites you to attend their upcoming concerts: -- December 10, 2022, at the Three Lakes Center for the Arts at 4:00 pm -- December 18, 2022 at Ely Memorial Church in Land O' Lakes at 4:00 pm


For stories, resources and tips to help you lead meetings with skill and confidence, sign up for emails here.

Photo credits: Elizeu Dias, Thomas Le, Geron Dison and Omar Flores, all on Unsplash.

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