Singing is a such a deeply personal thing. My almost 8 year old daughter has a passion for singing and here is one of the areas I see a love of hers that I can not nurture alone (another is maths) so for me when we moved to Devon I was excited that she could join Wild Birds Singing a forest style outdoor group so she could really get used to singing her heart out and connect with and learn more about nature so I reached out to the group leader who is also my little sister to find out more. 

Hi Holly, welcome to No Mum Is An Island. I am a great believer that no mum (or dad) should have to do everything herself, we can’t possibly know it all, and we need all the support we can get, there is a wealth of information out there to help us upgrade our parenting experience, to make our lives easier and this website is a hub for just that!  We love that you have upgraded your life by combining your love of nature and singing with being a mother to create Wild Birds Singing

Your natural ability and love of singing have been with you since an early age when did you realise you could turn this into a way of making a living that fits in around your daughter?

I’ve pursued what is poetically termed a ‘portfolio career’ weaving together positions within youth work, education, safeguarding and contrastingly textile conservation within the heritage sector. I’ve been fortunate to enjoy fulfilment from all of these disparate professional roles and by diversifying my occupation, kept myself sustained and stimulated. 

Singing hadn’t previously provided the mainstay of my income, but is fundamental to my being, it would be impossible to extract song from my life without undoing me.

Performing my own music to an audience is a particular pleasure. It allows me to tell stories from my pedestrian experience and simultaneously enables me to transcend it. The interrelation in witnessing another person respond reciprocally to my creative birth-child and really feel the impact of it is a profound and wonderful thing, both humbling and elevating. In that moment of all consuming early motherhood, having an outlet for song and songwriting was how I tended to my own person.

After my daughter was born I continued to pursue solo gigs for a while and found myself returning to a few favourite bars and pubs guitar in hand to share my music. Even though I was being selective about venues, there was something incongruous about driving out in the evening, neurotically checking my phone during any breaks and then hastening home to get back to breastfeed my baby at midnight. She was never trained to take a bottle, so each time felt like a high tension balancing act.

I found a gap in the local singing offerings for the toddler age onwards when my daughter reached that age. Hearing other parents lament the lack of soulful singing opportunities for families with younger children I found myself thinking “Somebody should set that up” then realised, “Oh wait…I think somebody might be ME”.

So I booked a room, wrote up lyrics on big sheets of paper, accrued a lot of floor cushions and a few toys, stuck up a lot of posters and made it happen. It was an awkward, fumbling offering to begin with, but the beauty of providing a service to other families is that everyone understood the challenges and people were compassionate, supportive and forgiving, even though it felt like my child was always the one throwing the most disruptive tantrum!

Having a child who struggles with the sensory experience of clamorous, indoor playgroups nudged us out of participating in enclosed activities soon after starting the groups. Being a big lover of the outdoors myself, unleashing the project into the woods was a natural step that found me right in my element and it was at that point that Wild Birds Singing really grew into its own nature.

What has been your biggest challenge following your heart and doing what you love as your source of income? 

There may be some who’d suggest following your heart and doing what you love is an opposing pole to having a source of income! It is a challenge and a choice. Let’s just say that pursuing this career path is not and never was financially motivated, so I’m unlikely to be disappointed by the abundant rewards I reap! The project has developed its own momentum over time and I’m always feeling the into ways my business can stretch and become more energetic.

Balancing all consuming motherhood with part time hours to run a business that could easily fill my days can be frustrating, but there’s some innate enrichment to being able to pull together the threads of my life, of my person and offer myself to the world entire; flawed, passionate, vulnerable, honest. 

As mothers, there is an expectation that we should present these separate facets of ourselves exclusively while committing solely to each myriad role: To work like we don’t have children and to mother like we don’t work. Dismantling that and softening into our complex fullness is a powerful paradigm shift.

Ok, so I edit out a lot of swearing in my professional capacity with children around, but I don’t try to polish myself glossy beyond recognition in my professional role. I don’t hide my politics, passions or parenting. I bring all of that to the project; it’s intrinsic to the brand.

The outdoor nature of my work means that I’m at the mercy of the weather gods which adds another level of unpredictability. Developing infrastructure to support the project and make the sessions more weatherproof has been a key focal point of investment during this period of closure and having greater autonomy over the new venue site offers enormous potential to develop the vision.

The other painful reality of setting up provision for your own demographic is that my daughter; who in truth inspires the whole project, is the one child on Earth who will never get to enjoy Wild Birds Singing purely as a recipient. There’s all kinds of tension around having to share her mama with the project and other children. As a family, we’ve employed many different strategies to manage the waves of tricky dynamics that have arisen out of that in various ways over the years.

We home educate, so even at six she’s able to be involved and she loves the sessions if she’s in the right frame of mind. On those occasions, her frame is misaligned and she ventures down the path of disruption…Oh my goodness does that child know how to execute sabotage!

Wild birds singing is a group for families to come together and sing can you tell me more about the group and what a session looks like?

My morning preparations for Wild Birds Singing can be a somewhat begrudging moment of recently arisen frenzy but arriving in the woods, quietly and with my senses reaching ahead of me alert, is always a fresh pleasure, knowing I’m interrupting a private world in unedited full flow, wildness without self-consciousness. The chiding alarm calls of blackbirds and rustling retreat of small unseen mammals in the undergrowth tells me I’ve been observed very quickly, but there’s a moment in which I’m privy to something intimate in the more than human sphere.

My immediate priority, having hauled all necessary equipment to our circle, is gathering dry twigs from among the surrounding trees to kindle a fire.

Once the heart of the gathering is ignited, the treasure trail of toy birds laid, hammocks slung and the refreshments table spread with an array of teas and freshly baked apple flapjack, I exhale and wonder why I get in such a fluster each week!

The distant chirping of young voices and flickers of colour glimpsed between the trees announce the first attendees who experience their own revelation of having made it, as they settle luggage under the trees, unwind and connect to all that’s with us and around us in the moment in the space. Then we are underway. 

The space is explored as we gather, swings and hammocks filled with motion and concoctions cooked in the mud kitchen; children flexing their independent adventurous spirit and adults savouring either a quiet moment of spaciousness before we begin, or mutually murmuring exchanged stories from the midsts of full and demanding lives.

Circling the fire, we sing our welcome and start to connect with the flavour of the season.

Inspired by deep ecology and sacred environmentalism, I like to introduce these themes and concepts in child friendly language. Drawing attention to the tiny incremental marvels of seasonal transition, so that we collectively notice the emerging Ramsons, the winking Violets, the arrival of Chiffchaff calls, the Cherry blossom, right through until we’re roasting Chestnuts on the fire and watching the trees disrobe in the late autumn. Simply gathering each week and noticing these phenomenons is a practice of deep rooting in the wild.

The ethos of Wild Birds Singing is intentionally loose and free flowing. while the singing section is held firmly at the fire pit, participation is always optional and there are always those who skirt the peripheries throughout. I love honouring different learning styles and characters. It never ceases to delight me when I recieve feedback from families of those children who seem to be disengaged from the core of singing during the session, yet recite songs in their entirety at home, dance moves and all.

You recently crowdfunded and released your own cd of nature inspired kids music – can you tell us the story behind this and what led you to create this? 

Songwriting for Wild Birds Singing has been a liberating experience. It’s easy to find words for songs inspired by the world around us, there’s so much I want to celebrate and share! Expressing that in songs that are spontaneous and written without much agonising has been truly joyful. 

With nature as my muse I’ve amassed a burgeoning body of songs! 

Attendees of the group are always keen to take the songs home to learn in greater depth and share with others, so the album was initiated by popular demand. Seasonality is a key aspect of the project and songs lie dormant rolled up on their scrolls waiting for their pertinent moment in the year and I’m always excited to revisit them at the right time, so curating the songs in order of the seasons was an obvious choice. 

As an independent musician and mother running a small business, I’m operating within a tiny budget, so crowdfunding with the support of my amazing participants has been an incredibly affirming way to manifest an album and I had a lot of fun with it, really savouring the crafting of each song; usually late, late in the night at home in a tiny chaotic space, far from a studio environment with my basic recording equipment run on a solar powered off-grid system. It was an amazing learning process, working with a good friend on editing and mixing all the tracks. Wow, I lost so much sleep! I may still be recovering from that deficit actually.

I borrowed my daughter’s colouring pencils and got really involved in illustrating the lyric booklet and album cover. Half way through I had to question why I always seem to choose the long, complex and intricately involved route every time, but it was an absolute pleasure at the same time. A true labour of love. 

What advice would you give to other mothers who want to set up their own workshops or groups sharing creative endeavours that they love?

Tap into the intersection of all your favourite things in life. Think about what you love the most, what your most readily available gifts are, what you fervently wish to share with your children. Put those things in the melting pot and see what is cooked up!

Find like-minded people who spark your enthusiasm and courage to collaborate with and garner feedback from.

Start small and don’t wait for it to be a perfect polished thing before releasing it into the wild; there’s so much cross pollination that can happen out there.

Don’t expect a huge response right away and be encouraged by those initial few who are enlivened by what you’re offering, tend to them, be honest with them about how much you value them and ask for support in spreading the vision. I cherish my supporters profoundly and hope I make that clear! There would be no Wild Birds singing without them.

At least for a while get really bad at maths and forgetful when musing your accounting. Persevere, but don’t punish yourself by trying to make your vision everything you dream of when the resources simply aren’t there. In those moments step back from what’s not flowing, cultivate what is working and allow it to evolve from there.

What’s next for your projects? 

During the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown l’ve been holding live stream virtual Wild Birds Singing sessions every Monday morning via Facebook from the woods next to my home, so that I could keep in touch with the families I usually welcome each week and it’s become this beautiful entity in its own right!

Through the global network of friends sharing through social media, families from all over the world have been tuning in, sharing awe in the natural world around them and singing and dancing along to my songs.

The virtual sphere opens up a whole new realm of possibility in terms of connecting with families more widely and the experience has revealed this really exciting possibility to get creative in expanding the reach of the project.

I’m itching to get back out into the woods and rediscover my rhythm with hosting the sessions and I’m excited to explore different configurations of the Wild Birds Singing concept for different ages and appetites. I’m initiating groups for older children that delve into harmony singing and vocal technique to a greater degree.

I also run an adult unchoir, The Feral Chorus and am leading workshops which combine The Work That Reconnects, breath and vocal practice and the power of collective singing and  am excited to develop my offerings in line with what I feel most alive with in these profoundly impacting times. As my daughter grows more independent I feel a greater strength in my creative calling reawakening and am generating connections with other musicians and keen to explore collaborations.

The latest album release “Spring’s Stirring” is only the first of a series of seasonal albums and there are always new songs clamouring to be voiced, so there’s much, much to be done!

Find out more about Holly HERE follow her on Facebook and Instagram