Musical History Workshops

Rebel Voices offers a variety of programs which look at the history of different social movements through songs, stories, and narration. The telling of history through song has a special advantage, in that we can learn of history directly through the voices of the people who lived it. Thus it is the equivalent not of reading a text book of history but of studying the original source material.

Using historical and contemporary songs, poetry, and dramatic readings, sometimes with guitar and percussion, sometimes using only the strength of unaccompanied voice, Rebel Voices’ workshops illustrate the evolution of social movements whose importance is either taken for granted or overlooked entirely, and make this study entertaining. We introduce the idea that the study of history encompasses various other disciplines, including cultural studies and folklore. In addition, the history conveyed in the songs and stories that come from people who lived through the events provides a different perspective than the newspaper or other “literary” accounts of the same events.

Beyond these considerations, there are creative and artistic appreciations to be gained. Many of the wonderful songs in these workshops were written anonymously for no benefit beyond the singer’s and listener’s entertainment. There is a creative discovery to be made–that fine music need not be subservient to, or the product of, an intimidating commercial world of pop charts and MTV. Music and song are creative processes accessible to all. We are fortunate in this country to have such a rich heritage of song to explore.

“Janet and Susan are accomplished musicians, inspiring entertainers, and movement educators all wrapped into one great duo. You’ll love them too!”

-Dan Lahey, Former Director, Labor Education and Research Center,
The Evergreen State College, Olympia, WA

We have developed programs on the following specific themes, and are open to working with your organization to create new programs as well.







A Rebel Voices Mini-residency consists of a full concert and a 1-2 hour workshop (i.e., American Studies Seminar on Women’s or Labor History, an interactive harmony workshop, a high school assembly.) Rebel Voices would be happy to tailor their large repertoire to your campus’ or conference’s particular needs. A complete description is available below.

Organize!: One Hundred Years of Working People’s History in Song

In this program, Rebel Voices bring to life songs by, about, and for working people. This workshop uses songs as a focus for talking about the history surrounding the song itself. For example, we present material about child labor in the mines and mills, the IWW and their efforts to organize the railroad and forestry workers, the Haymarket Rebellion and the struggle for the eight-hour day, organizing the auto industry and the sit-down strikes in Flint Michigan during the ’30s, San Francisco’s general strike in 1934, women working in the shipyards of the Northwest during WWII and how that affected work roles, pay scales, child care. Many of the songs come from our own time and examine contemporary issues facing the labor movement, such as health and safety, diversity in the workplace, the spread of multinational corporations and the need for globalorganizing.

Times Have Changed: Women’s Issues and Struggles from Immigrant Child Labor to Freedom to Choose

From immigrant children working in the textile mills of 19th century New England to the powerful women demanding an end to nuclear weapons at Greenham Common come songs and stories to inspire us, make us think, tease us into laughter, pique our anger, and strengthen us with hope — songs to help us see ourselves more clearly and take pride in what we see. This workshop looks at both the historical and contemporary experience of women through songs that explore such varied (and sometimes controversial) topics as domestic abuse, women’s suffrage, Native American basket weaving traditions, the joys of day care, unpaid labor in the home, sexual harassment, birth control, traditional and non-traditional “women’s work”, abortion, and much more.

Unsung America: History Through the Eyes of the Disenfranchised

Using songs and readings, Rebel Voices provide a glimpse of history from the perspective of African Americans, women, and immigrants. This is a history of people who, for the most part, did not write books or headlines, and thus, it has been a history largely untold, or unemphasized. The underground railroad, Rosa Parks’ historic protest, women working in the sweatshops of New York or the shipyards during WWII, the trial of Sacco and Vanzetti or the trials of the immigrant farmworker–these are just a few of the scenes we visit in this powerful program.

The Popular Wobbly: Songs of the IWW and the Pacific Northwest

We took our name from the book by Joyce Kornbluh, “Rebel Voices: An I.W.W. Anthology,” because for us, the Wobblies embody the spirit we sing about. The Wobblies were rabble rousers, unionists, and singers, and they attacked the issues of their time with passion and with humor. They sang out for social and economic justice, for free speech; they organized railroad and forestry workers, copper miners, textile workers. This formative period of Washington State history comes alive through the songs and poetry of the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.)

A New Look at the Bill of Rights: Stretching the Constitution by Exercising Democracy

A healthy democracy is nurtured both by those who agree with the policies of the people in power, and those who dissent. As Thomas Jefferson said, “A little rebellion now and then is a good thing.” Indeed, United States history is a history of conflict, and many of the rights and conditions that we take for granted today are the result of hard-fought battles of generations past. Using historical and contemporary material, we look at some of the historic struggles that have put our Constitution to the test, such as the abolition of slavery, women’s right to vote, the right to organize a union, freedom of speech, the 8-hour day. If time permits, we can also explore some of the contemporary issues that our society is struggling with today, such as inclusion of persons with disabilities, abortion, affirmative action, gay rights, and immigrants’ rights.

Vocal Conspiracy: Harmonizing Together

Rebel Voices hands-on workshops provide an interactive opportunity to come share your ideas and gather information, learn some new skills or sharpen those you already have, and gain some new experience in an informal learning atmosphere. Ample time is allowed for questions, and we offer many opportunities for active participation in these “nuts and bolts” workshops.

These workshops can be geared to the level of the group, use short demonstrations followed by plenty of “voice-on” experience. From beginning drones, parallels, counter movement, echoes, lyric variation to more complex breath awareness, vowel matching, 3-4 part arrangements. These workshops are fun, very participatory and seek to empower any singer to find a part, not the part. No theoretical background necessary.