The Organic Choir concept

The Organic Choir concept was developed by Peder Karlsson and The Real Group Academy. Merel Martens applied these ideas for her Master thesis at the Royal Academy of Music Aarhus/Aalborg, and thus the Dutch Organic Choir was born. A group that makes music based on rotating leadership, original repertoire and a combination of written music and improvisation. 

There’s a wealth of inspiration in the presentations from Peder and Merels thesis (see below). The ideas keep developing over time, and we have also been inspired by artists like Jim Daus Hernoe, Bobby McFerrin, Rhiannon and Bob Stoloff. But before we dive in, let’s try to summarize how the we work in the Dutch Organic Choir.

The core concepts are rotating leadership, original repertoire and a combination of written music and improvisation.

Rotating leadership is very important, and it’s linked to shared responsibility. Everyone is expected to contribute and step in when needed, especially when it is a bit of a stretch. For instance, everybody’s supposed to lead the warming up sometimes – not just the people who are very experienced. There are people who know how to do it well, and they do it often, but not always, and certainly not automatically.

Everyone can propose original material to the group, and each piece is at least partly improvised. This can range from a written score with space for improvisation to a form that creates a space for instant improvisation to happen in. It can be a melody, upon which the group developes an arrangement by improvising. It can be a groove upon which to improvise. It can be a theatrical form to improvise in, or a Berklee circle. It can be an experiment in which we go look for a form. The possibilties are endless – while always striving for musical excellence.

Also here, rotating leadership is applied. Naturally, the person who contributed the material leads the ‘slot’ during the rehearsal, at least in the beginning. But he or she can also call upon someone else to lead, to help out with specific aspects. This is an important aspect by the way: rotating leadership does not mean there’s no leader!

It’s essential that the group functions in a supportive way, being respectful and open to each other; we also want to sing, not have endless discussions during rehearsals! We’ve set up a few instruments to facilitate this. One of the nicest ones is that of the ‘bollplank’. That’s a Swedish concept that roughly translates to buddy. If you feel you want to do something with the group but need someone to help you, you ask them as your bollplank. Outside rehearsal, he or she can help evaluate what happened in rehearsal, and be a soundboard for ideas on how to improve it further – which can be musically, pedagogically or anything really.

We’ve developed other ways of working, but these are the core concepts.


Want to know more about the concept of the Organic Choir?

Start with Peder Karlsson’s 3-page outline:

Organic Choirs concept overview – Peder Karlsson

The whole story of the DOC concept and the genesis of DOC can be found in the public version of Merel Martens DOC thesis. This paper got Merel her master’s degree with full honours from the Royal Academy of Music Aarhus/Aalborg and The Real Group Academy. And is a great read to boot!

Finally, these two presentations provide more background from Peder:

Organic Choirs presentation – Peder Karlsson

PartnershipMusic – Peder Karlsson


Peder Karlsson (photo by Mats Bäcker)
Peder Karlsson (photo by Mats Bäcker)
Merel Martens
Merel Martens