In this post Florence Scialom and Oliver Ayyildiz of the Network of Wellbeing (NOW) interview Sergio Lopez Figueroa, founder of Big Bang Lab, about how his perspective on wellbeing informs his work on a project called Humming in Harmony (HiH).

HiH brings people together for collective creative experiences centred around the simple and beautiful act of humming together. As a composer and social entrepreneur, Sergio created HiH as a sound based mindfulness group practice, incorporating active listening and improvising vocal harmonies using humming.

Florence and Oliver (NOW): What was the inspiration behind Humming in Harmony (HiH)?

Sergio: The project idea actually grew organically through a range of my own personal experiences. For example, as a child I used to sit at the dinner table and hum to myself, and I still remember the sense of ease and enjoyment I felt. Later in life, through various meditation practices, I realised that there is a power in sharing unique collective experiences with others and also re-connecting to the physical environment through sound. Humming in Harmony offers ways to explore creativity, connect mind and body, and also helps people to connect with each other and with their voice.

Giving a diverse range of people the space and time to express and share their emotions, memories, knowledge and stories through music and video has been at the core of the Big Bang Lab’s work, through projects such as HiH and other projects too, like the social housing project Creative Generation.

Could you say a little about why you are interested in the topic of wellbeing, and how this feeds in to your work?

After a number of personal challenges I came back to basics, which for me meant coming back to music. I realised we tend to believe what we see, but have less trust in what we hear. I wanted to offer a simple way for people to improve non-verbal communication, collaboration and hopefully, as a result, also enhance people’s quality of life.

One of the central aspects of Humming in Harmony is offering a route to community engagement and connection, which are central to wellbeing. Through offering an invitation for people to hum and create music together, the hope is that people will also connect and get to know each other in different ways too. Appreciating the value of interdependence between individuals and groups is central to what HiH is about.

This type of group activity helps to encourage a sense of belonging, which is something I’m very passionate about. Isolation has been shown to have a detrimental impact on wellbeing, so musical activity that encourages togetherness can help to counter this. Plus, humming is an activity that demonstrates the power of the group – without the group it wouldn’t work. Everything that happens during the improvisations is perfect. We create collective soundscapes that come and go. Harmony is about integration; combining consonance together with what at times may feel like dissonant sounds.

In terms of personal wellbeing, I also think it is possible to help people even if you are vulnerable yourself. In my experience, helping others and giving to others is also fantastic for my own personal health and wellbeing. Therefore, through HiH I am offering others positive opportunities to connect, and I’m also able to improve my own sense of personal wellbeing.

You have described Humming in Harmony as “creative mindfulness made social”. Could you explain this a little further?

There is research about the value of mindfulness on one hand and singing together on the other; with HiH I am integrating the two practices.

The practice of mindfulness – of finding ways to live in and appreciate the here and now – has been shown to have many psychological benefits. The experience of creating music in a group encourages people to live in the moment, together. HiH promotes individual and collective creativity, and makes mindfulness more playful, emotional and social. I like to think that when we hum together we become human ‘beeings’, in unity, like the natural example given by bees!

In addition, humming is a basic activity which is accessible to all, young and old, and across other social and language boundaries. Therefore, it is easy for different people to get involved.

How has the project been received so far?

Bringing Humming in Harmony to urban areas is a key motivation for me as our senses are often overloaded in cities and we don’t get too many opportunities to truly listen, take notice and connect with others in a group. I remember doing an introductory workshop at a shopping centre in West London in 2015, and being amazed by how collective humming can refocus the mind in the midst of a busy urban environment. I have since planned many other events, and look forward to lots more HiH events in cities!

HiH has also recently received some awards: one from Ealing Council, in a competition acknowledging original and entrepreneurial ideas, and another award for social innovation at an event in Spain, called ECOCreativa Emprende 2016. It is brilliant to get this sort of reception and recognition.

And for those who would like to find out more, what is the easiest way to stay updated and get involved?

You can get in touch via this link, and you can also follow on social media for regular updates, via Facebook and Twitter. You can also listen to HiH sound recordings via Soundcloud. Please do keep in touch if you’re interested in future events!

Great, many thanks for your time, Sergio, and for telling us more about your work. We look forward to staying in touch and potentially collaborating more in future!