Founder Roberta Kirn:
If you can walk, you can dance.
If you can talk, you can sing.
This expression from Zimbabwe is a favorite of Roberta Kirn, founder of BEWELLSING and THE SONG EXCHANGE PROJECT. It is her deeply held belief that singing, drumming and moving with others is not only fun, but profoundly healing for both individuals and groups.
After majoring in dance and music at Dartmouth and Sarah Lawrence colleges, Roberta moved to New York City where she pursued a professional dance career. Moving to Martha's Vineyard in 1989 she went on to study singing and song leading with song leaders Ysaye Barnwell, Nick Page, Melanie DeMore and Bobby McFerrin and became the music teacher at the Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School, teaching K-12 students for 10 years. At TheCharter School she began leading monthly Community Sings for all ages and directing an annual Winter Concert and Community Sing, a now 19-year old island tradition. Roberta also has a strong connection to percussion, having participated in a West African drumming ensemble in college and playing and singing with a drum ensemble on Martha's Vineyard for over 20 years.
In 2014 Roberta traveled to Nanyuki, Kenya where she had the opportunity to teach and learn songs from the girls of DarajaAcademy, a school with the mission of educating exceptional teenage girls with outstanding leadership qualities. The most inspiring part of her trip was the experience of being in a culture where music is not just a nice sidebar - it is food, sustenance and a necessary component of survival.
In 2015 she traveled to Haiti and returned to Kenya, continuing her work with what had become
THE SONG EXCHANGE PROJECT, teaching songs from all over the world and learning new songs to share at home and on her travels, creating a cross-cultural web of song. Since that first trip she has continued to travel, teach and collect songs, returning to Kenya and Haiti several times and also bringing her work to South Africa, Zambia, Italy, Cuba, Germany and throughout the United States
In 2020 her plans were to travel to Brazil but they had to be cancelled due to the pandemic. Instead, she traveled virtually, learning and sharing online in Brazil and elsewhere, with singers and song leaders from around the world.
"My mission is to inspire as many people as I can to sing in community, wherever and whenever possible!"
Through her organization BEWELLSING Roberta brings to groups and organizations of all kinds and sizes an experience of the benefits of singing together. Singing in community is dynamic, energizing and inclusive – everyone can do it, no matter how talented or tone deaf they might be. Singing opens hearts, builds bridges across differences and lifts spirits – and it’s fun!
Pat Waring, August 2013
"At a recent Community Sing, Ms. Kirn stood straight and supple in a circle of attentive participants. Hair pulled tightly back, eyes glowing, she fairly vibrated with effervescent energy. All eyes were fixed on Ms. Kirn as, hands in the air, she demonstrated a polyphonic rhythm, showing how the parts meld."
Valerie Sonnenthal January 2015
"I have been singing with Roberta Kirn for six years, and if you attended her Winter Concert and Community Sing at the Hebrew Center in December, then you may have heard some songs she has been gathering through her newly created Song Exchange Project. Roberta wrote to us singers in mid-December: “A few years ago I was reflecting on what kind of work I could do that would bring fulfillment and happiness to myself and others. The work would involve traveling to cultures other than my own, teaching songs that I have learned and gathering new ones to teach once I returned home. I would connect with others through the medium of song.”
Simama Project Blog by Roberta Kirn
April 23, 2015
I don’t think that anyone would call Nanyuki, Kenya a vacation destination. It is a dusty market town that lies on the equator northwest of Nairobi. Nanyuki is not particularly attractive but, if given the opportunity, I would return there in a heartbeat because of the people who make up the tiny community of the Simama Project. I was welcomed by them with so much love that, although the Transition Home has very little in the way of traditional physical comfort, I was drawn back again and again.
by Valerie Sonnenthal - Oct 28, 2015
"As a teacher at the Charter School, Roberta led weekly songs at the morning all-school meeting and at monthly Community Sings, her all-ages event that invites the public to get together and sing. She has led the monthly Community Sing events for 16 years, and this December will mark the 15th annual “Winter Concert: Songs of Peace, Hope and Light.” Roberta has been directing and producing the Winter Concert, which has historically featured the sounds of the Charter School Community Chorus, a group she originally named, which is made up of between 30 and 40 singers of all ages. Now no longer teaching at the Charter School, Roberta is renaming the chorus the Martha’s Vineyard Family Chorus, and she hopes to attract more family groups and to create a broader reach for her Island-wide singing project."