Bobby McFerrin —
Catching Song

He is a genius of improvisation; a genre-bending vocal magician and conductor. And he sings the territory between music, mystery, and spirit. Who better to contemplate the human voice — its delights, its revelations, and its mystery — than Bobby McFerrin?

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is a ten-time Grammy Award winner. He is one of the world's best-known vocal innovators and improvisers, a world-renowned classical conductor, and a passionate spokesman for music education.

Pertinent Posts

This video from the World Science Festival in 2009 spread like wildfire online. Join along as McFerrin leads the audience in singing the pentatonic scale.

Video Interviews with Krista Tippett

In the Room with Bobby McFerrin

Watch our unedited, behind-the-scenes video of Krista interviewing Bobby McFerrin on Good Friday at Orchestra Hall in downtown Minneapolis. A marvelous experience not to be missed!

About the Image

Bobby McFerrin stretches and focuses before his interview with Krista Tippett at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Photo by Trent Gilliss/On Being

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Normally, I do not post comments, but I really felt the urge to share with you! I was blown away by this interview-I could feel his spirit come right thru my screen and stir me! Thank you for such an insightful and inspiring interview- my day has started better because of it! Babs Richardson

Catching song, a gatherer, a sweeper, a weaver , shaman, Christian, mix, stew yourself in song, spirit, reverence for story, family, relationship, love… prayer… singing prayers in the morning…intense beauty-love fire.

I feel perhaps a bit like the woman a the question and answer period that he describes…Just Good all over. I am grateful he is doing his work and bringing his gift to the world. It inspires me to go out and shine myself… he is shambhala singing warrior. Spreading the love light.. Lighting the love fire...

For me I would like to hear more about his relationship and the lessons that he learned from his FATHER.. I was struck first when he described his dad singing up the "dirt and the bones" of the Negro spiritual… I'd like to delve into that a little more… the dirt and the bones and the soul.. I see it as being quite connected to the stories that he told of his father encouraging students to be THEMSELVES. About being truthful. Having integrity.. being that unique person that each of us is.

Oh, and…

The words leading to laughter at 48:30 - magic.

Yesterday, I was privileged to be one of two lectors at my friend Helen's Funeral Mass. Her family decided on the first reading from the Book of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8,11. It was the first time I proclaimed this passage although it is familiar to most of us over 60 years. Line 11 was new to me. I read it again and again, trying to grasp its meaning, to better convey it to this group of grieving family and friends.

Then this morning, toward the end of the interview was the part about the woman who had studied at Berkely coming backstage in Paris (if I remember) to ask how Mr. McFerrin could be singing from in a lost African language. Immediately I went back to what I had been pondering since last Monday. Thank you for this opportunity to share a tiny bit of insight I achieved because of this wonderful interview with a kind, patient and gentle man.

thx for bobbie mcFarrin , he was a total cool guy & musician. i loved the part about genetic/ancestral memory of languagr, when my daughter was about 5 we played making up a language & mine came out very like Polish/Russian, which I do not speak but my grandparents did!

Q: What would you like to tell us?
A: Inspired by your interview with Bobby McFerrin. My recently deceased mother had this quote on her bedroom wall, I'm sorry I don't have it available to send you word for word. Katzanzakis in 'Zorba the Greek', goes something like: "Every day, in every moment, we are all involved in the same terrible struggle. What's that boss? Turning matter into spirit." And then Zorba says something about that being too complicated, but asks him "to dance it, or tell it in a story." ******************** Thank you for a GREAT show. Brought me to tears. Paul

As I watched the video transcript, and heard Bobby McFerrin describe the sing-for-10-minutes improv assignment, I was immediately reminded of Natalie Goldberg's similar assignment for writing practice. In her book Writing Down the Bones, informed by Buddhist practice, Goldberg gives some guidelines for what she calls the timed exercise. Pick a session length, long or short, but commit to it: write for the full period, whether it's three minutes or an hour. "Keep your hand moving ... Don't cross out ... Don't worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar ... Lose control ... Don't think. Don't get logical ... Go for the jugular."

The discipline of freedom. Most of us almost have to be commanded to go there, to play and be loose once more. What a gift to hear the call in another voice, to another road.

Tammerie Day
I loved your photgraph and comments. If you liked Natalie Goldberg's writing practice advice you may enjoy Thinking Anew: Harnessing the Power of Belief, a book within a composition book that uses the power of writing to help people in crisis find the passion to make change stick. I wish I knew Natalie Goldberg and Bobby McFerrin before I co-authored the book as it would have made writing it so much easier.

I'm not an early morning riser, but happened to catch most of this episode while up at 7:00 on Father's Day morning. I was fetching a gift I had stowed at the office (so my husband wouldn't find it).




How could I have possibly missed Bobby McFerrin in concert when he was here in Lincoln a couple of years ago? How could I not know what an incredibly amazing experience it would have been? Listening to your program, I now know.

While not a spiritual person, I can entirely understand why Mr. McFerrin is. Music can do that to a person. I grew up in a very musical family. My parents, grandparents and almost all my aunts and uncles sang. My cousins sing. Nearly everyone in the family sings. My sister has a musical performance degree, she's currently a soprano with the Kennedy Center choir.

Our mother sang Ave Maria for nearly every wedding in her large Catholic family, and it often brought tears to my eyes. But listening to McFerrin perform it, I nearly broke down in sobs. What a stunningly beautiful rendition.

Thank you for making my morning.

Heck, thank you for making my week.

I am a church organist. When I was listening to Bobby talk about what he wants to happen at a "performance" it suddenly struck me that, as an organist, this is what I hope for when I play for worship. That people will want to sing, that they'll feel the grace and love of God deep within them through the music and that they'll leave worship with a feeling of joy. That through the singing with others of faith around them, they will express themselves. I have never thought of myself as a performer, but I guess the best word is facilitator. Every piece of music I prepare for before, during and after the service, the way I play the liturgy and hymns, all of it is meant to facilitate worship within each individual person.

I am also a Preschool teacher. When he talked about singing when you're tempted, it reminded me of how, many times when things are chaotic in the classroom or behavior is not as I expect, I will just start to sing - not a song, but just words, names, etc and it has this calming effect on the children. Part of it is just probably that they're so shocked it gets their attention and diverts them from what they were doing. But it is almost magic that when I sing, they listen and respond so much more quickly than if I am talking.

All the World Is Sad and Lonely

Lyrics catch in the current of thought and a melody eddies in snagged memory. My flow is disrupted; my concentration miscarried. More notes and words burble to the surface and sink in the cool clarity of not now. My mother sings the prayer from Hansel and Gretel. Julie Andrews brings the hills alive. Gerry Rafferty winds me through Baker Street. A song is hooked and lured from my throat

It’s summertime but who sings to me? Is it George Benson or Cleo Laine? Am I sad or mellow? Do I just need to hear a little beauty or find a private place within to weep for no reason other than give myself permission? I know no tear before song.

I sang at the office. Something about the end of work demanded acknowledgment, celebration. I did not choose to sing or the song that came forth. Which Grace exceeds song in the heart of man?

Road trips are made for song, childhood songs. On Top of Old Smokey. Erie Canal. Clementine. Or even something more contemporary. Maybe Windmills of Your Mind. Unchained Melody. Yesterday. Songs I am not too old to forget.

My grandchildren know no musical heritage before MP3s. My LPs are curiosities. They do not hear what has not been electronically remastered. They have never sung in class. They do not ask Who Will Buy This Wonderful Morning. They do not know the way to San José. They do not Dream the Impossible Dream. But they can rap. Would that my tongue and lips be so limber.

When my dog was sick I sang to him as I staunched the blood pouring from his nose. When the nosebleed abated I was rewarded by a large hug but only if I had remembered all the lyrics to a song. Otherwise my humming was acknowledged by a disdainful parting look over his shoulder as if he escaped not from perdition of pain but the embarrassment of my failure. Now well but old he joins me in the living room when the stereo plays. We lie on our backs soothed by the crack and pop of whatever hooks me. He knows those other voices don’t forget the words; there will be no build-up to disappointment.

A friend dies. Will the chariot swing low if we do not celebrate its arrival?

Absent song, all the world is sad and lonely.

The moment I heard Bobby speaking about improv in music, how it moves the soul in a unique way, I became very aware of my practice of improv in dance. Music and dance, truly are one in the same, can hardly be separated. Indeed Bobby kept referring to music as movement.
I attend a dance group in Seattle, that meets once a week to dance, purely dance, with no other agenda. These groups are all over the country. I've danced in them in Texas, Hawaii, California, and here in Washington. Some go by the name Ecstatic Dance, some go by a variety of other titles. Usually the rules are: no talking, no shoes, and respect boundaries. From there one is free to do whatever arises. If you have the instinct to crawl across the floor like a cat, do it!
When I'm dancing, I am often surprised by a movement that comes over me, as if it came through me, not from me. Just my shaking my head a certain way, or tilting my hips, and suddenly a new movement can come out. I feel a sense of power, of connection. As as if the movement unlocks something in my body, and something mysterious comes out.
What is even more powerful is the experience of dancing with others. Sometimes at these dances, one might feel drawn to dance with another. You learn to ask with your eyes and with your body to see if they will join you. Recently I danced with a man I had never met before. We had a beautiful dance, with our eyes closed, sensing each other, supporting each other in whatever movement we made. It was profoundly intimate, though not at all sexual, and I felt that in our dance, that we were there to love each other, the way God loves us. I felt that my body was a conduit to show universal love.

I haven enjoyed Bobby McFerrin for many years and since my children were little I've played his music in our house and danced and sang along. My children laugh and tell me I'm silly. I listened to the unedited interview Ms Tippet did with Mr McFerrin and was so moved by the many beautiful layers of the conversation that I then listened to the edited version as well - (also wanting to hear the music!)

It was such an amazing experience that I offered my 8yr old son a listen to the edited version. He sat rapt listening to the ENTIRE hour. We discussed various aspects of the interview and what was discussed. He really enjoyed the whole interview, "especially the music" he said with glowing eyes.

Thank you Ms Tippet for your amazing and wonderful show but mostly for your unequaled ability to humanize and to touch the soul.

Blessing - Melissa Mead

I'm taking his challenge to sing for 10 minutes - and it is VERY hard. But I'm also considering how I could model his ability to work with the audience. I'm the pastor of a church and more and more we're finding that the congregation is the primary "choir" for the day. We've used all kinds of interesting congregational songs to get us working together but I was challenged to go further. Wonderful podcast!

Mr McFerrin relates how singing can make him feel better physically and emotionally. I agree totally.

In my 20s and 30s I had migraines as a regular thing, and I learned that very often singing for an hour or so would make the migraine go away. I would sing what I was familiar with -- songs by Carole King or Claudia Schmidt -- anything like that.

What a gift song can be!

Bobby McFerrin summed up perfectly the reasons why playing music is still part of my life and possibly the lives of the several hundred other musicians who gathered for a festival of community bands in NH yesterday (10/13/12). The joy one gets from sharing one's self this way cannot be put into mere words, but Mr. McFerrin almost did.

When I heard him talk about the language of ancestors it reminded me of the native American chants you hear at drum circles. Before there was language there was song for communication and prayer.

Sister Wendy Becket effectively used art to explain the Divine in her famous interview with Bill Moyers. Bobby McFerrin just as effectively uses music to get you to experience the Divine in his interview wih Krista Tippett.
Richard Quis, co-author, Thinking Anew: Harnessing the Power of Belief

I am almost 65 and took our son, a married man, on a "date" first for sushi and then to see Bobby McFerrin in Cedar Fals, Iowa. Luke had purchased the CD with he and Yoyo Ma and one of the songs on the CD was Ave Maria, along with many wonderful, spine tingling, arrangements. So, my 30 something son and I go and when it is time for the program, out walks ONE person and sits on ONE chair withe ONE bottle of water and the awesome experience begins. But the truly wonderful time was when he stareted with the intro to Ave Maria and we, except for Luke, started doing our "thing" with master leading us.
Krista, it was a joy to listen to you interview him, then to watch the interview. Your programs have been inspirational to me, and like another person said, I do not "put myself" out there, but I am doing it as I was truly touched. Thank you, and if there are any typos, sorry!

Truly one of your best shows. You hit so many high notes: a wonderful human connection, a great story, fine research, and genuine moments of unvarnished truth. As a musician and human, I thank you. Listened to it twice!

Yours is one of my favorite shows. Thanks you for what you do.

I would love to hear from a Hindu one of these days. Perhaps you have already done this and I simply missed.

Thank you agin.

Bobby Mac Ferrin is a genius at his music.He truly understand the power of the mind and how powerful and creative we can be as individuals as we work on our life passions in life.H is music and creativity is awesome.This is a very powerful Interview.Thank you for what you do and the quality interviews you present to the world.

Unbelievable photo. Captures the music in his soul.

Bobby Mc Ferrin.  Oct 18.  In response of his interview!

As I was creating my Playlist of Music for my Virtual Class today, I stumbled across....Don t Worry Be Happy and as Memories thru Music JUST IS, I decided to use it !

I watched the Interview and could almost pre think what He would say about How important Improv and Music are to the Human Condition and for the Ultimate goal of Uniting your audience in A Circle of Music.  

My Dad was a Musician too, so of course I was raised in the Memories of not only his Music era but his parents Music as well. So my repertoire has full range  of the 20 s to current Music.

The spiritual and gift of Music comes thru to others ONLY if they can feel YOU coming thru First... I was very up lifted by catching this interview as well as a confirmation of my own learnings,, experiences, craftsmanship of the art of Improvisation which my Dad would also call "The Ability FOR Quick Recovery" when a Note goes up instead of down.

Thank You God for leading me to this Interview which will now enhance my class this week not only with Bobby Mc Ferrin s music but with his Generosity of Spirit, Knowledge, Wisdom and Musicality.

As a musician and Grandma in Queens, NY I have been blessed with providing Music, Dance and Exercise programs within our Senior Communities during the day.  Both my Grans are Musicians, one classical pianist and one Rock n Roll drummer.

If, Mr. Mc Ferrin is ever in Queens, NY and would like to do a Mitvah he is INVITED to attend my Virtual music class and speak with my seniors in person or Virtually and to see how Music has rolled back time in their Hearts, Soul, Body, and Health.

Queens, NY