Saturday, 6 June 2015

Singing gripes and thanks

                                  (top - Bangor Community Choir; next down - Threnody)

When I was a lad - this is personal but has, I hope, a wider point - I  was in the school choir - boy treble (i.e. soprano) reputedly the purest sound of all. (In general, I mean, not just me!) 

When my voice broke, I was out of the choir. No-one took the trouble to see if, in time, I was developing a useable tenor or bass voice as I matured. They had enough tenors and basses, I guess.

And the usual adolescent self-consciousness kicked in, so that apart from strumming a guitar and singing along, I assumed I was not much good at singing. Choirs seemed to require auditions, and the ability not just to read music but to pitch your voice at the dots. I couldn't do so, (not realising it's a matter of training) so assumed I didn't have a good ear.

Choirs seemed to be this sort of thing:

Wonderful sound, but not anything that I could do. In any case, my heroes of song were mostly black Americans (blues and soul) or British folk singers. It was unlikely I would sound like any of those models, since I was neither a sharecropper from Mississippi nor a plumber from Hull.

And then, in my retirement years, I encountered the natural voice movement, in the form of Bangor Community choir, and Threnody (as in pics at the top.)

Well, stone me, I can sing. Not wonderfully, not very flexibly, and not with the best-trained ear in town, but I can sing. Perform in public, even.

Here's what they didn't do when my voice broke: 
  • they didn't find out if I wanted to go on singing (I loved it)
  • they didn't train my ear, even when I took up an instrument
  • they didn't encourage all of the boys to sing - so it became a specialist activity

So now most community choirs I come across are short, or very short, of male voices.  Now I wonder, if you'll excuse a technical term, why the fuck that would be? (Sorry - a touch of futile bitterness there; it's all those years after school I could have been singing but wasn't.)

We must take care of the singing abilities of everyone, not just the future stars amongst us. In particular, boys need help and attention as they enter adolescence so that their singability doesn't lose out to male self-consiousness and musical neglect.

Why does this matter? because Sing Is Good For You (science says so!)

So I'm hugely grateful to the woman third from the right in blue, the gent with the flowing silver locks and the magnificent braces on the second right, and the woman extreme right in the first picture at the top: Pauline Down, Colin Douglas, Sara Brown.

Without them I would still be worrying why I couldn't sound like Ray Charles or Luciano Pavarotti, and not singing much at all; Threnody wouldn't be singing at funerals, and what would I do with Wednesday evenings?

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