So far, this tour through my musical memories has concentrated on other people making music.In part 1 of Music and Me, I wrote about how my love of music came from my parents. In part 2, I talked mainly about classical works and in part 3, I took us to gigs with some of the great icons of rock music. In part 4, we went to the theatre to be to watch a musical or two. This time, we’re bringing it closer to home.
As I indicated in part 1, I also sing myself. I’m not a brilliant singer; I get on better when in a large group, preferably one where the people around me can hold the tune. I have only ever sung a solo in public once: a few years back I was asked to sing the opening verse of O Come, O Come Emmanuel at the Advent Service. It’s a tune I’ve known for more than fifty years, so there was no problem there. But I practised for weeks: at home, in the car, walking round the lanes. The service went well, but by that time, I was so stressed, I swore I would stay in the chorus from then on.
But going back to the beginning, I have sung in choirs since secondary school. Recently I returned to St Paul’s School for Girls , Edgbaston to celebrate 100 years of the Old Girls’ Association. We started the day with Sung Mass, and, as so many years before, I was part of the choir. I had forgotten just how wonderful a chapel full of female voices could sound.
Many years ago, I was a member of the Darent Valley Choir, and learnt such wonderful pieces as Vivaldi’s Gloria. Around the same time, I discovered the joy of a scratch performance, where a choir gets together for one or two days to learn and perform a work: twice I spent a fascinating day at the Royal Albert Hall under the baton of the late great David Wilcocks singing Handel’s Messiah. Two thirds of the seats in that magnificent auditorium were filled with singers and the audience in the evening was frankly almost irrelevant. We were all just there for the joy of singing. I had the pleasure of reliving that experience last November when alumni of the University of Exeter were invited to join the Chapel Choir for a day. A much smaller venue than the Royal Albert Hall, a choir in the tens rather than the thousands, but the Halleluiah Chorus felt just as uplifting.
I’ve been a member of local community choirs in recent years, singing everything from Samuel Barber, through Gilbert and Sullivan, to Lennon and McCartney. Last year, I went to our local school hall to watch Black Voices perform. A wonderful group of women from my home city of Birmingham, they’ve been singing their a capella gospel songs for more than twenty five years, all over the world. Half way through their first number, I turned to my husband and whispered: “this is what I want to sing!” And since then, I’ve been a member of the Newton Gospel Group. Every week, I get to belt out such classics as Rocka My Soul and Swing Low Sweet Chariot. Such joy.
But the highlight of my singing in recent years has to be performing with Red Earth Opera. Started by local singer, musician, and Musical Director, Jane Anderson Brown, REO provides the opportunity for local singers and musicians to perform with professional soloists. Last year we spent a weekend learning the music of Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and the feeling of joy that came from singing the Easter Hymn with soprano Justine Viani is almost indescribable. If only I could bottle that feeling.
To me the second best thing about singing, after the wonderful sounds we make, is the way it brings together people for different walks of life, who might have nothing in common apart from a desire to make beautiful music together.
Next time, I’m going to the Opera. But for now, Dear Reader, it’s over to you: are you a singer; and if so, what does it mean to you?