As I mentioned in my previous post about music in my life, on the topic of playing instruments, I had music in my life from a young age. All children sing, right? We had school assemblies where we’d sing, probably hymns I think, but then I was also in a school choir for some time until age 12. I had a lovely voice and I was once called to sing a solo piece, which actually didn’t go so well.
While I was in the choir, I recall being positioned over on the left side, maybe at the back. I can remember some of the warm-up exercises we did, and I can remember how our music teacher would conduct us, just like in the orchestra – learning to follow the music while at the same time following her commands for more softly softly, or louder, and keeping us in time. I wonder if she could pick out my voice above the others (there must have been 20-30 of us), or perhaps she did hear me that time on the school trip to France.
Yes, the school trip to France. I took my walkman with me (it was still cassettes back then). Some of my friends had walkmans too, but they had cool albums to play with the latest chart hits. Me, I had my Michael Jackson Off The Wall album to play – the first ever album I bought. I’m not really that old but when I was old enough to take myself off into town on my own and I had saved up enough pocket money, that’s what I bought – I liked Michael Jackson and I didn’t recognise any chart stuff. So that’s what I had with me on the school trip to France.
I didn’t really have any friends amongst my classmates, my best friend being in the class below and not on the trip, so I was grouped with classmates in a dormitory I hardly spoke to. They were listening to one lot of music and talking amongst themselves and I had my headphones on and listing to my music… and lying on my bed I remember just singing along. I could sing that stuff, I could sing anything.
It must have been loud, I don’t know what it sounded like, I must have been doing it to be noticed, I think I felt quite alone in the group, but who else could hear? I think I did do it to draw attention to myself, even from the teachers, to get into trouble, just for attention’s sake, but that didn’t happen. No one came in to tell me off, but maybe it was heard – our French teacher on the trip with us was also the music teacher.
So perhaps she had heard me that time and heard that I could sing (solo) and that’s why I was called to sing a piece at a school play. The play was Fantastic Mr Fox I think. I was given a sheet of music for a song I didn’t know and I had to take it home and learn it on my own. This was something I’d never done before – I don’t know how we learned choir pieces but any other songs I sang I at least had the actual song to listen to, to sing along to, like my Michael Jackson album. I muddled through and then I think we had one dress-rehearsal where I practices with the pianist (perhaps the music teacher herself – I don’t remember).
Then on the day, it all went wrong.
What I recall is, I was to stand on one side of the school hall and the piano was on the other, in front of all the students, teachers and parents that were there. I was probably nervous but I had been put in that position and I just got on with it. As we began, the problem was that I couldn’t hear the piano, and the pianist couldn’t hear me. I sang quieter and the pianist played quieter and I think it just all went out of time and the music teacher/conductor stepped in and called it off and I sat back down. I think people felt embarrassed for me, maybe I was embarrassed to, but talking about it with classmates they agreed with me that the pianist played too quietly. In hind sight, and honestly, I think I didn’t know the piece that well, and if I could have heard the music playing well enough then I would have been better able to sing along. I don’t think this experience posed a lasting confidence issue for me, although I clearly remember it well, but I think the point about needing to hear the music is a key point which I will come back to.
Now moving on to high school, here there was no singing, my voice broke, and my singing came to an end. There was no more formal singing and singing for fun was no longer possible. I remember my grandad mocking me when my voice started to break, I think because when it first starts to happen boys at the stage start speaking very deeply, or certainly their voices in that way are not what they and others are used to hearing. I think it then takes some time for the voice to settle down, yes through puberty, and I wonder if I had still been taking part in formal singing through this phase of my life how that may have better prepared me. But I didn’t have that, so I was left no longer knowing my voice, no longer able to sing what I was used to singing, and how I was used to singing it. I could be silly at times and still break out into a mock-choir boy voice and sing a line of a Christmas song, but that was hardly helpful, but funny nonetheless!
I do wonder if I ever had the confidence to sing solo at all, either in front of people or on my own in my bedroom (where I was always aware other people could hear me). Years later when I learned to drive I found my mojo again a little when I would sing in my car. The advantage here was that you can just crank the music up and sing your heart out – it somehow sounds good enough to yourself enough of the time, and you are safe in the belief no one else can hear you (providing you quieten things down when coming to a stop or driving through a residential area with the windows down!)
Skip ahead some some more years to this year, and in addition to having bought myself a keyboard to play piano on (as I mentioned in my previous post), I’m making more of an effort with my singing. Just like the piano, I’ve found myself delving into more of the theory-side of things, a lot of this through the beneficial means of Youtube, something I never had to do with singing when I was a school boy – I never had to understand that there were different voice types, I just thought there were girl singers and boy singers (and boys who sang like girls if they hadn’t yet reached puberty!) and opera singers like Pavarotti.
I started to learn what my voice was capable of, where in the music range my voice worked and didn’t work, switching from low man singing as I’ve always thought of it, and switching up to silly choirboy/girl singing.
I did some voice exercises and warm ups and doing these along with a tutor on Youtube was a way for me to break me out of my shell and provide me with a little confidence to sing at home, where even though I live alone I’m still conscious of the fact/possibility that other people can hear.
I have the songs that I like, the ones that hit a nerve or get me fired up and want to break out and sing along. Sadly, ever since my voice broke there became songs that I could (physically) sing along to how I wanted to, and songs that I couldn’t, with many songs seemingly falling into the latter camp. I tried finding songs that I could sing and sticking to only those, but that felt restrictive and even depressing, because I was trying to accept “no, you can’t sing that”. Voice exercises seemed to be pushed as the way to improve your voice, increase one’s range, and improve confidence. I do have some long-term motivational issues, so I stuck at these exercises for a while, and sure, they pushed my voice a little, but what really fixed my voice in an instant, allowing me to sing what I wanted, was singing in my car!
Now I just need to get the confidence to sing at home, especially since I don’t go out in my car all that often!