Perhaps a year ago, I mentioned on this blog that I was considering joining a choir. It was a fairly wishy-washy plan that I probably wasn’t going to follow through on, but this week, the choir-thing reared its ugly head again. I was the lead singer in amateur bands a couple of times in my youth, I’ve always sung since I was a kid, but I have no experience of choirs. And my singing is very much limited to the privacy of my car, these days. Still, I’ve always considered myself as having a good voice – I’m no Aretha Franklin, but I can carry a tune better than the average man on the street (one who is tone deaf, at least). So joining a choir was always something etched on my mental ‘to-do’ list – pretty low down on the list, but it was there.
Anyway, at the weekend, my husband began nagging me about these choir aspirations – I think he only said it so that he and my eldest daughter could watch the programmes they like on Netflix once a week without my constant bitching, along the lines of, ‘can’t we watch a comedy? Isn’t life miserable enough without having to continually watch shows about serial killers?’. My husband denies this, and insists I need an outlet for my singing (an outlet that doesn’t involve me being in the house). He also spoke to a woman at work that had just joined a choir, and loved the experience. After her first rehearsal, he says she was ‘blown away‘ and ‘buzzing’. Well, I’d like to feel like that – yes please! So this week, partly to have something to write about (the things I’ll do for this blog), and to appease my husband, I joined an all-female choir.
Now, you know I’m not the kind of person who enjoys taking on new things; I don’t like change, I admit that. But I know it’s good to step outside your comfort zone once in a while. I was considering bribing a friend to come along, but decided against it, in case I wanted to back-out at the last minute. I reluctantly made my way to my first rehearsal at the local music centre and entered a room heaving with women of all ages – I’d guesstimate there were fifty of us – at least. The choir is run by two very musically talented sisters, they can sing (any key, any range, you name it) and play the piano beautifully. Makes you want to weep, really. One of those very approachable choir teachers (who also happens to teach my youngest daughter drama) initially said, ‘I assume your daughter gets her lovely singing voice from you?’. Oh…um. I didn’t know quite how to respond to that (the answer is ‘yes’, I suppose, but I didn’t want to give her false hope that she had happened upon some amazing singer, when perhaps I’m just very average), so I kind of replied with a nervous laugh and a grimace. I was then asked, ‘I don’t suppose you’re a top-sop, are you?’ (excuse me, what now?). Trying to wipe the increasingly gormless look off my face, the rusty cogs of my brain began to go into overdrive, and I worked out that must mean the highest in the range of all the female singing voices (top soprano). Even I knew the answer to that was, ‘um…no…’. The fact that I can sing has not made me an expert on vocal ranges, but I did know the difference between a soprano (high) and an alto (low), but unfortunately, all the stuff in the middle was a bit of a blur. Luckily (or unluckily) I’d been on Google earlier that day to help me make a snap judgement. Anyway, somehow I managed to find myself seated with the mezzo sopranos (one down from the sopranos, so sop-2s [confusing, innit?]). But I have a feeling this may have been a bit of a mistake.
We were given four songs that we need to learn before March 16th (when there’s some kind of choir competition, I think. I was a bit too frazzled to listen properly, to be honest). These songs being; ‘Michelle’ by The Beatles, ‘Oklahoma’ by Rodgers and Hammerstein, ‘Sahayta’ by Ben Allaway (no, I’ve never heard of it either), and one written by one of the choir teachers called ‘Tread Softly’ (music set to a Yeats’ poem – oh yes, they can write stuff too). All sounds easy enough, you may be saying to yourself. No-no, I assure you that you are quite wrong. Oh. My. God. The complex process of breaking these songs down into various minute little harmonies (and remembering the one you’re supposed to sing, and not being put off by different harmonies) is a very…well…it’s a complex process. I was extremely glad I hadn’t invited a friend just then; she would have slapped me very hard across the face for unwittingly putting her through this trial by fire. After an hour of singing, I thought my brain was going to melt. My biggest problem is that I can’t read music. Oh, the shame of it! Actually, I have a feeling I did semi-know how to sight-read music as a kid; I was one of three girls who played the recorder during all our school assemblies in primary school, and our hymn books were different to everybody else’s as we had the sheet music printed in ours (I was super-proud of that). But I’ve got this sneaking suspicion I might have learned the tunes from memory. Still, I have a very good ear; I’m pretty savvy at guessing the way a harmony should go, I’m actually very good at harmonising, and my pitch is okay too. But nevertheless, l still can’t read music. Plus, my eyesight is shocking (I need glasses for distance, but not quite for reading…although I feel that is just around the corner), and I had to share sheet music with somebody else because I didn’t yet have my own. So reading teeny-tiny lyrics over her shoulder (and being baffled by the actual notes and the bars themselves), I felt I didn’t catch-on as quickly as I’d have liked; I felt a bit out of my depth. And when the choir instructor said, ‘shall we just sight-read from here on in?’ (excuse me, what now?), I could have cried. Still, this choir mean business; it’s the real deal – and challenging yourself is good, right…?
I got back in my car with mixed emotions that night. Was I ‘blown away’ and ‘buzzing’? Errrrrrm, well, I barely slept that night, if that helps; those harmonies racing around and around my head. I only know my brain was completely saturated. I guess I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and I don’t like being mediocre at anything. And I’m afraid I was mediocre that night. Whilst trying to sing mezzo and simultaneously struggling to listen closely to the alto-1s harmonies (the higher-pitched altos), I have a feeling I ought to have been singing in that range. I could kind of sing mezzo soprano, but I was at full stretch vocally, certainly singing falsetto a lot of the time (i.e. not your ‘chest’ voice, rather your ‘throat’ voice). And my throat was very sore on going to bed, so I don’t think that’s a good sign.
So, am I going to return to choir next week? Well, readers, I think you’ll be pleased to know the answer to that question is ‘yes’. At the very least I need to give the alto-1 vocal range a go! Plus, the teachers and choir members were very welcoming and friendly. And my husband needs to watch his serial killer shows on Netflix, so I think I need to give this a fair crack of the whip. Google says you don’t have to limit yourself to certain vocal ranges, and with practice, you can sing almost anything (except top-sop, that ‘aint happening). But I really think it would be wise to start where my voice is comfortable – c’mon people, we don’t want throat nodules! I can only hope the altos don’t sing too low, or I’m absolutely screwed – it appears my vocal range isn’t as vast as I pretended whilst singing Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ in the shower. And if you ever see a choir in action, please try to appreciate how frikkin’ hard they’re working (especially if they’re singing Oklahoma…Jeez-Louise), because I don’t think I did before. Oh, and if, by some freak miracle, any local friends aren’t put off by this cautionary tale of my singing escapades, you are more than welcome to come with me next week…