December 29, 2011

Singing and leftover turkey


Priorities:  I had a close encounter of an unfortunate kind tonight with a large, turkey-slashing knife, partly, perhaps, because I rarely have close encounters with large, turkey-slashing knives, and am less than adept.  The wretched thing skidded and was coming for me and I had just enough time to think ‘it’s okay, I’ll still be able to type’ before it changed its mind and did not sink half an inch into the ball of my thumb, squirt blood all over the kitchen, and require a nine-fingered sprint to A&E. 


About the woman who starts the flash mob and where she gets the nerve. My 2 sisters and I sang in a choir a generous 1 hour bus ride from home. We sang on the bus on the way to and back home again. Singing in public is easier if you start young enough, and if you have good experiences of it. We were on occasion either applauded, or inspired others to join in. It wasn’t a scary thing. It was exhilarating. 

I take your point (and good for you), but this is not quite the same thing, at least not from where I’m sitting trembling in my seat.  There were three of you, and a bus full of people is still a lot smaller and more organised an audience than that shopping mall food hall with a couple hundred or something* people milling around.**  My empathy keeps stalling on the fact that I haven’t got a soloist’s voice, but I can imagine being one of the other choir members standing on a chair and adding to the uproar.  But that first woman . . . among other things, if I were her, I’d be worrying that they’d clap a bag over my head and be ringing emergency services before enough of the rest of my gang got going to prove that there was method in the manifest madness.


As for the first woman singing in the flash mob – I think soloists are born, not made; I used to have a reasonably decent singing voice, but never ever wanted to be a soloist.  

Again, I can’t (ahem) speak to the singing aspect because I haven’t got the voice to not want to solo with.  But about performance . . . there is not necessarily alignment between ability and attitude in this, as there is also not in so many things.  Think of Florence Foster Jenkins.

             I remember when I was still running occasional writing seminars.  The hopefuls that made my heart sink were the ones who worked like blazes, had totally the right attitude about putting in their hours and honing their craft by experience . . . and who apparently had no talent, no ear, no imagination whatsoever.  I didn’t feel it was any part of what I’d been hired to do to tell anyone this—after all, I could have been wrong—and there’s always something practical and pertinent you can say about someone’s writing if you think about it.  And then there were the clearly talented ones who couldn’t be bothered.  ARRRRGH.  So they’d give you one perfect poem or—usually—two and a half perfect chapters which they weren’t going on with because it was beginning to dawn on them that it was going to be work.***  If you could yank that one person’s natural skill and replant it in the drudge. . . .

            It was one of the greatest shocks of my life when I was sent out on the road for the first time after BEAUTY came out and I was a shiny new thing, and I discovered that I could do public speaking.  What?  Where did that come from?  I was absolutely not made to be able to put myself over in person.  Clearly there is some mistake.†

            I had been thinking about singing performance however which made me rewatch this clip†† from a slightly different angle.  Last voice lesson we got into a mix up with our music again, which is to say that theoretically I have accompanist’s copies of everything I’m working on and theoretically Nadia already has her own copies of (nearly) everything because it’s music she’s accustomed to teaching.  But I managed to leave at home my extra copy of something she’d managed to leave her copy of at home too.  So she sang it with me.

            This has happened a few times before.  I always enjoy it, which may or may not be a good thing.†††   But this time what I particularly noticed was the difference not in our voices per se—which is to say she has one and I don’t—but in our performance.  She invests what she sings, even when it’s something that she doesn’t herself sing.  I don’t invest—even when it’s something I’m (supposedly) working on.  I stand there like a little plank with a sort of weak buzzing noise coming out the top end.  Sigh.  This is sort of a good thing in that I’m developing enough brain-space even while I’m singing to make observations—there is a very strong herding-cats element to singing—but it doesn’t tell me what to do about an observation like ‘eww’.  We’ve talked about trying, about how to relax and stop trying, to let the music move through you—not unlike letting a story move through you, you might think, but I haven’t found the musical on switch yet.  Siiiigh.  Watching these people singing the Hallelujah Chorus this time I was thinking, I bet I can pick out which are the actual choir members and which are the audience singing along.  Okay, maybe some of the choir members are horribly embarrassed at what they’re doing . . . but I don’t think they’d stay members of that group if they embarrassed easily.  Therefore the trying-their-best but plank-like ones are the audience. . . . Where is that frelling ON switch.

            I’ve been trying, this fortnight while I haven’t got Nadia to take things to, various ruses to startle myself into singing with some feeling.  I’ve been singing Christmas carols all my life, so those should be terror-free and familiar enough to take risks with.  I’ve reverted to some of my favourite old folk songs, like Greensleeves (or What Child Is This) and Early One Morning and Ash Grove and Down by the Salley Gardens, which have very simple flowing lines, and come as near to making you flow with them as any mere music can do.  I wander around the sitting room‡ singing, sometimes merely standing facing in directions other than into the piano and the wall behind the piano, and sometimes singing while walking.  Sometimes singing in a furrin language helps—both Non lo diro and Santa Lucia are better in Italian.  Sometimes singing furrin is just more intimidating—Caro Mio Ben and Dove Sei still feel wildly, ridiculously, shamefully beyond my reach—despite the fact that I find them beautiful and respond to them, just not in any way I seem able to let out of my mouth.  ARRRRRGH. 

            There’s one semi-exception to all this.  Generally speaking/singing I sound least pathetic on the simple old folk or folk-style songs.  And Se Tu M’Ami is still technically beyond me—I’m pretty sure I told you Nadia tried delicately to discourage me from tackling it, it’s just every frelling thing I sing seems to be mournful and here’s one that isn’t.  That’s where Santa Lucia comes from—she gave me that one because it’s cheerful.  Too late, though—I was already well stuck into Tu M’Ami.  And of all of them, and however technically calamitous my efforts are, I most get into Tu M’Ami.  With Tu M’Ami I have occasional little glimpses of how the dynamics arise organically from the line of the song.       

             I feel that my perverse streak could take a break here any time.   

Melissa Mead

My maternal grandma used to give me socks. Generally argyle. I came to love “grandma socks,” and now I can’t look at argyle socks without missing her. I still have a couple of pairs of “grandma socks.” They’re getting holey, but I won’t throw them out. 


* * *

* I’m not sure how much you see even in the long shots. 

** Although people in the hall can probably escape more easily if they’re not in a social-uplift mood.  You’d have to be extremely grinchy to get off at the next stop and wait for the next bus.  Grinchy and possessed of a great deal of spare time, bus schedules being what they usually are.  

*** On the whole give me 90% work ethic and 10% talent rather than the other way around, but you do need the 10% talent. 

† The Personality Creation admin is clearly as screwed up as the Story Council.  There may possibly be some delivery system problems as well.^ 

^ ‘If no one is there, please stick it in the kid third from the right’.  

†† This clip, for anyone who doesn’t read this blog faithfully every night 

††† It’s a good thing for a choir member to like singing with other people.  It may not be a good thing for a student to like having a teacher to hide behind. 

‡ Much to the consternation of the hellhounds, who are a bit dubious about my singing anyway, and feel that if I move away from the piano toward the centre of the room I should be going to go sit on the sofa.


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