I love singing. I always have, for as long as I can remember.
At primary school I had a teacher called Miss Reece, who everyone loved. One time I was singing away to myself in class (Rod Stewart’s Sailing if I remember rightly), not really even realising that I was, and Miss Reece just looked over at me and said, “That was nice.” I can’t have been much more than 9 or 10, but that’s always stuck with me. (To anyone who’s ever been bothered by the crazy lady singing along to her iPod in public: take it up with Miss Reece.)
Sadly it seems to be the case that many people’s belief is that they simply can’t sing. The other day I was wandering around shops in Shadwell putting up posters for the choir, and couldn’t resist inviting anyone I came across to come along. The response was, without exception, “oh, I can’t sing.” One very-helpful shop assistant even told me he was chucked out of the church in Sri Lanka because he wasn’t very good. (That church seemingly has bigger problems than the quality of its choir… don’t get me started.)
Why do people think they can’t sing? Did some kind of anti-Miss-Reece figure tell them they couldn’t when they were at school? Or maybe it’s something to do with our celebrity-obsessed culture, imposing its false categories: you’re fat or you’re thin; you’re beautiful or you’re ugly; either you can sing like Beyonce, or you can’t sing at all.
But being a famous singer – or making any kind of career out of singing for that matter – is different than simply singing. I’m talking about the very natural and human thing it is to open your mouth and for sound to come out; to join with others you may or may not know and make this sound together; and for this sound to be an overflow of the heart – in joy, in sadness, in play, in resistance, in celebration. Children do it in the playground. Football fans do it in stands across the country. Families do it at birthday parties.
Everyone can sing.
I have just become a member of the Natural Voice Practitioners Network, and love the way they put it:
“For thousands of years all over the world people have sung — to express joy, celebration and grief, to aid healing, to accompany work, devotion and the rituals of life — without worrying about having a ‘good’ voice or ‘getting it right’. Singing has been a part of life, a way of binding communities. Each person’s voice is as unique as their fingerprint: the voice we are born with is capable of freely expressing a full range of emotions, thoughts and experience…”
So said Alice Wignall in a 2008 Guardian article: “Singing is sacred and everyday, ritualistic and spontaneous. It makes us better, and makes us feel better. And we should all be doing more of it.” Thanks Alice, I couldn’t have said it better myself. (As for singing making us better… well, more on that another time.)
I love singing, and I love getting other people singing. Ella Fitzgerald said it well: “The only thing better than singing is more singing.”
Did I mention my community choir starts on 30th January? If you’re local, why not come and give it a try?!