I love music. All sorts of music. And particularly the sound of voices. Many voices harmonising and resonating together gives me goosebumps. It's magical. But ever since one moment in my early teens, I've felt that it wasn't something I could ever do. I've been silent.
However, after more than 30 years of bashfully hiding my singing voice, and feeling embarrassed of it even in the privacy of driving in the car on my own, or with shampoo in my eyes in the shower, I've finally found my voice. And I'm going to gush about that for a few paragraphs if you don't mind.
You? But you're always talking in front of people. Why would you be shy?
There's a back-story. One or two folks who have tried to drag me kicking and screaming to do karaoke may have heard some version of it as I mounted my defense and squirmed free. You're not trying to do that, so I can share it in a less desperate and pleading tone, and in the knowledge that there's a happy ending to this now. Here goes.
I used to love singing in the school choir at primary school. I’m sure it was “a treat” for all the parents. Thinking back to my first ever time singing in a group in a little concert, perhaps 8 years old, I can still recall getting an unexpected lump in my throat from that feeling of all the voices coming together.
But then came my teenage years. And at 13, I was giggling in class with my mates as we had a very naff sing-a-long around the piano in our school music lesson. 30 kids with our heads down in a music book muttering our way through something naff and pedestrian. Annoyed by my chattering (fair) the music teacher made the decision to use music as a punishment and made me stand in front of the class and sing the song as a solo. Twice.
My breaking, changing voice and general teenage boy awkwardness turned the humiliation of trying and failing to adequately hit the notes, and ultimately falling silent in front of the class, into a fear of singing that stayed with me from that day. Maybe don’t do that, music teachers.
I have a deep voice, and so all popular music I might sing along to is wayyy out of my register. So I’ve been deeply embarrassed to be heard singing in any context, no matter how friendly the environment. I forced myself to try to ignore that on my wedding day and sang the hymns with burning cheeks. It was the most stressful part of the entire wedding experience (and we'd had a seating plan to figure out).
Karaoke is my kryptonite.
side note: don’t try to force people to join in at karaoke — it feels awful and can be somewhat triggering for those who really aren't comfortable singing on a microphone in front of others. You can have just as much fun if you allow people who have said no to just listen and cheer you on.
In 2019 my wife joined our local Rock Choir due to her own realisation as an adult that it is rewarding to liberate yourself from worrying about judgement and do some things just for the sheer joy of it. Bravo, I say to her.
After about 10 months of loving that, and of trying to convince me I might like it too (with some enthusiasm, every time we’d had a glass of wine), she convinced me to go along to give it a try. Rock Choir is a UK-wide, no-audition, learn-music-by-rote, accessible choir who sing together for the joy of singing in a group. I won't lie, I was terrified as I prepared to go along for my first taster session.
It was glorious.
Seated with one of the only 5 or so men in the bass section of this 150-strong choir, mostly consisting of women a few years my senior, I sheepishly confronted my fears, and instantly loved singing the bass part (in my range — the joy!) as our wonderful choir leader, taught us each passage of the 4-part harmonies which we then sang together as a group. The sound of so many voices resonated in my chest and made me feel like part of something welcoming and wonderful. I was hooked.
Music can be powerful, and the feeling of singing like this made me feel quite emotional. I often had wet eyes and a lump in my throat as we sang. I’m not embarrassed by this at all, although it’s comical to me that this was the case even for the very first song I learned with that choir… Super Trouper by Abba.
Whatever. It’s a banger! And I’ll defend Abba to my last breath.
Since then, I never miss a session. Thursday nights are booked out for this.
We’ve performed in loads of places as a choir, and I love that too. Singing at the London Marathon was my debut. Just this weekend several of the local Rock Choirs got together to sing together in London's Regents Park. Incredible!
Abbie, our choir leader, is special. She’s hugely gifted and wonderfully patient, friendly, and supportive. After 18 months or so singing with Rock Choir, I learned that she also runs a choir of her own called Classical Chorus — 180 voices, also no audition, but with more focus on classical pieces, and what felt like a step up for me in terms of challenge and attainment. In February of 2022 Verity and I joined that choir too, and with them we have performed at the Royal College of Music, the Menin Gate in Belgium, and at L'Auditori in Barcelona as part of the choir's summer tour. We have a concert at the Edinburgh Fringe coming up this August. I adore being part of this choir and its community of welcoming singers so much.
Reaching for the high notes
Now officially addicted, I’ve been looking for even more, and for a chance to continue my own growth as a singer in a choir. I decided to try to add one more choir to my calendar and had been admiring Hertfordshire Chorus who happen to rehearse about a 15 minute drive away from me. They are legit.
This choir requires auditions to join, and re-auditions the entire choir every few years. Gulp!
The prospect of standing by a piano, and singing on my own in order to be assessed by the very accomplished musical director and piano accompanist of a well regarded choir would have been unthinkable to me just a short time ago. But not now. Thanks to the encouragement and learnings and camaraderie and joy and confidence I've received in my other choirs, I decided to go for it.
I applied to join, and participated in 4 rehearsals while waiting for my audition to be arranged. Rehearsals involved sight-reading some very challenging (but wonderful) music with the 130-strong choir of talented singers. It required skills I don't yet have and some hard work. I'm in at the deep end singing music that was new to me but that I'd quickly come to love.
The day of my audition came. My first time standing by a piano and singing out on my own since my humiliation at age 13 (it only took me 35 years). Luckily no giggling classmates, just an excellent pianist and the musical director. Two prepared pieces to sing accompanied by the piano, and some exercises to test my range and my listening/repeating musical phrases. I was nervous. I worked hard to prep. And I was welcomed in.
Passing the audition is a source of immense personal pride for me after this journey. I quickly immersed myself in preparations for the upcoming concert which took place in the middle of May at Cadogan Hall in London. My father and my wife were both there to watch as we performed Bruckner's Mass in E Minor and Will Todd's Mass in Blue, and both beamed proudly at me from the audience. Epic! I'm still beaming with pride, myself.
I'm now singing more often, and with more people than I ever thought I would. It all came from my wife's determination to try something for the fun of it. And grew thanks to the acceptance and encouragement I received from my choir leader and all my found friends and fellow choir members. I'm convinced that it is doing wonders for both my physical and mental health.
Now, every long car journey is a chance to sing along together as we practice with the a backing track for one of our upcoming concerts. Opportunities to sing out in a group don't hold the same fear for me, and I've truly recovered something I lost as boy.
I get something different form each of the 3 choirs I’m now a member of, but above all feel I’m now making up for lost time after rediscovering the joy of singing with others. I can’t recommend it enough.