I sing. Alone in my car. Oh, sometimes my husband’s there too.
I used to sing a lot: in choirs, while walking along quiet streets, at friends’ houses, in Girl Guides, around campfires, in the elevator of the apartment building where I once lived… all over 30 years ago!
So this summer I had a free week in Haliburton and the chance to take a course at the HSA+D instructors’ discounted rate while my husband Kal taught collage there (I had taught the previous week). I thought about taking his course, it was a chance to focus on a medium I only lightly touch on in my own work and guaranteed to be fun as well.
So why didn’t I?
As my regular students can attest, there is a quirk in my nature that means I will move along methodically for a while and then what I call my “randomizer switch” will kick on and I’ll find myself talking about or teaching or doing something unexpected, not quite sensible, but sometimes just the perfect deviation!
That’s how I found myself a student in Creative Choral Music I, taught by the magnificent Sherry Squires (far left in photo).
There was also a level II choir, taught by Andy Rush (an amazing man who could make a high impact aerobics workout video just based on his conducting!). Our two classes came together the first (Monday) afternoon, as we would do throughout the week to prepare for our concerts and to celebrate at the end.
I was in skilled and capable hands, and there’s safety in numbers, right? (Imagine me laughing, so hard that tears are probably coming to my eyes!)
Well, the first part was actually true, Sherry and Andy were terrific instructors. It is also true that we covered a LOT of content in a few short days: warm-ups, voice management, enunciation, reading music, rhythms, breathing, blending, following a conductor, recognizing cues, coming in on time (surprisingly hard not to be early or especially, late), holding music, engaging the audience, being onstage, sight-reading (rather difficult for those who like me don’t properly read music for voice!), an amazingly large and varied selection of songs, etc.
What I discovered, and experienced, was how much my brain had to juggle more or less simultaneously when I wasn’t used to doing any of it! Even singing: it’s entirely different to sing a melody solo, in a key that’s perfect for your voice, (and do whatever you like to it with no consideration for anyone else, because there is no one else to consider) than it is to sing as one small part of a whole having only just been introduced to a song, and (and it’s a big “and”) sing a harmony part.
Singing a harmony part (I was in the tenor section) was a sometimes bizarre experience because depending on the song/arrangement, it might relate closely to the melody or it might be off on what feels like a completely different tangent. All contributing to making a wonderful whole of course, but difficult to process and adapt to (never mind learn well enough to get right consistently!) in a few short days.
In my studio I am used to working solo almost all the time. I have had a number of projects where for certain periods a variety of truly generous people have helped me out, and I’ve also hired fabricators and services to complete certain aspects, but even those cooperative experiences were very different than singing in a choir.
A few short days can get you surprisingly far in the right circumstances, including the right instructor(s), and to feel our 50+ voices blend into a unified whole during sections of both concerts was pure bliss. I felt like one small star in a galaxy of stars – an amazing reward for almost a week of head-exploding mental challenge, voice-shredding physical challenge and moments of pure panic!
The other reward was all the warm, friendly, welcoming veterans (and not) whom I met in both choirs, and I didn't even meet everyone!
It was not easy being a real beginner again, to leap straight into the deep end, especially when you are expert at other things, but it is vital. It quite literally adds to your vitality, stimulating and nourishing you all at once; and by exercising "muscles" that you don't normally use or aren't skillful with, you increase your mental and creative agility, possibilities and courage.
That fantastic week prepared me for new creative adventures this fall and beyond, but more on those later!
Please share in the comments below any leaps (large or small) that you’ve taken and were glad you did... or if you too sing in a choir.
The combined choirs of Choral Music I and II, led by Sherry Squires and Andy Rush respectively (far left and middle front). Yours truly is partially hidden behind the white hair of one of my fellow female tenors, top left. This picture was taken right after our concert in the Great Hall at Haliburton School of Art + Design.
Here's a little video excerpt of Choral Music I and II classes' concert, singing one verse of Susan Aglukark's Song of the Land. The cameraman sneezes at one point I think :-)