Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Fancy a Sing-Song?

I finally took the plunge and joined Rock Choir today, and I must say it felt pretty nerve-wracking going along to the first taster session. Singing is something I’ve always loved, but I’m not sure people have always loved my singing. At school I was first to dash enthusiastically to ask to join any choirs and I’d sing my heart out in the front line – where I was put due to my tiny height as a child rather than any special skills.

My mother was always quick to point out every error after performances, but that didn’t stop me until teenage years made me that bit more easily embarrassed. Having my own children and taking them to music school for years got me singing again. I’m aware of my limitations though. I’m only any good in the mid-range and definitely can’t reach those high notes.

One of my friends at the Camden Poetry Series of open mics told me about Rock Choir last year. He hadn’t been coming to the poetry events for a while then turned up looking ten years younger and full of joie de vivre. He had recently married his gay partner, who also looked pretty pleased with himself, and I thought it was due to their honeymoon period. But no – he told me it was all down to his new passion for singing.

I looked up Rock Choir on YouTube and saw him singing in his local choir. There are Rock Choirs in many towns, and three in my local area, so I’m very lucky. There’s something about the whole Rock Choir idea that’s making it take off in a big way.

The final factor in making me join was that I realised I wanted one of the characters in my novel to join Rock Choir. Her teenage daughter is discovering a new form of youth feminism, and she herself needs to feel a bit more free. The theme of feminism is treated with comedy which has an underlying seriousness, and the ‘learning to sing’ theme is a tribute and echo of Erica Yong’s iconic ‘Fear of Flying’.

So I needed to do a bit of research by getting some Rock Choir experience myself. I’m so glad I did. There are morning, early and late evening choirs in my area, but I chose the morning one in Hampstead as I like to spend dinner-time with my two sons. People look at me a bit confused when I say early and late evening outings clash with ‘family dinner-time’. Is it really such a bygone idea? I do go out on Fridays to the open mics I either organise or help with, and I think that’s enough. We have a pizza or takeaway on those days.

But I was a bit worried in case the morning sessions had poor attendance – and was pleasantly surprised to find a lively group there. Rock Choir Hampstead is in the lovely Quaker Meeting House on Heath Street. It’s a building I’ve always wanted to look inside. The atmosphere is lovely with a view out and down the hill over Hampstead rooftops.

More importantly it was incredibly friendly. The sign-up online worried me as it said my free taster session wouldn’t guarantee me a place in a choir, although I could try out a number of choirs before choosing. What did this mean? Could I be turned down? Would I have to audition? Might my voice go all ‘pitchy’ with nerves, as they say on X Factor?

A friendly follow-up email reassured me. It told me I wouldn’t have to audition and that the session was for me to decide if Rock Choir was for me rather than vice versa. I was also told that somebody would be there to greet me, which she did, and she also seated me with somebody for the session.

We also get put into a section that suits our voices. I can’t hit the high notes so I was put in the lower alto group, and I was told I could move about if my voice wasn’t comfortable in that range. Each song gets taught by the teacher at the front, who has a keyboard and also a backing track. The teacher was highly skilled and could sing from bass to soprano, giving each of us an example of how to sing our parts.

Sometimes people think they can’t sing because at school we’ve had to try to hit the full range of notes. I was at an all girls’ school and the majority of the girls sang so high I really thought I was incapable. I just can’t get up there with my voice, but I can sing bass and lower alto. It was so lovely to be taught songs in a way that let me harmonise easily.

It does feel like being part of a professional choir, and the teaching is also professional but friendly. In fact the friendliness of the whole choir was more than I expected. Next week is the last of this term and we’re all going to have coffee together after the session. The group didn’t make me feel self-conscious as a newcomer, and most of them wanted to come and chat a little. I’ll be going along to Hampstead on Sunday to see them performing the songs they’ve perfected as the Christmas lights go on.

The morning session is much more popular with women, although there was one very happy looking man. I know the early and late evening sessions in my area attract even more people (there were about twenty at mine so there must be quite a large crowd at the others) and there are more people who work outside the home plus more men. So I’m sure everybody can find a choir to suit them – if you’re tempted.

I did sing along today although I didn’t know exactly what I was doing, and I’ll leave the dance steps until I feel I can co-ordinate myself when singing. They aren’t hard dance steps and more of a swingalong as you singalong. If you take a look on YouTube you’ll see. I think I’ll position myself at the back in any performances.

Joining was a good decision. I’m going to download the songs online and get myself ready for next week when we’re also starting to learn a new song. Today’s songs were Something Inside So Strong, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, Valerie, Build Me Up Buttercup, and Anytime You Need a Friend. They say the songs are Motown, Pop and Gospel, and normally you get a number of sessions to learn each song.

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