Recently I joined a choir. There are a couple of reasons for this, one of which is that I’ve always liked singing. Even if you know me and have never heard so much as a peep let alone a yodel of song pass my lips, it is true: when I’m sure that there is no one to hear I can belt.
(This is not entirely true. There is one exception, my sister. The reason she can be an audience is due to her own tone deafness and massive volume, and that I’m only ever allowed to sing backing vocals or secondary characters. May Walt protect those who dare to try Gaston, Mulan or Aladdin in her presence.)
Back before I got all self-conscious about singing I took part in the school choir, and first learnt the joy of joining my voice with others. I loved the feeling of being buoyed along by our combined song, and the strange sense of losing my own voice among the others. Is this is true of everyone else, that communal singing deafens the singer to their own voice, even though they can quite clearly hear those of their neighbours?
In addition to a love of choral singing that being in the choir gave me, I am to this day word perfect on Can you feel the love tonight, I believe I can fly and Colours of the wind. Which hasn’t come in handy yet, but you live in hope.
It was in high school that I was found unsuitable for the choir, in a moment that I still remember clearly. My very impressionable and easily deflated teenage self took this as a big blow, and forbore to sing in public again. My bedroom with the volume on high or in the solitude of an empty care were another matter.
Then I moved to Sweden and decided to make a new life, taking advantage of new possibilities and opportunities to do things that I’d long wanted to try. Much of which ended up providing material for this blog, through a chicken/egg cycle of doing things in order to write about them, and writing about the things that I do. In this mood of ‘why not?’ a friend suggested joining a choir that she’d be in for a few terms, to which I answered after a thoughtful pause, ‘why not?’ surprising both her and myself. As with any new undertaking there was a problem: I don’t speak a word of Spanish.
When you’re singing flamenco songs, it turns out that knowing the words isn’t all that vital. As long as you can sing emotion, you’ll make it. As you can well imagine there is a lot of emotion in the tangos, tientos, bulerías and fandangos, mostly longing, despair and the pain of love.
Our teacher can belt, raise her voice to the ceiling and bring it down with a flourish, leading us through songs that seemed impossible and out the other side. Other members of the choir have been part of it since it began and so know a number of the songs by heart, and know at least a smattering of Spanish. As their voices rise and fall I stumble along, trying to work out the pronunciation on the fly and realising how much energy real, proper athletic singing takes. As we pass from song to song I lose my voice among the others, trying to concentrate on the rhythm and tone of the teacher and the others, until all I can think about is the song, in words I don’t understand.