Readers of this blog may remember that one of my challenges for this year was to learn to sing. I didn’t have any real intention of performing in public…I just wanted to be able to sing ‘Yankee Bayonet’ with Katie (my wife) when The Decemberists inevitably invited us up on stage to sing with them (admittedly it was not the world’s most realistic plan). But when my singing teacher (the brilliant Emily Hayes) told me she had a friend who was putting together a choir who were going to sing Decemberists’ songs…I knew that the universe had other plans. So I joined the choir.
Now I should stress that ‘So I joined the choir’ wasn’t as simple as that. I’ve agreed to play basketball or cricket games on a whim, and I’ve gone on long bike rides with people who I’d never met but I suspected were a lot fitter than me, and I’ve agreed to MC an event at winery even though I’d never done anything like that before. Because at my very core, I felt that I could do it or at least do a sufficiently decent job that I could fool people in to tolerating my presence. But singing? That was something I really didn’t feel comfortable doing in front of people. Plus I knew from a few people that men who are willing to sing in a choir are pretty thin on the ground…so there was every chance that I would be the only guy singing…which would make it really hard to simply pretend I was singing.
So when Katie I walked into a flat in Thornbury for our first session with the choir, I was pretty comfortable with my plan to fake a phone call and make a run for it if I thought that anyone in the room was going to Linda McCartney me.
But of course these people weren’t there to make fun of me or to delight in my mistakes…these were Decemberists fans! So of course they were wonderfully welcoming an accommodating. Best of all, while the vast majority of choir members were women…there were three other guys!
The choir was the brainchild of Erica Pringle, who had arranged five songs off the Decemberists album ‘The King is Dead’ for choir, and was then teaching us all of the different parts, and being incredibly patient and encouraging…and doing all of this while pregnant (Colin Melloy may be able to do the many of these things…but he hasn’t done any of them while pregnant!)
Tricks for young players
One of the big mistakes I made going in to this was that I thought we would all just be singing the songs as they sound on the album…and this would be fine as I knew those songs inside out. But that’s not how things work in a choir. Sometimes you’re singing the song as the per the album, sometimes you’re singing it with totally different notes as a harmony…and sometimes you’re singing one part one way while another part of the choir is singing it another way. It’s a bit like going to a job interview and having everyone suddenly start talking French half way through…it’s baffling, but it does sound cool.
I also didn’t know whether I was a tenor or a bass. I had narrowed it down to these two (because that’s where the guys were), but I had no idea which one I was…in fact, to be honest I didn’t even realise that there was a difference between the two. Fortunately we had one guy who could sing the tenor part really well and one guy who could sing the bass part really well. So I just applied my years of learning as a child in Church, and copied whoever was closest to me.
Our weekly Monday night rehearsals soon segued into a performance at an open mic night
which in turn gave rise to a session in a rehearsal studio
and then suddenly we were on stage in front of an audience singing, and it was awesome! Yes I hit a couple of notes which were off, and yes I may have sung a few words that have not yet appeared in the English language…but no one noticed because that is the joy of a choir. When you make a mistake it is absorbed…and when you all do it just right, it sounds freaking amazing.
So would I recommend joining a choir? If you can sing, or if you’ve ever wanted to sing…then ‘yes’ you should. There will always be a litany of reasons why you think you can’t do it…but the most rewarding things always do. If nothing else you may find yourself on a Tuesday night in a pub with a beer in your hand having complete strangers coming up and telling you how much they enjoyed your singing.
So while my year of focusing on creativity may have got off to a slow start, I’ve now produced a few videos that I’ve been really proud of, taken some photos that I’m really happy with and performed on stage with a choir…the challenge is now to get even further out of my comfort zone and do something truly memorable.
Sadly I haven’t got any photo of the choir or myself performing (apparently taking selfies mid-song is considered ‘poor form’), but I did get a couple of shots of the other performers on the night.