Tag: singing

SHORT STORY – REJECTION

“There’s gold in that voice,” my singing teacher said.

She was talking to my mother. I’d first seen that smile on my mother’s lips when I was around two or three years old. It happened when the adults around me had identified the noise I made as singing. Now, at the grand old age of six, I couldn’t remember a time without my voice, without singing.

My parent’s encouragement had made itself known in a small, pale blue, miniature baby grand piano that waited for me under the Christmas tree one year. It was perfect. I was delirious with excitement. A toy, with real keys that I could individually play, I adored that piano. Hours blurred one into another as I sang along to my heart’s content. The noise must have driven everyone around me insane. No wonder then that the piano disappeared one day, never to be found again.

I don’t know where the urge to sing came from, but there it was. Only much later did I discover that my grandmother also sang. Her grandmother was an opera singer in Europe somewhere before they’d left to make a new home in Africa, where we now lived.

We lived on a farm in the middle of nowhere. It was a big deal when guests came to visit. As the distances between farms were so huge, visitors would typically stay for a meal – either lunch or dinner. I was the entertainment. My mother would dress me up, brush out my long hair, and I would be summoned to sing for the adults after the meal. I can’t remember what I sang – it might have been hymns. Afterwards, I would receive applause and my mother would give me sweets to share with my sister as we were sent away from the adult company.

When it came time for school, I joined all the other shy, unsocial children from the surrounding farms. We stared at each other with big, curious eyes, but had learned that children were to be seen, not heard. We were an obedient, quiet bunch. Talking in front of each other was a struggle. Singing was out of the question. So, when the teacher wanted to test us for the choir, she devised a cunning plan. Square windows at the top of the wall that divided two classrooms were left open. In one of the classrooms sat all the students in neat, quiet rows. In the other was a piano. After being taught a song altogether, one by one, the students were ushered into the room with the piano. Being unable to see the classmates encouraged each young singer to utter sounds that indicated they had at least remembered the song. But in some cases, the tiny voices were so quiet that only the piano could be heard as the teacher softly played the accompaniment. Despite the awkward situation, the teacher bravely continued to search for new members of the choir to replace those who had left to join the secondary school.

My turn came. Being a seasoned professional, I sang as I usually did in front of our guests on the farm. After a few bars, the teacher stopped playing. I stopped singing, worried that I had done something wrong. But her hands were clasped in front of her mouth, her eyes were smiling at me and silent tears ran down her cheeks.

At home, I handed the letter from the teacher to my mother. She wiped the flour from her hands, untied her apron, and patting me on the head, took the letter from my hand. We sat at the kitchen table, my legs swinging in anticipation.

After what seemed like ages, I realised my mother was reading and re-reading the letter. But I couldn’t read her face when she finally looked at me. She folded the letter and put it on the table in front of her.

“You have not been selected for the choir, Annie. I’m so sorry.”

My heart stopped wanting to jump out of my chest from excitement and instead, stopped from the tidal wave of disappointment that flooded through my body. The tears that spilt from my eyes made my voice sound small and tight.

“Why? I did my best. I sang better than the others.”

My mother put a warm hand that smelled like flour and cookies on mine, but she didn’t smile. Her eyes looked as sad as I knew mine were. Singing was all I ever wanted to do. I was only going to school so that I could sing. Mother had told me that I could join the choir and I could hardly wait. Now, this. It was so unfair.

“You did sing better than the others, darling. And that’s why… Your voice is much louder than theirs. You won’t be able to blend in with the others.”

She patted my hand.

“We’ll think of something…”

I was still crying on my bed when I heard mother’s voice talking on the phone that stood on the small table in our long corridor. I couldn’t hear what she was saying but she was using her firm voice.

The next day after school, I started singing lessons with a singing teacher. But I carried the rejection from the choir deep in my heart.

After a month or so of lessons, my teacher entered me for an Eisteddfod, the annual singing and performance competition. It was my first performance in front of a hall filled with people. My mother thought I would be nervous. She held my hand as the chair beneath me shook from my uncontrollable trembling. But once I stood in front of the audience and the judge, a well-known operatic tenor, I loved every second of it.

Only when I won my first Eisteddfod as a soloist, did my six-year-old heart begin to feel hope that I could still sing even if it wasn’t with my friends in the choir.

Fading…

 

Fading…

Some days, she was herself again. Some days… What happened on the other days, the days that she was gone, she had no idea.

On the days of clarity, it felt as though she had been away on a long journey, only coming home now. She loved the feeling of coming home. It felt good to be home. It was such a relief. She felt as though she could breathe again. She wanted the feeling to continue, so this is where she would start. Here, where she was sitting in her living room, with her things around her. Here, where she felt safe.

Music lived here. It had lived here for many, many years. She would play, and they would dance and sing. Well, in the beginning, when they were too young to sing, they danced. She would be over there, by the piano, playing. He would be here, sitting on this sofa, watching them, his little family. They would be dancing: her little boy and his two younger sisters. They made up their own steps and danced with such joy, such abandon, such enthusiasm, as only small children could.

It was love at first sight. She had been around six or seven, and she knew immediately, irrevocably, that music lived in her soul. She did not know how she knew it, but she had been certain of it. As certain as the sun that smiled on the exotic, yellow African Daisies outside her mother’s bedroom window. As certain as the music that poured from the record player in the corner of the room.

The first time he had heard her play was when she was twenty years old, petite, and quite beautiful. It was a knowing within her then, her beauty. Not something she ever shared with anyone else. It was enough that it belonged to her. Like her music. But unlike her beauty, the music wasn’t hers alone. It had to be shared. She remembered well the feeling of sharing it. Of seeing the happy smiling faces around her at the hearing of it. Her feelings of satisfaction.

The beautiful dresses she could choose from, the expensive jewellery. But no rings. She had loved rings. But never any rings. Or bracelets. They clincked on the keys.

The travel: New York, Dublin, Cardiff, Edinburgh, London, Paris, Saltzburg, Milan, Rome, Athens, Barcelona, Berlin, St Petersburg, Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo, Los Angeles, Boston. Exhausting, thrilling, consuming. The audiences. The applause. One performance blurred into the next as she travelled from country to country.

“So exciting, darling!” “So glamorous!”

But it wasn’t. It was work, work, work. She never felt more alive, more vibrant, more herself. Music opened her soul. It allowed her to see for herself, her path ahead. She was doing the thing she had been born to do. The thing that eluded so many others. That caused so much frustration and unhappiness as far as she could tell. But not in her. Each day was a new opportunity to explore more music, to live her purpose.

And her hair… She had been enthralled with her long dark hair. It highlighted her flawless pale skin. Well, it did then. The person staring back at her from mirrors now was a stranger. A stranger she met anew each time she looked into a mirror. She met many strangers these days. Some insisted that she should know them. That she had known them. Others carried that hurtful look in their eyes when she did not recognise them. She had come to know that look well.

Thoughts… Many thoughts. Maybe memories. Maybe dreams. They lived at the edge of her memory, teasing her with their presence. Thoughts of music. Thoughts of family.

When her babies came, she had stopped travelling. She loved her babies. But they never asked that she give up her music. He and her babies and her music lived together. He would stay with them at those times when she played. The musicals, the recitals and concerts. Accompanying other soloists. The huge old pipe organ in church. These had become her outlets for music. She was grateful. Grateful that her purpose still lived alongside her family. These were her passions. These fed her soul.

The organ extended the music. Now there was Handel’s Messiah, too, and Bach’s toccatas and fugues for postludes. Practising in the beautiful old church was an opportunity to dress up, as much out of respect for the church, as for the music. Sunday dresses and the spiked shoes she would remove and replace with soft black slippers that would glide over the pedals as she played.

Some days, she was here. With her music and her young family and him. But somehow, they weren’t here. She could not find them. She was alone. They were gone. It was terrifying. She looked and looked but she was too tired. She felt too slow. She thought about taking a short rest. She would try again tomorrow. Now there were only strangers. What did they know. Of her music. Of her family.

But on the days of clarity her life was intact again. Connections made sense. Then, there were no strangers. Only her family that she loved. She recognised them. She knew them. They were all adults now, of course. And he was there, too. Older, gentler, familiar. It felt so good. She felt good. She would walk to the piano and sit down, her fingers already reaching for the keys.

I Could Have Danced All Night. Isn’t it odd that her fingers played that song in particular. She had not meant to play it. But that’s what came out. She tried again. There was so much music. Classical music. Ah, the Romantic Music she loved so.

Stupid, stupid, STUPID fingers.

Her daughter was here. Beautiful, talented. Her youngest. Christine sang. Christine sang the last song she could play.

I Could Have Danced All Night.

(For Nita, Smitty and Christine)

Confessions of a vocal coach

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I am lucky enough to work wearing several different hats. When I wear my vocal coach hat, I work with wonderful voices and help to develop those voices. It never ceases to amaze me what the human vocal instrument is capable of, and I love seeing my students’ voices develop.

As a vocal coach, guiding voices, especially young voices, involve not only teaching the correct techniques for optimum vocal expression, but picking the right repertoire. This is important to build the voice’s strength and flexibility, and requires great sensitivity to the voice you’re working with.

A number of my students started studying with me when they were ten years old. Then, they were cute little kids with squeaky voices to match their little bodies. At that time, they were often shy with soft, tiny voices. Most had never had a singing lesson before, and often it was their mothers who felt that singing would bring them out of themselves and imbue them with confidence. Their mothers were not wrong. Singing is great for building confidence and good posture.

Today, aged fifteen, these same students are gorgeous young men and women with beautiful voices, and confident singers and performers.  Their great communication skills that will stand them in good stead as they traverse their working lives and beyond. At the moment, they all seem to be especially stressed by too much work and preparations for their GCSE mock exams in January, to be followed soon after by the real thing. So, for now, we’re focusing on breathing lower and deeper in their bodies which will help them to relax.

What they eventually want to do with their voice training, will dictate the length and intensity of their studies. Obviously, if the goal is to become a professional singer, the training will be very different from someone who is studying to pass exams in order to improve their CV for a new school or University, or someone who is studying voice for improved confidence, or as a hobby. But hopefully, every student who ever studied with me will feel that they received the very best voice education I could give them. And I’m lucky, since it seems my students really do feel that way, judging by the lovely cards, letters and presents I have received from them over the years.

I’ve kept all their cards and letters in a big brown envelope, and on those days when life seems harder than others, or when life throws me a curve ball, I take out their writings and re-read them. It never fails to make my heart sing!

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