Archive for the ‘ Singing ’ Category

Getting sucked in by G&S

It may have become apparent through recent entries in this blog that the works of Gilbert and Sullivan are gradually taking up more space in my consciousness, having been creeping in stealthily (with cat-like tread, perhaps) before I had a chance to notice them.  I’d never really paid their work much attention before now.  What never?  Well, hardly ever.  I had assumed that it would all be outdated, silly, pointless and trite.  And it seems that I am wrong.  My growing appreciation for their tunes and lyrics is most intriguing. Continue reading


Firstly, I do apologise for the length of yesterday’s post, particularly as it didn’t really have a point.  Ah well.  Shorter today, though whether it has a point I don’t know.  A confession.

I’ve never done karaoke.

And I don’t particularly intend to.  The very idea fills me with horror, which is really rather strange.  I sing to myself in the shower, in the office, walking down the street and probably in my sleep.  I sing in concerts, sometimes solo.  I once performed a set of songs a cappella at an open mic night.  And I sing and dance in front of hundreds of people from time to time.  So why don’t I want to do karaoke? 

I just don’t think it’s for me.

Firstly, I can’t imagine that many karaoke organisers have songs in their machines that I would actually want to sing.  Pop doesn’t really suit my voice, and rock even less so.  Can you do karaoke to songs from musicals or big band standards?  Maybe, but most people would probably rather hear a bit of Abba, Oasis, the Beatles, Queen or the latest boy band.  I like some of those songs, but have no burning desire to perform them.

Secondly, performing is not something that comes easily with karaoke, as there’s little room for interpretation.  Any decent accompanist will go with the singer, speeding up or holding back as appropriate to the way the song is being sung, but a machine carries on at the speed and volume that someone decided is right.  I never sing the same song exactly the same way twice, so it seems unlikely that I’d want to sing it the way that the karaoke machine wants me to sing it.

And finally, it all seems so corny.  I have sometimes enjoyed watching people perform karaoke, but I’d just feel completely wrong, and would certainly blush to a disturbing shade as I watched the words change colour.  It’s probably a snobbish thing, but the very idea of singing karaoke is just embarrassing – and this from someone who skipped around in sock suspenders singing a silly ditty for a week in March!  Nerves are always a part of my singing experience, so I have no idea to add cringe-worthiness or embarrassment to the mix.

Perhaps the oddest thing about this is that when I’m alone I do, to all intents and purposes, do a spot of karaoke.  Various books of sheet music come with backing CDs with piano accompaniment, and this is very useful for learning a song, though also restrictive in terms of tempo and dynamics again.  In my living room, this is fine (and to be honest, I’d quite like to have a go on the SingStar game that various people rave about), but take the same track into a smoky pub with a dodgy compere and the chance to win a small prize, and the useful tool becomes anathema.  Isn’t that strange?

More summer singing

Tonight I sang at another summer concert, with many of the same people as last time, and with a similar selection of music.  This one was to raise money for one of those wonderful small village churches that pepper the English countryside, and I can vouch that it’s worth saving, as the church was our concert venue.  The audience was a few dozen local people, filling the pews.  I’m not sure whether it was the acoustics of the building or our collective frame of mind, but we sang better than we ever have before.  Continue reading

Born to play the role?

I’m very lucky.  In my theatrical ‘career’ so far, I have played four principal roles and two of them were so brilliantly suited to my abilities that it was almost unbelievable.  Herr Schultz in Cabaret was admittedly some fifty years older than me when I played him, but it was in a school production, so questions of age were irrelevant.  However, his mixture of quiet joy and pathos, combined with his characterful songs, made him a perfect match for me.  Gerald in Me and My Girl was just ridiculously right, as well.  Everything from the ridiculous accent and the old-fashioned singing style through to his complete ignorance of his own ludicrosity was so ‘me’.  I slipped into the role like a glove.  Not that it wasn’t hard work, it most certainly was, but it was all so right.

The trouble is, there aren’t many perfect roles for each performer, and I’ve already used two up before the age of 30.  And if I really was born to play Gerald Bolingbroke, as some people said, does that mean I’ve peaked, and it’s all downhill from here?  I certainly hope not.  But the idea does make me think – what roles would I like to play, and what roles am I ideally suited for?  Continue reading


My most recent read was suggested by friends from the wonderful h2g2 site and is Pilgermann by Russell Hoban, author of my favourite book, Riddley Walker.  My brain is still whirling around trying to absorb this absolutely fascinating tale – Hoban certainly doesn’t write beach reads or airport novels!

The book concerns a wandering Jew, who finds himself in Antioch during the Crusades, and is about all sorts of things.  The search for order and meaning, the nature of God, the pattern of history, the dance of death, the weaving of fate.  The title character does little of his own volition, moving through life as fate, or God, or whatever, directs.  As he does so, he gains a strange circle of friends, most of them dead, who challenge his view of himself, the world and his place in things.  In some ways nothing happens, and in some ways everything happens.  There is love, sex, war and death, but the two main characters also spend a lot of time making a large pattern of tiles.  Oddly, this tile pattern is one of the most compelling things in the book, setting the mind spinning just as it causes a change in the culture of Antioch.  Movement and stillness in one thing, an infinity captured in one place.  Be still, my shooting neurons. Continue reading

Wrong note drag

I hate doing things wrong. No, I really hate it.  Really,. really hate it.  When it comes to things I do, I am an irritating perfectionist, with impossibly high standards.  Others can get away with many things, perhaps even most things that don’t involve apostrophes or murder, but I hate to get something wrong myself.

As a person who dabbles in theatre, I arguably have more opportunities to get things wrong publicly than most people tend to have.  Forgetting a line in a rehearsal is mortifying, and getting your legs in a twist reddens your face no end, but there is a truly terrible crime.  The wrong note.  Continue reading

Summer singing

Let’s have another attempt at a post about singing, shall we?

This weekend I performed at a garden party along with eight others from my operatic society.  The sun couldn’t be bothered to shine very much until the garden party was over, but a good time was had by all, and our vocal cords were given a good work-out.  Singing with a small group was good fun, and the rehearsals were nicely balanced between being laid-back and managing to get everything done.  You can hear the overall effect so much more easily in a small ensemble, as the people singing the other parts are right next to you.  This makes dynamics (volume) easier to play with, as you can balance your voice with those of your neighbours, creating lovely swells and fading away much more effectively than a chorus of 50 can fade and swell!

We sung a variety of pieces, mostly as an ensemble, but with some solos, duets and so on scattered throughout.  The average age of the audience meant that our selections from Rodgers and Hammerstein, plus the gorgeous ‘Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man’ from Show Boat were received particularly well.  Of the solos, the woman who sang ‘Summertime’ was astounding.  I contributed Chicago‘s ‘Mister Cellophane’, a favourite song for me as it gets the audience on your side, and you can really work with your nerves, as the character starts the song in a fairly shaky way.

As ever with such things, I was very nervous, but as ever I’m glad that I did it.  As we sung the final chord of ‘As Long As I Have Music’, a warm glow came over me.  Music is a great gift, and it’s so much better when it’s shared!

Singing silence

It has struck me that I have written about various things here, but I haven’t really touched on singing, which is an important part of my life and forms part of the blog’s title.  So why not?  I’ve realised that singing is surprisingly hard to talk about.

Technically, I’m not a great singer.  I read music very slowly, and I understand very few of the concepts.  Yet I can vibrate my vocal cords, flap my lips and tongue around and create a noise which people tell me is very pleasant.  I can’t improvise a harmony as many people can, but I can learn a harmony and stick to it.  When I sing, I like to use the words and the emotion as much as (perhaps more than) the notes, so I’m probably more an actor who sings than a singer who acts.

So, it doesn’t make any sense to me, but it feels very right indeed. Better than right, in fact.  Continue reading

Taking pride too far?

Pride is a strange thing. I’m not talking about hubris, or the pride goeth before a fall sort of pride, but the pride you can have in other people, or rather the pride that other people can have in you. Parents seem to have a natural ability to be proud of their offspring, but my recent foray onto the stage has a attracted quite a bizarre mix of pride manifestations.

The sweetest is my sister, who told everyone ‘my brother is/was in a show!’ and was positively beaming when I saw her in the bar after Me and My Girl (my latest show, and my first principal role since I left school almost 10 years ago). A colleague, who also attended the final performance, said that it looked like she was going to burst, she was that proud. I suspect I’ll return the compliment in August when little sis gets married.

Strangest is a colleague who’s convinced that I’m somehow going to leap from amateur theatricals to international stardom (which would be awful – even if it could happen, I wouldn’t want it to, as I’d go insane). Any bit of progress I make, or thing I’m asked to be involved in, leads to a chorus of “I told you so, see big things are happening”. It’s exciting, yes, but it’s hardly as big as she makes out. She has also taken out dibs on writing my official biography, bless her.

Most inevitable is my mother, but I only discovered the extent of her pride in what I did when I visited home last weekend. She already caused me great embarrassment at church the day after the show, when she almost succeeded in derailing the service by talking to the worship leader about it. People from my church obviously don’t see my parents very often, so they have a very odd image of them! To be fair, though, I did have quite a queue of church folks congratulating me after the service. When I went home last weekend, I went along to mum and dad’s church (which was my church when I lived at home) and discovered that she had shown the programme and the reviews of the show to everyone who knows me. I can just imagine her accosting random people and forcing them to be very interested.

I’m embarrassed, but also deeply touched to see how much I mean to people around me. I am proud of what I achieved, in a dazed sort of way, but their sweet, demented, sometimes misplaced, somewhat excessive, pride is a different thing entirely. I’d best stop writing now, as if I dwell on it too much, I may start to cry.

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