Welcome to the second post in ‘Good Enough’ series. As someone who loves singing in a local choir, I resonate with this post a lot. I’m so pleased Anne Goodwin is back.
Updating my Twitter bio to accommodate my forthcoming second novel, it was clear that “recovering psychologist” and “struggling soprano” consumed more space than they deserved. But I didn’t want to lose them altogether. I didn’t want to look like the kind of writer who uses social media only to promote her books. Besides, I’d worked hard to achieve both those positions, although, unlike my status as a psychologist, there were no bits of paper to prove my identity as a soprano, struggling or otherwise. Should I scrap that sobriquet completely? Was I a good-enough soprano to claim even the modified title as part of who I am?
Contrary to popular belief, few people are genuinely tone deaf. For most of those who don’t sing in tune, the deficit lies in learning and confidence rather than biology. Perhaps a misguided early teacher instructed us to mime the words at school concerts. Perhaps a more generalised lack of confidence strangled our vocals whenever we ventured into song.
For most of my life, I was a non-singer. Like writing, singing was for professionals, not people like me. Yet before I could read or write, I used to belt out the Latin Mass along with the rest of the congregation at the Catholic Church I attended with my family. Back home, however, my parents had little tolerance for the ordinary noises – from crying to squealing, from screaming to giggling – of normal children. As a good girl, I learned to keep quiet.
Later, of course, I’d sing along to the radio in the car or let it all out in the shower. But that wasn’t real singing. And, no matter how drunk I was, I’d never have dared take the microphone at a karaoke.
I didn’t give my non-singing status much thought until my midlife crisis forced me to take stock of my priorities and redress my work-life balance. Confronted by my long-repressed vulnerability, I faced the challenge of striving for what I wanted, not only what others wanted of me. It was through this painful period that I began to find my voice as a writer. At the same time, I began to search for my singing voice too.
This was a little before community choirs became popular, although I doubt I’d have had the confidence to infiltrate one of those. Instead I found myself a teacher and went for lessons for about a year. He taught me about rhythm, breathing and shaping the vowels (something I’d have found difficult in my youth because singing vowels sound “posh”). I practised scales and classic pop to his accompaniment on the piano. I loved finding my voice, and learnt a lot, but not as much as I wanted. Although I could tell my tone had improved, I still didn’t like singing on my own and, when I asked if we could do some “classical stuff”, he said my voice wasn’t good enough.
Around the time that I completed the first draft of my “practice” (unpublished and unpublishable) first novel, I gave up my singing lessons. Either through too much tension in my singing or too much enthusiasm in my fiction (I use voice-activated software to write), I’d developed a sore throat that refused to go away. When investigations found nothing physical, I was referred for speech therapy which helped to manage the problem. By then, however, intent on becoming an author, I didn’t want to strain my voice with the nonessentials. I reverted back to being a non-singer.
A few years on, redundancy gave me extra time to devote to writing. Thinking I’d need more structure in my life than turning up at my computer every day, I decided to look into joining a choir. Nervously, I went along to a group that met on a Wednesday afternoon. Asked what voice part I sang, I had to confess I didn’t know. “I’ll put you with the sopranos,” said the conductor. I discovered later that, of the four voice-parts in a mixed-voice choir, sopranos usually sing the highest notes, but easiest in terms of melody. As I didn’t read music, this was the right place for me to be.
I was fortunate that I’d stumbled upon an extremely welcoming musical community that’s true to its principles of music for everyone, not just an elite. In addition to the Wednesday afternoon sessions, where each term we learn a range of short pieces from pop to folk and classical, there are a few weekend courses a year which culminate in the performance of a longer work with a full orchestra. The first time I did one of these, I made the mistake of contemplating how thrilled I was to be part of something so wonderful, and lost my place in the musical score.
Since then, I’ve sung choral works by classics like Handel, Mozart, Fauré and Vivaldi, as well as by contemporary composers such as Karl Jenkins, John Rutter and, in a piece written especially for our choir, the up-and-coming Rebecca Dale. I’ve been introduced to beautiful music I’d never have otherwise heard. I’m still a soprano – even on those days I can’t reach the top notes – but am I struggling? Am I good enough?
I still don’t like singing without other, and better, voices to support me, and feel self-conscious if my husband happens to hear me practising at home. Although I’m improving as time goes on, I still find musical notation difficult to decipher, and notes without words (and there can be a lot of amen in a requiem mass) a particular trial. And I prefer to be flanked by people I know won’t judge me harshly when I make a mistake.
Although I’d like to sing better, both for my own pleasure and for other people’s, I’ve learnt not to judge myself harshly either. Large choirs, like mine, can absorb a few dunces. Being part of the amazing sound we make together is good enough for me.
Anne Goodwin’s debut novel, Sugar and Snails, was shortlisted for the Polari First Book Prize. Her second novel, Underneath, is scheduled for publication in May 2017. Anne is also a book blogger and author of over 70 published short stories. Catch up on her website: annethology (http://annegoodwin.weebly.com/) or on Twitter @Annecdotist.
He never intended to be a jailer …
After years of travelling, responsible to no-one but himself, Steve has resolved to settle down. He gets a job, buys a house and persuades Liesel to move in with him.
Life’s perfect, until Liesel delivers her ultimatum: if he won’t agree to start a family, she’ll have to leave. He can’t bear to lose her, but how can he face the prospect of fatherhood when he has no idea what being a father means? If he could somehow make her stay, he wouldn’t have to choose … and it would be a shame not to make use of the cellar.
Will this be the solution to his problems, or the catalyst for his own unravelling?
Published internationally 25th May 2017 in e-book and paperback
Amazon UK https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B06X9VN6CD
Amazon USA https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06X9VN6CD/
Pre-publication Kindle reduced price offer (£1.99 / $2.48)