Struggling soprano no more?

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.

Underneath 3D CoverUpdating 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.

 

WP_20170318_012 (2)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.

Underneath

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?

Purchase links

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)

 

25 thoughts on “Struggling soprano no more?

  1. How lovely to catch up with Anne over here at your place, Gulara. I enjoyed reading Anne’s post about being good enough because I’m one of those who finds singing anything more than a few (easy) nursery rhymes difficult. I was always told to mouth the words at school and even stop myself singing in the shower. I sing along in my head though and find other ways of expressing joy. We are not all songbirds after all. I’m probably more in the crow category. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • Oh no, Norah, I’m sorry you don’t sing more. Yes, I definitely had those incidents as a child: one of my uncles used to turn tele off while I was singing, and when I paused would say ‘OK, let’s listen to the real music now’ and turn tele back on. Just one example which puts me off performing publicly even though I love singing. It’s not even about how we sound; it’s just letting that sound out. It’s such a joy and relief. Many thanks to your support to Anne. I really appreciate your comment.

      Liked by 2 people

      • One thing I might not have stressed enough in my post, is that I’ve definitely become a better singer by singing alongside people who are better at it than me. Why should that be surprising? It’s the same with writing, the more we do it and the more we expose ourselves to the outputs of others who do it better, the more effective we’ll be. But there’s something about the arts in general, perhaps because playing around with practising them badly is something we associate with being a child, that blocks us from trying because we constantly compare ourselves unfavourably with the best. Yet in something like sport it’s accepted that people will participate at different levels. (A friend’s daughter, like many others, was paid to do a Master’s degree in the US while running for the university at weekends, but you’ll never have heard of her.) I wonder if the reason why some people ridicule our early inexpert attempts at singing, writing and the like is that it exposes their own vulnerability and fear of trying and failing themselves.
        So I’d say to anyone, sing if you want to and if you don’t like the sound you make get someone to help you produce a better one. I know it’s hard to take the plunge, it certainly was for me, but when I look back it seems really straightforward.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Norah, but as a teacher you must know deep down that the fault must lie in your education and not yourself. Still, there are only so many things we can squeeze into a busy life, although I hate to think that anyone who wants to sing being put off.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s probably true, Anne. My poor vocal chords didn’t get the training, and I didn’t get the confidence to try: a double whammy. We wouldn’t do it to anyone, would we? Singing is such a wonderful “gift”: “She shall have music wherever she goes.”

        Liked by 2 people

  2. A really beautiful piece. Reminds me of the quote (can’t remember the author), ‘The woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.’ We all need to find that place where our good enough is good enough. Thanks Gular and Anne. x

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Being one of those who is convinced I can’t sing, this gives​ me great hope! I’m so glad Dr. Gulara hosted you on her site and love the momentum building for your second book release. That’s something I’d join a choir to sing to!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Charli. As you do so much to inspire writers to find their voices, it’d be great if this post helped you find your singing voice. And I’m sure you’ll be glad to know that members of my choir has been wonderful supporters of my fiction and I’m anticipating several of them coming along to the next launch

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What a tender story. Thank you for sharing it with us. Singing gives you contact with your own body. Body and soul resonate in the same timbre and at find each other at the same tone. Sometimes I feel a healing comfort when opening my mouth and sing. I sang my whole life, raised in a family of musicians, but singing modern pieces was strictly prohibited… Like Gulara, I really resonate with your post. Thanks again.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Marije, thank you for reading and explaining so beautifully the healing powers of singing. I feel at times we are not heard enough, so singing can be a way to channel all that stuck energy. I hope you get to sing modern pieces these days. This is why I love my local choir. We sing all sorts and I love the variety…. Again, many thanks for your support. x

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for hosting me, Gulara, and your lovely comments on the comments. I’m so glad this post resonates for you and I love hearing about other people finding their singing voices. It’s such a wonderful experience. Maybe our choirs will meet up one day!!

        Liked by 1 person

      • My pleasure, Anne, you are an absolute joy to host. Thank you for joining the conversation.
        As to singing here are the lyrics to my favourite song I learnt in my choir. It sums up what I think about singing and writing too:
        Sing it for the boys, sing it for the girls
        Every time that you lose it, sing it for the world
        Sing it from the heart, sing it ’til you’re nuts
        Sing it out for the ones that’ll hate your guts
        Sing it for the deaf, sing it for the blind
        Sing about everyone that you left behind
        Sing it for the world, sing it for the world

        My Chemical Romance – Sing Lyrics | MetroLyrics

        Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Marije. Yours is an interesting perspective with encouragement to sing, but only certain styles. I like what you say about the body too. Writers are often neglectful of our bodies, with poor posture with older over the keyboard, and I do appreciate how singing helps me attune to mine and use it in a more positive and natural way.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sometimes, when writing my music posts, I am singing and writing at the same time. But I am absolutely guilty ont the part of the neglect of the body. Even forget to eat sometimes.
        Varying both singing and writing is a better option to listen to your body. When emotional very stressed, my voice instantly dissapears. It is a very good wellness detector as well.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. What a wonderful perspective post, Thank you for sharing. Back in my younger days, I worked in the theatre, initially backstage. After a few school productions watching in the wings just wasn’t enough, so when I moved on to college I started taking the plunge into a few acting roles on the understanding that if they wanted me to sing maybe a hidden gorilla would maybe provide a better sound. Then for one production I was (almost physically) forced by a (so-called) best friend to actually join her on stage and sing. After weeks of rehearsal things just weren’t working, until I was messing around with the song and sang it with a cockney accent. Suddenly it worked. I spent the next 18 months singing everything from MeatLoaf to Pippin as a Cockney barrow boy. It got a laugh.

    Liked by 2 people

    • What a wonderful story, Paul, thank you so much for sharing. Sometimes, it’s about trying things out to find out what works for us. So glad you had such a positive experience. And many thanks for stopping by.

      Like

    • Thanks for reading and sharing your own experience, Paul. Good to hear you found your singing voice, which seems to have given your audience a lot of pleasure.
      Your early point about it not being enough for you to wait in the wings and your wanting to get on the stage, reminds me of a time, before I had any lessons, going to watch a friend in the chorus of a come-and-sing performance of Mozart’s Requiem. While I enjoyed the concert, I was so envious! But never dreamt that could be me. And now is. Several times over.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for this story, Anne and Gulara. It is truly wonderful and I feel inspired. Maybe I should go for singing lessons. 🙂
    I love to sing. I sing out loud whenever I get a chance. I was fortunate enough to be encouraged to sing although I am not a singer at all. Filipinos love to sing and even before karaoke. We used to sing to our own guitar playing back in the 80’s and 90’s. Luckily, we sang for fun, for joy. I’m not so lucky with hubby. He seems convinced I shouldn’t sing. He isn’t shy to tell me I am off key and I really think it’s because I move the key to what I can sing but all notes move. I don’t know music but I know when I’m awful and when I’m okay. I can get defensive. It hits that “not good enough” chord. After a few years, I’ve learned to ignore him and I just keep signing. It doesn’t help to be defensive. He can say whatever he wants, my singing is good enough for me and my audience at karaoke. Haha!! But lessons will help, I’m sure.
    Much love and hugs. xxx

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m so glad you keep singing, Anne. There is so much joy and release in letting our voice out. And often when people criticise us, it’s something in them that gets triggered. I can’t speculate, but sometimes it’s not about us or what we do well. Sing for joy! 🙂 Love and hugs, xxx

      Liked by 2 people

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