I joined the Village Male Voice Choir last May. As someone who’s life is already full of music it may seem an unusual hobby to take up. But I love it. Choir singing is an abstract art, in the sense that you cannot experience the result of your work any more than a cog inside a grandfather clock can tell you what time it is. As a choir member my job is to practice my words and notes so that when they get combined with all the other words and notes the result is a beautiful and engaging experience for the audience.
It’s weird really. But I’m obsessed by it. Choir singing takes time plus a certain willingness and trust in the process to develop the skills to make the whole thing work. I look forward to each Monday evening getting to choir practice to learn more ways to make my part better. Rachel our musical director, and Phil, our pianist, are extremely talented people who throw their skills and passion into making us sound good. There is so much to get right (and get wrong).
Obviously, the notes need to be in tune but they must also be the right length and sung at the correct volume. Into the mix goes the sound quality – you don’t want individual voices standing out – and this necessitates each singer doing their best to sound like every other singer as we go louder, softer and adapt to changes in resonance. Trying to keep it all together, Rachel conducts us with facial expressions, waving arms and hand gestures to create the feelings and meanings that she wants the music to express. Sometimes it seems like she’s physically pulling the sound out of us.
And so it is, every Monday, I sit or stand there on the back row with eighty-one-year-old Geoff on one side and forty-something Mike on the other. We sing our hearts out – or aim to – that is if we’re not still figuring out what our notes should be. From time to time the banter flies around the room as the Baritones tease the Top Tenors, and the Second Tenors tease the Basses. It’s a friendly rivalry and we have some good laughs.
A typical choir joke:
“There was a mistake.”
“It was the Second Tenors.”
“It was us.”
“There was a mistake?”
“What page are we on?”
We take the music seriously but boy do we have a good time doing it. And, when I walk out of the Village Hall at the end of the two-hour session, I always feel great – fully oxygenated! I’m not quite sure what causes this natural ‘high’. I’ve heard that the extra oxygen being inhaled, combined with the large amount of brain activity triggers the release of endorphins. Whatever it is, it’s marvellous, and in that moment I know why video games hold no appeal for me. I cannot imagine that spending hours on an X-Box or PlayStation would give me anything like this effect: a joyful openness and floating on air feeling that comes from singing with others.
There’s a long running radio show on the BBC called Desert Island Discs. The premise is that each week a different celebrity talks about which eight records they would rush to save from the waves if they were shipwrecked on a desert island. In talking about the music, they also reveal stories from their life: sometimes funny and often very moving. At the end of the interview, they get to choose the one book they would take to the island plus one luxury item.
The luxury item cannot be something useful, like say a two-way radio or tools for boat building. In the past, guests have chosen all manner of luxuries: an unlimited supply of champagne, a football, a telescope, a typewriter, perfume, even a comfortable bed. But, at least twice I’ve heard some idiotic celebrity say they would like for their luxury item to be an endless supply of Sudoku puzzles. This enrages me. It’s just not right. Why would someone choose to sit wasting their precious moments on earth putting numbers in printed boxes when they could be playing a trumpet or a cello or even singing along to a box of recordings made by the great choirs of the world?
In our choir we sing songs in different languages. There’s a German song by Franz Schubert called An Die Musik, which expresses the same sentiment as an English song we do called, What Would I Do Without My Music (by Middlebrooks and Belland). Both songs use lyrics, melody and harmony to extoll the glorious and unmatchable joy that comes from having music in your life. The creation of it, the playing of it, the singing of it.
In good times and in bad music saves our minds, frees our spirit and soothes the soul. Nothing else comes close. Not golf, not Formula One, not Mario Kart, not Minecraft and most definitely not Sudoku.
“Without music, life would be a mistake.”
Keep Strumming and Smiling!