I had a weekend away with the choir recently and it was a blast. But good times don’t always happen by themselves. Sometimes they require an instigator. Are you an instigator?
I’m surprised that most of the other guys in my choir don’t seem to want to sing for fun. They love to sing at rehearsals and concerts but sitting on a bus or in a pub they don’t care to croon. This is as at odds with my time in The Vancouver Thunderbirds Barbershop Chorus. Those fellows, whether in a barbershop or at a barbecue, would sing together any time someone whipped out a pitch pipe and blew a note.
But on a recent choir trip to the Lake District that all changed. We’d finished our main concert and returned to the hotel to settle in the bar for drinks before bed. Then Chris, one of our finest top tenors, had a slight wobble on the steps with a tray of drinks. Two of the drinks, an orange juice and a prosecco, fell over and splashed on him and onto the steps. Soon one of the staff was there with a mop. She began swabbing the decks and it was a proper seafaring image. I didn’t think twice. I started belting out a sea shanty from our repertoire: Soon May the Wellerman Come. The lads didn’t need telling twice. They joined in with full gusto.
The evening continued with song after song all sung without the usual piano and conductor to keep us together. It was a great night. I’m not suggesting we were note perfect. I was too busy doing it and, without a conductor, we were actually having to think for ourselves. Imagine that.
The fabulous evening of untethered singing wouldn’t have occurred if Chris had not spilled those drinks and if I had not belted out the first line of the song. The drinks was an accident but my part was very much deliberate. I took the opportunity and went for it. Because I have come to realise that, for better or for worse, I am an instigator.
I don’t save my entertainment just for the stage I look for a laugh or a song in all moments of everyday life. I know not from whence it cometh but I have a deep-seated belief that if I start something that is amusing and good-natured, and if it’s done in the right way, then people will join in. It could be that in childhood when I watched those musicals where Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe or Fred Astaire is singing in a public place: like on a carousel or train, and suddenly everyone joins in, I believed it was true. There’s a naiive and possibly misguided part of me that genuinely thinks real life should be like that. And I never stop trying to make it happen.
I do it compulsively but I don’t feel it is some special gift. Anyone can be an instigator. It takes confidence and confidence comes with practice. Your skills can be musical, verbal, physical or something else. The main thing is that you do it.
Putting yourself in a situation where the sound of your lone voice comes out loud and clear with no guarantee of what reaction you may get can be a terrifying prospect. But, like a muscle, if you keep working it in little ways it will get stronger. And you’ll be happy with the results once they start to come.
One way to practice being an instigator is to join a group of singers. Within a choir there are some singers who everyone else listens to for guidance. Ideally this shouldn’t be the case because if the instigators get it wrong the whole thing can grind to a halt. Musicians in amateur bands will tell me they like to play in groups so they can lean on the others. This is perfectly understandable, and better than not doing it at all, but I also believe you can train yourself to be an instigator.
Those moments in songs that worry us. The tricky bits. How do you deal with the hard parts of songs? It could be a really difficult ending or a middle-eight section whose chords look like they appeared from another planet. Do you avoid it and leave that part for the others to deal with? Or are you someone who attacks the tricky spot until it becomes not just easier but a moment to relish and enjoy because you’ve nailed it? It’s a choice.
I have learned that I prefer being the instigator because it’s easier than being a follower. You only have one thing to do: learn the blasted thing until you get it so right that you look forward to it instead of dreading it. I dislike the state of fear that comes when a hard bit is approaching… Will the others get it right? What if they don’t? Do I have excuses prepared for why I wasn’t able to do my bit? Maybe if I hunch my shoulders I can shrink and look smaller so people forget I’m here. It’s all too much to have to think about.
I make it a habit to really deal with the difficult stuff. Leaving the hard bits to others may seem the best alternative in the short term, but, when we give our control to someone else, we can be led in directions we don’t want to go.
Part of being an instigator involves checking your intent. Whether singing in a choir, or bantering with a stranger in the street, an instigator uses their abilities to make any given situation sparkle with music, fun and laughter. Will you succeed every time? No, certainly not. But the joys to be gained will more than make up for the occasional misstep.
If your motivation is well intended, and true, the occasional loudly sung note in exactly the wrong place is quickly forgiven.
Keep Strumming and Smiling,