Saturday, 28 June 2014

My Singing Career

What singing career? Precisely. There hasn’t been one. Yet. Nevertheless I am convinced, against or rather in spite of the lack of evidence, that I could sing. And well. I have just never done so.

You see, I had the misfortune to go to a minor English Public School. (In England a ‘Public School’ is a private school.) The music teacher in my time — such was the philistinism of the place that we were never told while I was there that a previous music teacher had been none other than Thomas Tallis — was a time-server who did no more than he was obliged to do, and one of the things he was obliged to do was test the voices of all new boys to see if they should be in the chapel choir. We queued up outside a small room containing music teacher and piano. When my turn came I went in and the teacher struck one note on the piano and told me to sing it. ‘La!’ I went. ‘Absolutely spot on!’ he said; ‘I’ll just try one more to make sure.’ Now I’m not certain what happened then, but I think I thought very quickly ‘Do I want to be one of those little boys in white surplices we see every morning in the choir stalls in chapel, and who are mocked by their peers and sexually molested by their elders?’ No. So I deliberately sang the wrong note. Sounds like hindsight wisdom, but I know I can, and could then, pitch a note with great accuracy. In the choir at teacher training college there was another chap like me, in fact he even had that mysterious thing ‘Perfect Pitch’, and we used to sit either side of an empty seat. When the enthusiastic but hopelessly out of tune Maths lecturer arrived — he was always a touch late — we would say ‘We’ve saved you a place!’ and then sing into his ears. He wouldn’t notice what we were doing, but would sing lustily in a powerful voice kept in tune by the efforts of Jim and me.

And I know I have a good strong speaking voice, which I can ‘modulate’, (make pitch or dynamic changes to suit the text), having had sometimes to address large audiences, when I would turn the microphone away or off. It’s called projecting the voice; I was never taught it; it came naturally. (Yes I know this is all very egoistic, but if I don’t blow my own trumpet I doubt anyone else will. (The trumpet by the way was the first musical instrument I learnt to play.)) You don’t shout and it isn’t tiring; you just pretend you’re talking to that chap in the back row.

So surely if one puts all that together one has a singer? Wait a bit. One term at that ghastly school there was a ‘House Singing Competition’. Each house was to form a choir (just simple unison singing) and was assigned a song to practice once a week; at the end of term there would be a performance and someone would judge which house was best. It was voluntary (we were told) so after the first week I didn’t go. A house prefect saw me in the corridor and said ‘Why aren’t you at singing practice?’ ‘Because it’s voluntary and I don’t want to go.’ ‘Nevertheless you must’ ‘But…’ It doesn’t do to argue with house prefects; they will beat you. So I went.

So of course I’ve never really sung. But perhaps I will one day. I know I can. The song I shall sing, having carefully studied Enrico Caruso’s exquisite 1905 recording, will be ‘Una Furtiva Lagrima’ from Donizetti’s ridiculous opera ‘L’Elisir d’Amore’.  

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