Thursday 16 July 2015

sing, sing, sing...

When I first joined the choir, I hadn’t really done much thinking beyond thinking that it might be quite fun to do a bit of singing. What I hadn’t really considered was the amount of extra effort I would need to put in to learn my part well enough to be able to hold up my end at any performances. It was a bit of an eye-opener, as we approached the concerts at the end of my first season, including one in front of a paying audience of 600 people in the Sheffield Octagon, to suddenly realise that I was going to actually need to put some serious work into listening to the MP3s of my part and learning the words.  Come to that, I hadn't even really thought about the fact that my part wouldn't always follow the melody line.  You think you know a song....

When I was at school, I really didn’t like Latin classes very much, and I went through a phase of going to extraordinary lengths to cheat in the weekly tests by writing vocabulary lists down in tiny handwriting and then taping it to the back of my watch or stapling it to the back of my tie or similar. After a while, it dawned on me that it was actually much easier to put the effort into actually learning the words than it was to laboriously write them out. My marks improved too. I’ve been through a similar experience with choir: you can actually take your book of music into most (but not all) of the events we have, and you can certainly make yourself a crib sheet with prompts like first lines and so on. In the end though, it’s much easier to just learn your part as best as you can and then spend your time watching the musical director as you sing, because he gives us so many prompts and cues and generally makes the whole thing much easier than trying to look at your book, look at him AND to sing.

We had ten songs in my first season, together with a couple of extra ones we learned for the big concert. We’re doing a “best of” season currently, to celebrate 5 years of the choir, and we’re doing a song from every season. In total, that’s about 50% more songs than usual, which is fine if you’ve been in the choir for a while and have done most of them before, but is a nightmare if you’re new. Out of the fifteen songs in the season, I knew one.  As well as the sheer volume of songs to learn, it’s the fact that, with so many to get through, two hours on a Tuesday night isn’t really enough to cover any of them in any depth. There have been a few extra sessions at the weekend, but I’ve only been able to make one of them.

Needless to say, I’ve spent most of the last two weeks spending every spare moment trying to learn my part. I bought a number of albums when we got back from Glastonbury the other week, but I simply haven’t had any time to listen to any of them because I’ve been listening to the recording of my part.

We had our end of season concert in Nottingham on Tuesday and…. it went really well. We weren’t perfect, by any means (honestly, we’ve been told a hundred times that, if we can’t reach the high bass part at the start of “The Rose”, then we just shouldn’t sing at all… but a few people around me where absolutely miles off it on Tuesday night, bless them).. but I think that overall, we sounded really good. I had a couple of moments where I was able to step outside of what I was singing and really hear the sound of the choir as it came together and we sounded brilliant. There were about 100 of us in the choir on the night, and when we came together, I think we made a splendid noise.

Some of my colleagues came to watch, which was lovely of them. As well as just offering support by being there, they were whooping and cheering and shouting out my name… so now some of my fellow basses think that I’m something of a celebrity, which is kinda nice (even if it never, ever happens again). To be honest, I think the girls in my team were nearly as excited as the children present when we started singing “Circle of Life” and “Let it Go”. They were certainly disappointed when I didn't do an air-grab at the key change in "You Raise Me Up".

I’ve a couple more concerts lined up over the next couple of weeks, starting with a much smaller performance in a church in Bolsover tomorrow night. I snatched the chance last night to listen to some local punk music for a review in a forthcoming Leftlion, but as of tonight I have to get back on my MP3s to make sure I polish up a few songs… “Lean on Me” and “World in Union” definitely need some work, and I could be more certain of a couple of bits in the Phantom of the Opera medley too.

It’s hard work, but in a good way.

I think.


  1. "... I went through a phase of going to extraordinary lengths to cheat in the weekly tests by writing vocabulary lists down in tiny handwriting and then taping it to the back of my watch or stapling it to the back of my tie or similar."

    When I was a Junior in high school, I used to write out quick facts from the text book on a small scrap of paper before a test in History class (US History, in case you're curious), to use as a cheat sheet. I sat two chairs back from the teacher's desk, in his clear line of sight. He was a smoker, and would bolt out of the room to the teacher's smoking lounge around the corner to smoke between classes, and would return either just as, or right after the bell rang to start the next period, so I figured I was safe from getting caught.

    One test day, I didn't realize he was still at his desk as I was writing out my cheat sheet. When I finished, I looked up and saw him staring at me. I simply got up, walked to the trash can next to his desk, and dropped the cheat sheet in.

    I aced the test.

    I came to the realization that writing out the facts put it into my short-term memory. I then changed my tactic. Before a test, I'd open my notebook to a blank page, and just write out the facts from the text book that I thought I'd need to know, and didn't know. Then I'd close the notebook and put it under my desk. I'd rarely get a question wrong.

  2. It was ridiculous, Dan. I went from being average to being top of the class, all because I simply started actually learning stuff instead of cheating.

  3. That's kinda funny, actually. When you cheated, hoping to do well, you didn't, but when you quit cheating, you excelled.

    I'm sure there's a lesson in there somewhere.