I say unlikely, because if you asked my daughter she would explain categorically that I cannot sing. I’ve lost count of the times she’s pleaded with me to “shut up” as I try to sing along to a favourite track in the car. Then there are the sideways glances at the carol concerts with the very clear message that I should sing more quietly.
As you may have seen on these pages, I was at the opening of BITMO’s GATE last Friday morning. I found myself talking to Sally from Opera North and Mrs Sumpner from Windmill primary school. Opera North’s outreach project, In Harmony, has been working at the school for the last year and Sally was showing a video of a concert they did together at Leeds Town Hall last June. Here’s a taster:
Every child at Windmill is learning a string instrument and singing every week and it’s having some interesting educational effects. Attendance is up, which is perhaps predictable as the children don’t want to miss these lessons. More surprisingly it’s having an effect on the children’s literacy (reading and writing) attainment – accelerating their learning.
Sally then reminded me that as a spin off, In Harmony had started a community choir in Belle Isle. Would I come along at lunchtime and write it up for South Leeds Life?
Well I’ve seen that Gareth Malone and Soldiers Wives, choirs make good telly so this should make a good story. Of course I’ll come along, I said. Then came the sucker punch:
“In fact why don’t you stay and join in with the choir?”
At this point I wheeled out my daughter’s analysis, “I’d love too, but unfortunately I can’t sing for toffee, you really wouldn’t want me.” It didn’t work.
“Oh, that doesn’t matter” she said brightly “we need some men’s voices, you’ll be fine.”
So a couple of hours later I found myself in the Hunslet Parkside club house with a dozen singers. Several of us were first timers, two of us were male. Sally has an ally, Bev, who had also been recruiting. Bev is a Windmill parent, her son is learning to play the “violing” as he puts it. She is also a youth leader and a churchwarden and a bit of a force of nature.
After a cup of tea and a chat we are summoned over to a semi circle of chairs arranged in front of a piano. Oh dear, this was the moment of truth…
It turned out to be a lot easier that I expected, we sang bite-sized chunks of familiar or very easy to learn songs. There’s no point in learning complicated lyrics – we’re here to learn to sing first. I discovered that if I listened carefully I could repeat phrases and do so in tune!
As we built up the verse, there was more to remember and I did occasionally get lost, but mostly I was fine. More to the point the combination of voices sounded really good. Our tutor even had us singing in rounds and (I think she said) four part harmonies.
I can’t pretend I wasn’t nervous walking into the hall, but I felt great walking out an hour later. I had a real sense of achievement and that camaraderie of joint purpose. And what a privilege to be taught by such talented professional musicians. These opportunities don’t usually come to Belle Isle, it’s important to grab them while they’re here.
I’ve always known that music was very powerful. What I’ve come to realise lately is that live music is always better than recorded music and that making music yourself is best of all. Not everything is rosy in South Leeds, so if you need a lift or just a break, come and feel the power and joy of singing with other people.
I’ll be back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.