I sing. I have always sung. In choirs, that is – no one would want to hear me sing solo, for goodness’ sake, at least not on a serious occasion (second place and a long-since-lost ‘Certificate of Honour’ for a solo at the Southall Music Festival at the age of about ten was never going to be the springboard for much of a career).
I can read music but I know little theory and have never had a singing lesson in my life. So I make no special claim except to say that choral singing lets me express myself in music to which I respond deeply, it makes for a lively social life, is good for physical health, promotes teamwork, demands humility and (unlike a management career) provides frequent opportunities to create an end product. And it makes me happy. To share in a performance which is accurate, says what the music is saying, above all which tells the audience a good story, is as near as I come to a spiritual experience. When it comes together, my soul sings too.
Lately I sang in three charity carol concerts, the first I’ve done for 15 or so years, with my new choir, The London Chorus, led by the brilliant Ron Corp. Two were in London churches – which seem to exist mainly for music these days – not awash with facilities for performers but atmospheric and full of goodwill. One of these included singing O Holy Night with Michael Ball – a weird experience as we couldn’t actually hear him so were forced to watch the beat, something conductors normally have to beg us to do. The performance teetered on the edge of bad taste and everyone loved it.
Another benefit is that you get into places you could never normally go. Recently we were in the Long Room at Lord’s Cricket Ground, part of the hallowed Pavilion which is usually denied to the likes of me – my name not having been put down by my grandfather on the day of my father’s birth. We walked into the Old England – a sea of ageing white faces and grey hair attended expertly by young black uniformed servants. Yes, really. But the wine and pies were good, the very appreciative audience joined in heartily and it was a bonus to get a proper cricket tea laid out for us in the Visitors’ Changing Room, doubtless prepared by a team of worthy ladies who are used to turning out the ham and fish paste for their menfolk in local pavilions on summer afternoons.
Aside from that is the chance to sing in London’s merry-go-round of music venues – Royal Albert Hall, Barbican, St John’s Smith Square, Royal Festival Hall: ground made holy by the music inside. It’s exhilarating, I tell you, to perform in places where all my life I’ve been just a spectator. And it certainly keeps you on your toes.
Earlier this month we put on a party to raise money for the wonderful charity Crisis, which provides shelters for homeless people across London over the period around Christmas. We started out to arrange a Christmas party for our friends, then it grew into a bazaar at which we sold home-made produce, raising a packet just because people came to spend. The highlight? Three singing friends and I put on an impromptu carol concert and led the rest of the room in a couple of favourites: unconducted, unstructured, unrehearsed, unpolished – and everyone begged for more.
Why? Because music brings people together and enables self-expression in the ways I mentioned above. No matter that in our small company we had at least eight nationalities and languages and a spectrum of religions. Music unites. However amateur, it uplifts and, when it does, inhibitions fall away.
I sing. I have always sung. I hope never to stop, even when the time comes that someone hands me a harp and I have to learn to accompany myself.
I line up with Ella Fitzgerald, one of the great voices of the twentieth century, who apparently said:
The only thing better than singing is more singing