People often say to me “Oh I so wish I could draw or paint but I am rubbish” which always makes me sad – the perception of art being to produce something to a certain standard rather than for the simple fun of getting immersed in it.
I don’t often write about personal things but it is three years ago almost to the day I was sitting in a surgeon’s office, signing papers to give him permission to cut my throat open and delve around to find the benign tumours that had been making me so very poorly.
“Do you sing?’ he asked.
I laughed, no – why did he ask?
” I am going to be working close to your vocal chords, there is a small chance that it will leave you with a permanent tiny husky voice and you won’t be able to sing ever again.” he replied.
I remember waving a hand, no I can’t sing so I didn’t care about that, just want to get fixed. I had spent three years feeling awful, sometimes reduced to walking with a Zimmer frame, eyesight affected to the point I couldn’t draw or paint any more and with my memory compromised so badly they thought at one time I had Alzheimer’s – all caused by three tiny little tumours that had grown in my neck. Singing wasn’t something that I could really care less about at that moment.
I had the operation, they fixed me and it was like magic – everything just clicked straight back into place. My voice hadn’t been affected but what the surgeon had said, and my response, kept coming back to me over the following months. I had dismissed his question without a thought but the fact was that I did rather like to sing, well – in a sing-along-loudly to the car radio and in the bath kind of way. A friend had once roped me and a couple of friends into doing backing singing for his band on a charity night and it had been scary but amazingly good fun.
I think any illness that stops your life for a while leaves you determined to embrace things differently afterwards. After my operation I started to look to do things that brought a bit of fun and joy, to not take life so seriously. The more I thought about it, the more I thought I rather wanted to sing and I decided to find myself a choir to join.
I can’t begin to tell you how happy this choir makes me.
It welcomes with open arms anyone who wants to sing – no auditions, no need to read music – songs sung are by the likes of Elton John, Queen, Snow Patrol and Farrell Williams. Individually we aren’t amazing singers but together we can weave a beautiful sound. Clever harmonies created by the talented musical director and driving force Sandra Colston and boundless enthusiasm and patience from an army of singing tutors that travel around Essex and Suffolk to teach all the different groups has formed into an 800 strong choir. Funky Voices has performed from local charity events to the stage of the London Hammersmith Apollo and even overseas trips including a recent tour of New York. Sandra runs the choir with passion, with the belief that music is for everyone. The ethos of the choir is to enjoy, to work hard but to have fun and not to worry if we aren’t perfect* (‘just keep smiling and nobody will notice you have just sung the wrong harmony’) There is lots of energy, lots of smiles and lots of laughter.
The choir is mix of old and young, men and women, nurses, teachers, office workers, young mums, retired…each often with a story to tell about why they joined the choir. Just in my group alone I have heard life stories of loneliness after losing a husband, the sadness of a child lost, struggles with mental health and addiction, the stress of being a carer for a sick family member, the difficulty of starting life again after a divorce – all these people with all these stories. Then the chatter stops and we all start singing and the voices blend into one and suddenly something so simple as coming together to sing just lifts your soul for a little while. Bonds of strong friendships have formed and sometimes the connection between everyone as we sing feels really moving.
If I were in that surgeon’s room today and he was asking me if I sang – it would be a very firm yes and I would be really worried I might be about to lose my voice. Now I’m the first to admit I am not amazing at it, not like my talent younger sister, a professional singer and actress whose beautiful voice graces a West End stage so often – but I am a singer and I love it.
So I wish people wouldn’t say they love to draw but don’t ever do it because they are just rubbish, you don’t have to be turning out Rembrandts to be an artist. The joy is in doing it, about stepping outside of your life and doing something just because it takes you somewhere else for a little while and because it makes you happy. Go and join a choir, pick up a pencil and doodle or join a painting group, a photography or a knitting club – take a leap of faith and allow yourself to be creative because there is a lot of joy to be found within it.
* The choir is actually rather good even if we do say so ourselves, they have won many competitions and have just been asked to be the backing singers to G4 in a concert at the Barbican in November – can’t wait 🙂