West Bridgford Liberty Singers have a new feature this term. After our tea break (during which we sample goodies supplied by the “star bakers” drawn from within our ranks) we are called back to order – and our seats – not to immediately start singing again, but to listen. During this “Treasure at Teatime” slot, we listen to a soloist, drawn from our ranks, showcasing their talents.
At our last rehearsal it was my turn to be “treasure”. That is not a self-diagnosis I would naturally ascribe to myself and, whilst I love to sing in a group (of any size) and have sung solos as a child, in the past decade or two, my diva moments have been largely confined to my kitchen. But Kari is persuasive; I had already had a go at the wonderful Afternoon Tea with the Choir and I was singing a song I knew very well (which I first performed at a church concert – ahem – 26 years ago!), so at least I wouldn’t struggle to learn the lyrics.
I have been going to Kari for singing lessons (or vocal coaxing!) for a few months now and when I ran through “I Dreamed a Dream” we knew this was a song I could work up to performance. As part of the rehearsal process, Kari recorded a practice session and made me listen to myself. Like many of you, I cringe at hearing my voice played back. I hear every flaw, each iffy note, the extra vibrato when I start to run out of breath. It is so easy to hear your own imperfections and much harder to hear what is good. But being able to frankly assess your own performance is necessary in order to identify what needs fixing and deliver more of what works well.
After dreaming several dreams, repeatedly, in my kitchen (my long-suffering neighbours do know when I am working on a particular song, cos they hear plenty of it!). I felt almost ready to face my peers at teatime. A note for anyone planning to be Teatime Treasure, save your cake until after you have sung, then you won’t miss out! I knew the notes, I knew the words but it isn’t until you are in front of an audience that you know if you can deliver a performance.
This is a powerful song with an emotional core and this was a day redolent with emotion. My first singing preceptor was my Granny and my first performance of this song at a concert where I shared a stage with her; last Monday would have been my Granny’s birthday. What a privilege to be rediscovering my solo voice on a day full of memories of the wonderful lady who got me singing in the first place. And because life has downs as well as ups, it is also the anniversary of the due date of my first miscarriage; so a day full of memories and missed memories.
I wanted, of course to sing the right notes, all the right words, in the right order and not obviously run out of puff. But more than that I hoped to communicate a story, stir emotions and create an environment where people can be moved by what they hear. That is the difference between practice and performance. What I did was by no means perfect (there were a couple of bum notes and a huge breath in the middle of the sha-a-a-a-aaaame! crescendo) but it was a performance. What made it so was the amazing audience, full of smiles, encouragement and absolute attention, creating a contract between singer and listeners that generated a space for a story to be told.
What told me that I had delivered a performance I could be, quietly, quite chuffed with, was not the applause, gratifying and encouraging though that was. It was the silence that lingered long after my final note tapered out and lasted until the last note of the piano accompaniment. In this silence the emotional connection between singer and audience is evidenced. What makes a good choir is not just our ability to sing together, but our ability to listen to one another. What I love about singing with the Liberty Singers is how honest and enthusiastic our collective performance is. What I loved about singing to an audience of Liberty Singers is how we bring that same honesty and enthusiasm to listening and hearing.
It was a privilege and (almost!) a pleasure. I am really looking forward to the next Teatime when I get to enjoy the cake and hear more from the treasure hidden amongst our ranks.