a bit like marmite: you will either love or hate my singing!

Marmite and music
An open letter to my childhood music teacher (but it comes with a happy ending!):I thought at the time it was quite unkind of you to publicly boot me off the choir in front of so many of my peers. I could have done without the parade. Really, it was a bit mean.

You told the choir that I was incorrigible. I regard this now as a badge of honour but as a 12 year old who was new to the school and new to England, I suspected that you were yet again being rude. You told the choir that my inability to learn a musical instrument was an example of how unmusical I was and that you only wanted musical girls in your choir. I could point out that it is quite hard to learn a musical instrument if you have never had a lesson on any kind of musical instrument at all.

This also applies to learning to read music, another one of my apparent failings that so appalled you. I have never really understood why you seemed to take it so personally when you had done so little to help.

Mrs Yodel, I have news for you. If you want someone to learn to play the recorder, it is probably not a good idea to pass the teaching off to a Fifth Former whose idea of a lesson is handing her victim a recorder before bunking off to the bike shed for a sneaky cigarette and then climbing over the school gates to snog one of the chaps de jour from the local boys' school. Frankly all that smoke didn’t help, and the lack of instruction meant that I was left with a bit of plastic that I had absolutely no use for, and a large haze of Marlboro Lights.

You saw my inability to understand the meaning of sheet music as some kind of personal affront. Do I really have to explain that as a teacher you need to actually teach people what those funny lines mean, what those different styles of circles are and actually elaborate on things like musical notes and keys mean? Having scales or a piece of music played to me with some kind of correlation might have helped. Or perhaps not, in my unmusical case.

Seriously, I was so much in the dark about music that a page of sheet music could frankly have been a magic spell, which I suppose in some cases it was. Yet, despite everything, I still loved to sing. And Old Yodel, I have more news for you. I can actually sing higher at ahem-cough-cough years old than I could at 12 years old. I have even managed to vaguely teach myself what those funny symbols in sheet music mean, no thanks to you or the errant Fifth Formers.

And yes, I know you overheard me saying to one of the other singers who had been moved to sing alto,(a demotion in your fat, failed soprano opera singer view), that all the altos were girls you didn't like and wasn't it annoying that the alto sections were never very nice pieces to sing. Did you have to make the humiliation so obvious? Did you really need to march me out of the assembly hall? And you a grown woman? Why were you quite so spiteful?

With hindsight, you strangely did me a favour. While I may have had a chip on my shoulder for years about singing and my confidence about performing or public speaking was severely dented for years, if you hadn't ordered me out and off the premises, then it is possible that I wouldn't have sought refuge in the library where I discovered a music section (a glutton for punishment perhaps) and a lifelong passion for jazz and all things Ella Fitzgerald. Chances are I would have stumbled across Ella eventually but perhaps not the passionate crush I developed in my early teens which continues to this day. But because you told me and my peers that I was so unmusical, I developed a very open mind on the subject and love music of all genres, particularly ones that I think I can sing!

Why am I talking about singing in a food blog? Well, there are some people who think my singing voice is a bit like Marmite; you either love it or hate it. But actually, most people rather like it and the ones who don't just take pleasure in winding me up and watching me rise to the bait.

But I do love to sing and for years was too embarrassed to do it. Yes, I did have lessons a few years ago in order to sing a piece of Bach at a friend's wedding. The church was 17th century, the acoustics were fabulous and my singing . . . well, grown men wept tears of joy. Honestly. Take that Mrs Y!

I mentioned in one of my posts about kitchen resolutions, that since I love to sing in the kitchen, particularly while I am making bread (and there is nothing like kneading dough to the sounds of someone like KT Tunstall and the exhilarating Suddenly I See), that I really should take a few lessons in order that the neighbours don’t complain and the cat doesn’t take a vertical take-off from the sofa like a feline Harrier Jump Jet.

But saying I should have lessons was just an excuse. It meant it was another way for me to put off doing something I really enjoy. I hadn't joined a choir because I can't sight read or properly read music. Deep down I didn't really want someone new telling me that I was useless . . . again. All excuses; very poor excuses.

On New Year's Eve, I was at a party, a lovely party. There was good food (I know that because I made some of it myself, she says modestly), there was wine and fabulous people. Did I mention the wine? It led to some singing. A lot of singing.

A friend of a friend turned to me and said "You should join the choir I'm in." "I can't read music", I said. "We don't care," she said. "I won't do an audition," I said firmly. "No need, that's not our style," she said. "I'm a bit croaky and a bit rusty," I said, as if that cemented my exclusion. "Well, aren't we all?" she said philosophically, "We sing jazz, soul, gospel and folk as well as classical music. Seriously, you should come along, we need more sopranos."

What? I'm a soprano? That was all it needed. And that was that.

So off I trundled in early January, fighting snow and ice and a serious case of the nerves. I am so glad I did. (All thanks to Anna for giving me the major kick that I needed.)

I joined Vox Holloway, a gorgeous community choir of some 70 singers, with two quite inspirational leaders, Justin Butcher as choir master and Harvey Brough as musical director. For the past two months we having been preparing for a concert to be held on Easter Monday to mark the anniversary of 150 years since the abolition of slavery in the US. There is far more to it than this brief paragraph and I shall definitely be blogging about the choir, the people, and the music and of course, the concert shortly. But it won't come as any surprise that finally getting off my comfortably upholstered posterior to join the choir has been an absolute pleasure.

So unlike Marmite; not hating it, I am just loving it. 


Kavey said...

Teachers like that do us such an ENORMOUS disservice. In my high school we had TWO bitch Girls' PE teachers who were such incredible spiteful bitches that they genuinely scarred many people for life. As SOON as anyone who wasn't super super sporty left school, they immediately dropped the hated sport as quickly as they could now they weren't being humiliated and shouted at any more.

Anonymous said...

What a lovely post, I do enjoy reading your ramblings as much as your recipes! Why are some teachers so horrid, my own daughter seems to be being bullied at the moment by a new teacher and she's very bright and well behaved! I'm glad you've found a choir to join, I've been known to sing my head off in the kitchen and annoy my family at Birthdays with the Karaoke machine so have put a stop to it now. Unlike your story I was too shy to audition for the choir but in a music lesson the choir master heard me and and just said "you can join the choir if you want"! I think I'm much the same now never putting myself forward but if picked I'll happily give my all:-) I bet you sing really well and you should do a video or your choir for us all to enjoy:-)

Marmaduke Scarlet said...

Kavey - couldn't agree more. There were always a few teachers who with a few unkind words knocked you back. I had a French teacher who thought I was mute as whenever she asked me a question I lost my voice . . . hard to imagine now!

Emily Blair said...

Just to let you know that me and the bf are thinking of coming to your "gig". Can't be definite because going to Simon's afternoon the do on Sunday and you know what that's like :)