Can’t blog: singing!

Also catching up on a woefully long to-do list, but who wants to write about that? The singing, however, is awesome.

Earlier this year I started going to a weekly singing group, encouraged by mr tog because it was happening where he does his band practice, and he was sure that getting back into singing regularly again would make me happier. He was right – in fact I’m certain that being able to sing regularly helped me cope with the awful months this year where Mum found out about the return of her cancer and then her death and then placing Dad in care and then packing up their house – singing gave me something totally unrelated to any of that where I just had to turn up and take part in something technically challenging yet done just for the joy of it, which was such a relief from mourning and rage and denial and misery.

Then there’s the documented therapeutic benefits of singing (especially in groups), which no doubt helped me “keep my strength up” during the many months in which I wasn’t eating a properly balanced diet and was numbing my grief with too much alcohol, and is now providing me with measurable improvements in my physical fitness. Making a bunch of new friends and the fascination of those getting-to-know-you social interactions (and their sympathy, patience and generosity during my grief-stages moods (especially the gabbling overcompensating vivacity ones which make me cringe in retrospect)) has also been invaluable, and having a performance date to work towards as a goal helped with motivation for going every possible week.

I haven’t written much about my singing history here (I don’t even have an archive tag for it!), because I’d already pretty much given it up apart from special invitation performances by the time I started HaT, and I missed it too much to write about it even though I wasn’t taking any steps to get back into it (because depression).  My experience is quite extensive – I had classical song training as a child, did a lot of choral/ensemble and stage-musical extracurricular activities in high school, then inexplicably self-sabotaged myself by not joining any singing/musical group when I first went to uni (probably partly because I was experiencing my first (undiagnosed) bout of depression due to isolation from my support systems and depression closes one off from life-enhancing pursuits because depression is deeply perverse, and definitely partly because my first very pushy singing teacher left me deeply ambivalent about letting new people know the full range and power of my voice).  Over the years I’ve been in a few garage bands, a few amateur-dramatic societies specialising in musicals, a few choirs (obMessiah count = 1) and thoroughly enjoyed floating coloratura descants over carols every Yuletide, but when I had my two bouts of Post Natal Depression my motivation for music seemed to take a very long migration elsewhere, and that has very much not been good for me.

For the first winter in many years I don’t seem to be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder this – maybe all that grief earlier this year meant my brain simply isn’t capable of another downswing yet (and of course I’m still grieving even though the intensity has lessened, so maybe that’s different neurochemicals?), or maybe it’s the singing that is keeping me on a more even keel.  I like to think it’s the singing, but since I’m enjoying it so much now that’s enough justification to keep on doing it even if it’s not directly preventing SAD. I’ve also signed up for a School of Rock program which is pushing me to use my voice in very different ways than I use it for choral singing, yet still with a group effect like choir because it’s collaborative music-making even if I’m the only one vocalising (and then of course there’s backing vocals for the rock program, which is a different flavour again of technical challenge), so that’s Even More Singing to do me Even More Good.

I know a few other Hoydenizens also enjoy their group/choral singing sessions, and I heartily recommend it to anyone looking for a new hobby to get you out of the house with other people.  There are singing groups out there for all levels of vocal skill and musical knowledge, and if you’re a bit shy at least there’s only a few times in the session where actual conversation tends to happen (and if you’re not at all shy there’s usually a few folks keen to go to the pub and socialise afterwards).

Now I need to go practise for this week’s sessions 🙂

Categories: fun & hobbies, health, relationships

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22 replies

  1. *big grin of yes, ain’t it the best thing ever?!*
    My singing lessons were definitely functioning as therapy during the worst of our renovations last year. What I don’t yet have is a singing group so I have to make do with the occasional red wine and sing-a-long evening with friends.

  2. I love singing. I started taking lessons back in 2008 when we moved to Adelaide, and then we moved home to New Zealand, I joined a Serious choir. And… ah… ahem… we had a concert last Saturday which was well received. Though I freely admit that Bach’s Jesu Meine Freunde was a challenge.
    I love singing complex and difficult music, I love going out for rehearsals each week, I love the sense of physical well being I get from it (must be all the careful breathing), I love the interaction with people in the choir whom I would not have met any other way. It is all a Very Good Thing for me. Also, it is about the only thing I do that is just for me, so I really treasure it.

  3. Unfortunately when I start to sing people start dialling the RSPCA to report someone strangling a cat. I do a lot of singing along, badly, in the car though. I tried singing in the bathroom the other day, traditionally good for those with bad voices but even that couldn’t save me. Glad to hear singing is doing everyone a power of good though. Must come and listen to you one day.

    • @Mindy, you will come to a red wine and sing-a-long evening and you will sing, because no-one is bad enough to not sing when we do one of those. You can ask my daughter, she’ll tell you I speak truth.

  4. Delurking to say congrats and good on you! I really need to find a new choir. Once I kick this cold and can start practising again, that is…
    I had two great singing groups in Wellington, but have yet to find one in Melbourne that’s right for me. I found this gigantic list, if anyone else is choirseeking:

  5. I’d put myself in the same category as Mindy (mating/dying cats) except I’m not actually that bad. I self-sabotage with anxiety any time it comes to singing solo. I don’t think I care for singing enough to go along somewhere specifically to sing, but I do love it when my re-enacting group gets to singing around the campfire.

    • angharad, I always loved campfire song sessions while growing up as a bushwalker. There was a significant crossover between bushwalking clubs and folk music clubs in the 60s/70s, so many walkers often made the effort to pack a tin whistle or harmonica or mouth harp, and there was always plenty of spoons for percussion to accompany the hugely eclectic collection of songs in the club songbook. We often made quite a lot of noise amid the wilderness!

  6. I have to agree – no matter how rotten I’m feeling (within limits), a good choir rehearsal will lift my spirits. I’m loving my new little choir – not only does it rehearse at a time I can manage (two and a half hour nighttime rehearsals are a no-go for me!), but it’s also rather feministical. Win, win, win!

  7. @tigtog – a campfire also has the bonus that no one can really see you either 🙂

  8. (Hope telling about my latest singing experience isn’t too OT)
    I did what I think is my first solo song (& a capella) on Sunday for our Unitarian congregation. (It’s summer here, so services happen only if someone from the congregation organizes one, so this was an all-songs program.)
    It was the strangest feeling, like I had somehow drilled a well and this gusher was coming up through my belly and out my mouth. I was sort of directing it, but I had no idea until I actually started singing in front of everybody whether I’d sound like anything (or even remember the words) or just produce the off-key squeaks that were all I’d been getting all week when I practiced. The whole time, I was scared I’d run off the track somehow — sort of like the feeling of skiing down a slope that’s a little too hard for you: you just hang on and try not to run into a tree. I felt fried and not all there for the next hour or so.
    Singing in a choir is definitely easier, because I can convince myself that no one will hear if I screw up. (Well, maybe the singer next to me — or the choir director, who seems to have 30-channel hearing.)
    As for “singing badly”: my 22-year-old son can’t carry a tune in a bucket, but he likes to sing, so we sing together anyway. “All God’s critters got a place in the choir,” and that includes people who “can’t sing.” I figure, nobody would dare say, “if you can’t do sex well, don’t do it at all”, so why do we say that about singing?

    • AMM, I welcome all singing evangelism on this thread 🙂
      Seriously, on the “evangelism” front? With my atheist hat on, I read all the time of people who are relatively new to being godless and who still miss the singing they used to do in weekly worship. I think it’s really good to let these people especially know that there are plenty of singing groups out there that are not at all religiously affiliated, and that there are groups aimed at all levels of vocal skill/training. In the first singing group I joined before Mum died, I was one of only three or four singers who was able to read music, all the coaching was geared towards learning the parts by ear, and it worked very well. Even some of the singers for the rather more intense/challenging School of Rock can’t read music, but they do a great job anyway, which really impresses me.
      A lot of it comes down to how the group organises around the choir leader/conductor/coach – some choirs are more top-down than others, some value collaboration/consensus more highly, some have an overtly therapeutic goal, others are more purely social. It can take a little time to find the most compatible choir, but almost any choir will do one’s inner chorister a great deal of good.

  9. My choir is not religiously affiliated at all, but we sing a lot of religious music, because it is so very beautiful. I just cross my atheist fingers behind my back and enjoy the music.

  10. More to say…
    I’ve always been very happy to go along and sing at church services when my choir is asked to help: it’s part of being in this particular choir. And it’s kind of nice to sing some of the hymns that I grew up with again. They’re part of my cultural fabric.

  11. MyatheistNigel has said that at his funeral he would like a group of Southern Baptists to sing because he really likes how uplifting the music is. That really ‘blow the roof off the church’ style. I am hoping that I have years and years to figure out how to make this happen because strangely enough church groups from the deep south of the US are a bit thin on the ground around here.

    • One of the other singing groups around the org is a gospel group, and I seriously doubt that the people doing it are all religious. They can’t be the only secular gospel choir around the traps.
      It’s a fantastic sound, I might well add it to my list of styles I want to have a go at.

  12. Gospel, that’s the word I was trying to think of! Thanks TT.

  13. +1! What a lovely story. I absolutely concur about the benefits of singing, I’m not soloist material but love to harmonise with other people.
    One of the problems of loving songs with lots of harmony is that so much of the good stuff (including americana) is aggressively Christian! We (as in our family) sing a lot of them, eyerolling at ourselves… 🙂
    I’m so glad you’re feeling better even if still grieving, of course.

  14. …I had a bit of the same trajectory, tigtog, while the kids were growing up I stopped playing and threatened to put the drums on eBay. Playing with Tess has given me a new lease of life, but hasn’t done much for the blogging…

  15. Delurking to agree with all the comments about how great singing can be for we’ll being. I’m another atheist who misses my weekly church singing growing up (I even used to play the piano for evening service) and I found a choir three or four years ago after saying for years that I wanted to do it.
    I’ve just come back from a weekend singing retreat in the blue mountains, it was great to meet an eclectic group of people who sing a huge variety of music.
    I agree with Tigtog, there are choirs out there singing all sorts of music, and many need very little musical knowledge to join. Ours sings gospel, 70s pop, African traditional music… You name it.
    Our choir leader came and led a session in my very corporate workplace, and he had us all singing in four part harmony with quite a good sound after an hour and a half.

    • Jennifer, good to see you again! I didn’t know you were another chorister. Gaudete! Your choir leader’s corporate sessions sound wonderful.
      mimbles, I totally understand why you’re proud of your daughter’s singing and songwriting. Long may it continue.

  16. My 14 year old daughter has been busking at Hornsby the last 2 days, she plays guitar and sings. I had a few moments of being tempted to join in and sing with her, but her permit is for a solo performer, and although it is my mission in life to try and embarrass my children there are some lines one does not cross without invitation. I was very chuffed to hear her performing one of her own songs a few times. Proud mum is proud 🙂

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