I felt a bit reluctant/shy about writing this, but decided to come out with it.
Music runs in my family. My brothers and sisters were variously musically and even artistically inclined. Since I was the youngest, I was kind of brought up in music, and I've always been fascinated with music, starting in childhood, where at the age of 5 or 6 I recall I would sit for hours, totally absorbed in an almost trance-like state, playing notes and chords and humming them - playing with the harmonics - using my eldest sister's piano. She later went on to study the piano at the RAM (Royal Academy of Music), but was not good enough to go professional, so used to sometimes teach music.
I have this tendency to sense pattern all around me, and I go into these absorbed states when thinking about or doing something that involves pattern - including things such as, for example, listening to music (as above), listening to or playing the drums, meditating by using a mantra, analysing or solving a problem, washing walls, ski-ing, driving a car, riding a bike, and walking in the hills and mountains. I discovered many years later that autism and Asperger syndrome runs in the family - so that probably explains the fascination with pattern - and depression also apparently runs in the family. These things are apparently genetic and tend not
to skip a generation, and are evident in my two eldest children. But these things were generally not properly appreciated or understood in those terms when I was younger. In retrospect, I think my whole family were/are probably what would be called "a bit odd" - i.e., eccentric.
Anyway, it turned out that my instrument was my voice
, which my high school music teacher discovered when he was testing us for our singing ability prior to putting us (or not) into the school choir. Much to my music teacher's surprise and disappointment (I was probably one of his most useless and bored students in music theory), he found that I had been given the gift of perfect pitch. This was in North Wales (UK), and at about age 11½ I was conscripted into the choir as a soprano, and we sang at the school a lot - mostly in Welsh - and at the eisteddfod (an annual competitive festival of music and poetry held in Wales, UK), where we represented our school. I started to become proficient in sight-reading music and singing it, and loved listening to a good choir at work - e.g., the Welsh Male Voice Choir singing Ar Hyd Y Nos
(All Through The Night) and the Welsh National Anthem
- arguably one of the most beautiful anthems in the world. These pieces are always a pleasure to listen to or sing, and spine-tingling stuff, for me.
When I moved on to another secondary (high) school, I joined the choir there, and as I got older my voice dropped rapidly to tenor and then baritone, and then a bit lower, whereupon my vocal scope included first bass parts. By then my music sight-reading was more than adequate for my purposes, and, probably because I had had to become proficient in Welsh (my second language) I developed a natural facility with languages, which meant I could pick up a script written in one of several different European languages (as well as Latin) and sing/pronounce the words correctly whilst mostly understanding them as well (though I would probably be terribly rusty if I tried that today).
By the end of high school I had become quite good on the Spanish guitar, liked to sing and play country folk and western with it most, but was only ever at an elementary level, at best, on the piano. I had also learned to play the bugle at an early age (9 or 10 I think) after my mother bought home a rather beaten-up used copper army bugle from a junk shop, to hang on the wall as decoration. I became quite good with it, and so my eldest brother bought me a rather worn, dented old, but (I thought) beautiful, silver-plated trumpet from a second-hand junk shop as a birthday present.
I had to fix it and get it to work bang on key before it was playable, so there was much poring over the Enc.Britannica and other reference books in music, acoustics, string and wind instruments, and tuning, after which I established that I could also tune a piano. I was obliged to teach myself to play these instruments - never had any formal lessons. I think I really enjoyed the bugle best though. It's a difficult instrument to play but very satisfying to master - bloody well seems to fight you all the time though. It's also portable and can put up with being banged around a bit (dents can be quite easily removed from copper), so I would take it with me in my rucksack on my many expeditions into the Welsh hills. The bugle could belt out a really cracking good sound as you played it, echoing back at me from the surrounding hills and scattering nearby flocks of mountain sheep, which ran about in alarm, having never heard anything quite like it before.
I found the bugle could make a thrilling sound - it could be piercing, stimulating, poignant and quite beautiful - e.g., Reveille, or The Last Post. When played properly, the latter can send shivers down your spine. I'm not sure I ever managed to play it perfectly all the way through though!
It wasn't till I was about 22 or so, when I was lecturing with a large computer company and studying computing, that I accidentally got back into choir-singing. One lunchtime, I heard a manager in a nearby office singing something to himself quietly. Peeking through his open door, I saw that he was reading a score sheet, and I enquired what the music was. It turned out that he was rehearsing a tenor part and was in the LPC (London Philharmonic Choir). I was seriously impressed, because it was/is a highly reputable amateur
choir (meaning you don't get paid anything - unlike a professional - though they would cover your costs for a nominal amount for DJ hire to attend dress rehearsals and performances).
On discovering that I was interested in choral music, he asked me to sing a bit from his score sheet, after which he immediately said I should go for an audition with the choirmaster (who was somebody famous), at the auditions to be held the following week. Overawed by this, I gave him a raft of reasons why I shouldn't go, because I silently thought it farcical to even think
that I could be up to the necessary standard for the LPC - and I certainly didn't think I was anywhere near the grade. My mind told me that a musician I was not.
The guy persisted and said that the best judge of my ability would be the choirmaster - not me - and that I could find myself involved in singing some of the most beautiful music created by man, and that I should at least give it a whirl as, "nothing ventured, nothing gained".
I told him that I didn't really want to go back into a choir, and didn't see the need for it, it would require my time, and I was too busy, etc.
He then asked me if I was married (no, I wasn't), if I had a girlfriend (no, I hadn't), and then he said "Well, then you do
have the time, and there - right there - is a good reason for joining the LPC!"
My response was, "Eh? How so?"
He replied, "The social life man! We have 50-odd female voices - all emancipated women - about 30 sopranos and 22 altos, the majority of whom are relatively young, unattached, available, and not shy about showing it, and not only do they have beautiful voices but quite a few of them are physically very comely wenches! Furthermore, we have around 25 men/male voices - 15 tenors, 6 first bass, and 5 second bass. Most of them are married. We never have enough male voices! We have to hire in professionals to make up the numbers at our performances. We desperately need more basses, and you'd probably be a first bass voice, and if you could only fart on key you'd probably get through the audition! But look at the ratios and the green field you have with all those women - 52 of them, say 35 potentially unattached and available - and about 4 or 5 unattached blokes for competition, and all the men quite a bit older than you! Why wouldn't you want to be a male singer in that choir?
I always felt that being numerate, and having been trained in accountancy and statistics, I had an advantage when it came to addressing numerical problems, and when he ran those numbers past me, I immediately saw the direction I needed to take.
So that is how I joined the LPC, and I enjoyed it immensely.
Over the approx 3 years I was with them, we did quite a lot of performances. Several were recordings for the BBC, with orchestra and one or two additional choirs (sometimes the BBC's own choirs). We sang at different venues, the two most memorable for me were at:(a) The Royal Festival Hall:
where we came on first (I think it was some of Berlioz's Te Deum), with the second part being a solo performance by a highly acclaimed Japanese lady violinist, so I got to hear her superb performance for free when ordinarily I probably could not have afforded to go.(b) The Royal Albert Halll:
at the last night of the Proms, where we joined with two BBC female choirs, and with several hired/professional male singers to bolster the lower registers, and 2 or 3 professional soloists, and performed Brahms' Deutsches Requiem.
I had only ever watched the Proms on TV before that, and could not really afford tickets even when I lived in London. Being a Last Night, it had a vibrant and exciting atmosphere. The audience really
appreciated and enjoyed the music we gave them, and they were out to have fun and made a party out of it, and our conductor played to them magnificently.
The Albert has a huge organ, with some of the biggest organ pipes I have ever seen - the lower registers being the biggest. I was situated close to the lowest register pipes on one side of the pipe array, about 10 feet from the very lowest. In Brahms' Deutsches Requiem, there's a bit where he's descending into Hell and the low register organ pipes come in, almost stepping down to the gloomy Hellish darkness below. The sound from those pipes sends out a bit of a percussion wave towards the listener, but I was close enough that not only could I not hear myself think, but also that I could not stay still, as the vibration was literally jiggling me up and down where I stood. I was grateful when that bit ended and the music became uplifting and ascended with him to Heaven, the sound of the triumphal heavenly trumpets coming from "The Gods" - the uppermost balcony where they had been positioned.Recordings:
When I emigrated to Aotearoa, I sung with a quite well-rehearsed company choir just at Christmas-times, going round the corporate offices singing Christmas carols and collecting money for charity. I think I still have somewhere a VHS tape of me in this choir, wearing choir-robes, singing in the historic old St Pauls - a lovely old wooden church in Wellington. Being made of wood, it had great acoustics. I also have (or had) a cassette tape of me singing a solo in 1988 - an IT version of Gilbert & Sullivan's The Nightmare Song from Iolanthe. I copied this across to disk as best I could, some years back, but it's got a fair amount of noise and hum in it, though the voice part is still audible, if using headphones.The Nightmare Song (computer).wav
(Sorry about the quality.)The Nightmare Song (computer) lyrics.txt
As to music that I like and enjoy singing, it is music that generally could be seen as reflecting something of all that is good about humanity: rhythm, fun, harmony, love, the expression of humour, pathos, happiness, joy, empathy, that speaks of the yearning for freedom from bondage, the yearning for peace and for the ascent of the human spirit, and that shows our ability to climb out - even if only temporarily - of the hideous, irrational religio-political ideological cesspits within which we can sometimes find ourselves imprisoned.
I think sometimes that we do not realise - or maybe we forget - what incredible beings we are and with what amazing potential. For me, music can be an expression - a communication - of this, and a reminder.
Here are two favourite examples - quite different - of such music, from the public domain:Weird Al Yankovic - Don't Download This Song.mp3Remember Me.swfUpdate 2014-11-24:
Yesterday I watched the start of the NZ v. Wales rugby match on TV, where they sang the national anthems of both teams. I experienced the same spine-tingling sensation again when they sung the Welsh National Anthem
, and the crowd joined in. There's nothing quite like it.