Thursday, 18 December 2008

Thursday lunch break...

Further thoughts on singing... Largely caused by the realisation, last night at about 10.30, standing at the bus stop waiting for a northbound 65 bus, that I was softly singing the alto line of "The Shepherds' Farewell" without even being aware of it. I had got to "Shelter thee with tender care", too, so I'd been going for a while (& I wasn't particularly tipsy, either).

I think I have finally gotten all the sharps and flats into my head - and I don't need to know them any more. I have in fact got the four pieces we sang as a choir, and the five congregational songs, all on the brain constantly at present. It's bizarre, like being becalmed in a Sargasso Sea of carols.

I do love singing (as those who work with me know!) although I know I'm not much good (and I can't read music, which hampers me at times). I wish the staff choir ran year-round. And then, casting my mind back to school days, I remember Miss Porrer (if there are any old Langtonians out there you may find this rather controversial) and her teaching technique, and it astonishes me that I can even open my mouth at all. She was, apparently, the Greatest Music Teacher Ever - IF you were musical. I was officially Not Musical; I didn't play an instrument, and there was no money for me to learn one had I wanted to; my singing voice was low, scratchy, and rather unnattractive; I couldn't read music, or even grasp the basic concept of how one does read music... And I was ignored at best, and frequently shouted at and told to be quiet. I think perhaps music really was a sacred art to her; one that was profaned by talentless people like me who just wanted to enjoy themselves with it.

Incidentally, I still can't really grasp how one reads music, unless one has perfect pitch. Sure, "that line there is the first note of the national anthem". But do I start 'God Save The Queen' in the same key every time I sing it? Frankly, I doubt it. So how can I know that any note I sing is right? And how on earth does anyone calculate an interval of a third, or a fifth, or whatever, in their head, in silence? Maybe there is something missing in my brain.

At any rate, confronted by a choirmistress who glared at me and told me I sounded like someone driving nails through sheet metal, I cringed and failed and felt sick with shame and inadequacy; confronted by a choirmaster who beams at me, and whose teaching method boils down to Boundless Encouragement!, I sing out gladly, practice endlessly (even after the event...), and watch him giving the beat as if the future of life on earth depends upon it; and am simultaneously terrified and blissfully, indescribably happy.

So, no, I don't think Miss Porrer was the greatest music teacher ever. I don't think she was even a good teacher. No-one who subdivides her students into those worth bothering with and those not worth bothering with, and has such obvious total contempt for the latter group, can be called a good teacher. You can keep your great music teacher; give me a scientist who does it for fun, any day.

Which gets me on, in a sideways sort of way, to one of the topics of conversation last night at the Kew Inn; how does one give one's children an appreciation of something one is not terribly knowledgeable about? I was astonished to hear one of my friends saying she would not feel able to introduce her (at present hypothetical) children to classical music, history, The Arts in general, as she knows so little about them. I've always thought that if I had kids (increasingly unlikely these days, sadly), I'd rely on exposure to the natural world and the wonders of nature, etc etc, to give them an avenue into the Sciences - about which I know sod all, in truth. Would I in fact be unable to avoid predisposing them to have a bias towards the Humanities?

But what the heck is wrong with us, or our culture, or our school system, that an intelligent, articulate adult can feel that their reasonable layperson's knowledge is so useless, so inadequate, that they cannot introduce even a child to a whole area of human culture? Rhetorical question, I know, but I like my rhetorical questions, and it is going to bug me... As is this whole issue of the great Sciences/Humanities divide. "And ne'er the twain shall meet..."

Time to get back to work, Imogen!

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