When I was an active and successful concert pianist playing recitals in Britain and across Europe, one of my main focuses was practice. I was most often playing repertoire chosen by others, as I was a collaborative pianist working with singers and instrumentalists. One moment I would be working on a Brahms cello sonata, the next a Messiaen song or an operatic ensemble by Verdi. I loved the variety of repertoire and performers — but I often would feel anxious as the performance date grew nearer. With so much repertoire to prepare, practice time was frequently limited, and on the evening of the performance I would find myself backstage thinking:
“If only I had one more week to practice…I’m just not as good as I should be…. Call yourself a professional….I wonder if I’ll make some big mistakes… I wonder what (fill in the blank) will think…”. Continue reading…
Choir was never like this when I was a child. I always loved singing and developed an affection for a wide variety of repertoire, so choir was an enjoyable experience as long as the teacher wasn’t too boring or bad-tempered. Yet I also remember stony stares from the other children if I sang too heartily or showed too much enthusiasm.
Performances were about rows of uniformed children standing straight, arms at their sides, enunciating clearly and watching the conductor like a hawk. And I loved it– Christmas carols in the freezing local church (invariably followed by a throat infection), anthems in the university chapel, and choir tours encompassing the Cathedral of Notre-Dame and the Sacre-Coeur in Paris.
But I’ve never before seen a choir connecting so deeply with music. As an appreciative You Tube viewer so aptly put it,”The sound produced from these kids is so pure and beautiful because it comes straight from their hearts.”
The choir is made up of fifth-graders from PS 22, an elementary school on Staten Island, New York composed of students from many ethnic backgrounds, many of whom come from difficult and deprived backgrounds, but thanks to their inspirational teacher, Mr. Breinberg, they are being enriched for life. And I know that watching and listening to them make music has changed me irrevocably too.
I’ve been finding Michelle Bennett’s recent posts on her blog very thought-provoking. She’s been extremely courageous in revealing her inner challenges as a student and a professional singer, and how these have led her to psychotherapy and inner work alongside her musical life. So often musicians, like any professionals, are extremely hesitant to reveal anything less than perfection. Yet, the reality is that we are all dealing with inner challenges every day. And, as Michelle says:
“There is no doubt that the process of facing one?s self is hugely difficult, especially if, like many artists, you have been hurt badly or are very sensitive. I would wager that most people will never do it because of the enormous effort required and pain of the task. It is an odyssey.”
It’s 4 o’ clock and the Singing Man has just gone by.
Every day at around this time, a man rides by our house on his bicycle singing long, luscious tenor notes. The first few times, I thought it must be someone drunk –a sad reflection of growing up in England where no-one ever sings on the street unless they’re staggering home from the pub on a Friday night– but having seen this man, he seems to be riding straight and looking pretty alert.
I have a feeling that he may have some learning difficulties. What he does have is a beautiful natural tenor voice. He’s never singing anything resembling a melody– just gorgeous long notes. His enthusiasm and joy are infectious. It must feel really good. I love hearing him. I was also thinking today that he’s probably really healthy. All that cycling and singing is a great combination! All together now, “I want to ride my bicycle…”