I can’t sing, well actually I can, of course I can, and when I’m on my own no-one else would believe how tuneful and melodic I am… I love music, but I just can’t keep in tune with others and I never know what register to start in so I’m either groaning away, or squealing, which is probably as unpleasant for me as others around me. Even something like ‘Happy birthday’, I sometimes mime (enthusiastically of course) because I can’t seem to set off at the right moment – and that’s another thing, keeping in time with the music… I drift off all over the place.
As well as being an artist himself, my husband teachers art, and one of his big things, particularly when thinking back to teaching young people, is the strange transformation which happens, usually between junior school and ‘big school’, when children suddenly say they can’t draw. Little children grab pens, pencils, crayons and draw away happily, just enjoying what they’re doing, and usually pleased with the result even if it isn’t what they intended. Then partly because they become more perceptive, but partly because of others’ attitude (parents, teachers, older people like brothers and sisters) they suddenly decide they ‘can’t draw’.
When I was young I sang away in my lessons at junior school and at Sunday School, until I heard a recording of the class singing… I suddenly realised that the enthusiastic out-of-tune, out-of-time bellow was me… I kept on singing, of course, we had no choice, but as I grew up, and my voice changed, I came to realise that I was struggling a bit – or maybe I just became self-conscious.
So now, unless I’m on my own, I don’t sing much… Which doesn’t really matter for me, I don’t have any great desire to join a choir or group (lucky for them, maybe!) However, I think back to my ‘singing days’ and I realise with gratitude, not just about the physical singing which I’m sure is good for you, but how lucky we were with what we sang. The wonderful collection of songs, mostly British folk songs, but some from other cultures, which we had in our songbook, the stories they told of adventure, tragedy, love, death, jealousy, beauty, everyday activities – the words, the poetry, the inspiration for other creativity… The same applied to the school hymn books we had, which fortunately I still have. I don’t know for a fact, but I’m pretty sure, that the culture of appropriateness, of relevance, of accessibility, dominates and permeates even dinging lessons. I’m not sure how much singing goes on in schools, the curriculum is under constant pressure, but it is a hugely rich resource which can last people throughout their lives.
I seem to have wandered away from what I was thinking about – the wonderful songs we sang at school, and how often I think about them and am inspired by them!
A whistling gypsy came over the hill,
Down through the valley so shady,
He whistled and he sang,
Till the greenwood rang
And he won the heart of a lady.
She left her father’s castle gate,
She left her fair young lover,
She left her servants
And her estate,
To follow the gypsy rover.
She left behind her velvet gown
And shoes of Spanish leather.
They whistled and they sang
Till the greenwood rang
As they rode off together.
Last night she slept on a goose feather bed,
With silken sheets for cover,
Tonight she sleeps
On the cold, cold ground
Beside her gypsy lover.
Her father saddled up his fastest steed
And roamed the valleys all over,
Sought his daughter
At great speed
And the whistling gypsy rover.
He came at last to a mansion fine,
Down by the river Claydee
And there was music
And there was wine
For the gypsy and his lady.
“He is no gypsy my father” she said,
“But lord of these lands all over
And I shall stay
’til my dying day
With my whistling gypsy rover.”