Recent research shows singing can be beneficial in the fight against cancer. This might sound far-fetched but, says Hazel Davis, if you’ve ever been in a choir, you’ll be applauding. In 4/4 time, of course.
I first started singing at the age of about 14. Of course, I’d been singing constantly before that, 24 hours a day probably. Any time there was an opportunity for a sing-a-long (Guide camp, Christmas, you name it) I was on it like a member of the Osmonds. But until I discovered choirs as a teenager I had no idea you could go and do it every week.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Joining a choir at the age of 14 (ish) changed my life completely. I played the violin (badly) and my parents had kindly agreed to let me go on a residential violin course, during which were much-dreaded (by everyone else) compulsory singing sessions. I would wake up in the morning counting the hours until the interminable orchestral rehearsal was over and we could crack on with a bit of John Rutter.
To say I adored it was an understatement. I longed for it. But still (I was slow off the mark as a teen) I had no idea you could do that and only that. So, one day I sauntered up to the conductor (unbeknown to me, the head of Kent Music School at the time) and said, “Oy mate. Is there something like this I could do another time, like?” He said “Like Kent Youth Choir?” and I said, “What?” He laughed, auditioned me there and then and I never looked back.
As I went to one of the worst schools in the history of schools (pretty sure this is true and not libellous), of course we had no choir. I also lived miles from anywhere so the four-times-a-year Kent Youth Choir courses became my salvation.
At school and home I was unpopular, unhappy and unfulfilled. At Kent Youth Choir courses nobody knew my nicknames and nobody knew they weren’t allowed to socialise with me. They accepted me on face value and my value was that I could sing. I could actually sing!
And I could. I took to it like a duck to water. I adored being able to read the notes on piece of paper and have it translate to sounds. I adored my voice blending with those around me to make the songs I knew and loved – and plenty I didn’t know. The choir opened my ears to classical music, to discipline (my family weren’t notable for their strict approach to… well, anything) and to working as a team.
“I am ‘in a choir’ the same way some people are curly-haired or Glaswegian. The feeling of being part of a creative group force is absolutely unbeatable but that’s not even the half of it.”
I spent many happy years with the choir, leaving only when it became clear I was probably too old to be in something with the word ‘youth’ in its title. And I’ve been in choirs constantly since then. I was one of about two members of my university chamber choir that weren’t actual music students, bagging a place only because I was happy to switch from soprano to alto – which I have been ever since.
Choirs have continued to punctuate my week. When I moved up to Yorkshire after university, I sang in a choral society choir, before finally settling on my current gang, the fabulous Hepton Singers.
We sing a range of music, from the super-modern and horrifically challenging to the mega-early and horrifically challenging – my choir emphatically does not sing showtunes. We’ve done a few world premieres and we’ve attracted a loyal and enthusiastic fan base.
When I joined, the choir was practically on my doorstep. Then I moved an hour’s drive away (it’s impossible to get there by public transport from my house) and decided it was ridiculous to keep schlepping all the way over there. So, er, that’s what I do every week, barring excessive workload or child-related emergencies.
I do it because being in a choir is part of my identity. I am ‘in a choir’ the same way some people are curly-haired or Glaswegian. The feeling of being part of a creative group force is absolutely unbeatable but that’s not even the half of it.
My choir is made up of some of the funniest, kindest, most brilliant people I know. When one of us needed somewhere to live a few years back, one (maybe more) of our number stepped up; when people have parties, choir members arrive in their droves, bearing cake and booze. When people fundraise, choir puts its hand in its pockets and when love and support is needed, it’s given in abundance. I even got a free futon from a couple of them this weekend – accompanied by an impromptu singsong in the garden (I KNOW).
We go away a couple of times a year, diligently rehearsing all year for the drinking session on the Saturday night. I’ve even been on tour to Hungary twice with them, memorably skipping out of an opera performance once to sit and – classily – drink absinthe in the street. Where else would I get experiences like this?4499 Views
Hazel Davis is a freelance writer from West Yorkshire. She has two tiny children but the majority of her hours are taken up with thinking about Alec Baldwin singing sea shanties and the time someone once called her "moreishly interesting".