I didn’t know that singing in a group could be so joyful. And yet why do so many of us feel ashamed or embarrassed to open our mouths and sing? A feeling of shame and humiliation has always marred my past experience of singing. For years I was haunted by a vivid memory of standing in front of my mother and stepfather, an introverted thirteen-year-old, and told to sing the scales. And so feeling horribly exposed and hating the sound of my own voice, I began.
“Sing up,” my stepfather demanded in a loud, confident voice. He was deaf in one ear. “I can’t hear you.”
“Doh,” I repeated, hardly opening my mouth as a tiny squeak pushed its way through my restricted vocal chords. “Ray, Me, Fah.” Slowly and painfully I reached the top, my voice quivering as I looked into my mother’s eyes, willing her to release me from this torture, but she just sat there with a vacant smile as if she didn’t know me.
‘That’s enough,” her husband said disparagingly. “Flat as a pancake.” That was all I needed to bury my voice deep inside.
And so over the years, having been immersed in the world of musicians through marriage, I listened to women with beautiful voices, thinking how wonderful it would be to sing. The only time I ever dared to allow myself to sing was to my small children, babies, where I was safe and no one else could hear, or locked in the car with the radio on full blast driving along the freeways. I found it hard enough to have confidence in my speaking voice let alone trying to sing.
All this gradually changed when I joined The Singing Hearts Choir a year ago. It was like finding a part of myself that I never knew existed.
Singer, songwriter, Sarah Warwick who has dedicated the last fifteen years to sharing her skills and encouraging others to find their voice, leads a highly successful and long-standing choir. She also runs two Singing and Song-writing year groups, where she encourages people to develop song writing skills and create melodies that support the message in their song. Recently she was approached to take her unique workshops to a new audience in China, which has now become a regular part of her schedule.
Knowing I was one of them, I asked Sarah the obvious question:
JB: Do you get many people who believe they can’t sing signing up to your groups?
SW: I work with a lot of people who are very shy about singing. It’s set up early on in life and often comes with the belief that either you have to be able to sing in a certain way or you can’t sing at all. Singing is part of the journey of really accepting our uniqueness, our own value and tuning into our true voice.
JB: So it’s more than just our singing voice, it’s about who you are and your self-expression?
SW: Yes, there’s no hiding with the voice, there’s nothing to hide behind, it’s naked – and that’s a very vulnerable thing and opening our mouths (to sing) is hugely vulnerable. I always have to ask people to open their mouths more. Revealing your voice and allowing yourself and others to hear it is very powerful.
JB: What inspired you to encourage others to find their voice?
SW: I spent all my life singing. Even though I was terribly shy as a child, I was told from an early age I had a beautiful voice. I had this great desire to be a pop star and eventually I became one. I had several hit records and experienced both the joy of singing and what it gave me but also the pressure of being in the music biz. It actually in the end made me very ill. There was a turning point where I needed healing, but I also wanted to help other people find their voice and feel the joy of singing.
JB: Singing together seems to be a big part of the joy of singing.
SW: Singing together and in harmony is very powerful, very joyful and good for our immune system. I think people who sing are healthier. One of the most beautiful things about singing together is connection, because we connect to ourselves on a deep level and to each other. It’s an instant community that’s not about age, what you do, where you’re from or how much money you have. It’s instant connection to our humanity, through singing.
JB: Recording the song you’ve written is part of the singing and song writing year group. Do you find people are nervous about that?
SW: The students who haven’t done it before are sometimes really nervous, really scared, they worry that their song is not good enough and begin comparing it to others, but they get through it with a great sense of achievement. The recording process is so exciting. There’s something about the raw voice, not just the polished practiced voice that I think is very important. The voice that really is coming from our gut, that is connecting deeply with ourselves and what we’re singing about, that is one of the most stimulating things we get to experience in the studio because it’s all there to support the singer; the producer, the engineer and the musicians.
JB: Have you noticed the effects both the singing and song writing groups have had on people after a year or so?
SW: Huge changes, especially in the ones that really go for it and take some risks. They gain more confidence in themselves and there’s such a pure joy of singing together and in harmony. Many times people write about things in the song writing group that are really personal to them that perhaps they couldn’t speak about, but they sing about it. They’re singing for themselves as well as the group, it’s very powerful and there’s a healing both ways. When melody is given to our words, our lyrics, our thoughts and feelings, both song and singer take flight.
JB: Did you always know that you could sing?
SW: I did. I have a photo of me singing aged two, singing my heart out unabashed. As I got older I got more self-conscious. My father was a singer and still sings aged 89. He has a beautiful voice. I grew up alongside him playing guitar. Now he and my mother aged 86, run a singing group. They have a lot of older people in their group all singing together. Everyone should be singing! I’m terribly biased in my life’s passion, but everyone should be singing!
Sarah brings with her a sense of play, sensitivity and a feeling of joy – she is able to create a safe place, making it easy to step out of one’s comfort zone, to be like a child and remember how to play. She plays her guitar, sings like an angel, inspires us all and is loved by everyone.
For more information on Sarah’s workshops go to www.lifesong.co.uk
'You say you want a REVOLUTION?': Records and Rebels 1966 - 1970.' That is the name of an exhibition showing at the V&A museum in London. It is beautifully put together, including the music that goes with each section of the exhibition. You are advised to wear the earphones provided - the whole experience is a visual and auditory treat! There is so much to see and to take in that even though I've seen it once, I'm ready to see it again!! Very rare for me!
Director of the V&A museum, Martin Roth, writes, You say you want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966 - 1970 investigates the seismic political, social and cultural changes that took place during this period and resulted in a fundamental shift in the mindset of the Western world. He includes Carnaby Street in London, clubs where the counter-culture thrived, the Paris protests of May 1968, World Fairs including Montreal and Osaka, the Woodstock festival of 1969 and alternative communities on the West Coast of America. He asks what can we learn from those heady days when anything seemed possible? So many things that we take for granted today came out of changes from the late 60's.
As I walked through the entrance of the exhibition, I noticed on my left a tall stack of large red books with REVOLUTION on the cover. Beside this stack one of the books lay opened at a page showing a full size black and white photograph. It was like looking at an old friend. "Oh my goodness," I said to my husband. "That's me!" There I was, standing with my arms stretched out, toes pointed inwards and wearing a mini-dress by designers Foale and Tuffin. I smiled to myself and carried on walking. But now, having seen the exhibition and bought the book, I feel very proud to have been included as part of such an awe-inspiring exhibition.