Music in the Community and for the Community with Annie Griffith

Music in the Community and for the Community with Annie Griffith


“I Can’t Sing!”

If I had a pound for every time someone gave me this as a reason for not joining a choir or not singing at all, I would, honestly, be considerably richer than I am now. I’d certainly take one of those holidays where you hire a castle and invite all your friends…

The kicker to this phrase is that it is very rarely true, and hides a lot of things behind it. Here are some – but not all – of what it can mean.

  1. “I don’t want to, and I don’t know how to make you stop asking me.” This is quite common, especially when confronted publicly by family and friends asking them to join in with something.
    I find it particularly common in men. I’m about to generalise hugely here, so please forgive me. Men are – in my experience – much more scared about being emotionally vulnerable in public than women are. Women join a choir, make friends and find emotional release in singing. Men do not have the same freedom. Often they join with wives/girlfriends and finding their own voice can be a real struggle. Singing is one of the most emotionally vulnerable things you can do in public, I think. Many men really struggle with opening up like that. And the phrase, “I can’t sing” is aimed at deflecting that call to be vulnerable. The phrase is very common in men, but can come up across the gender spectrum – very often linked to the fear of public emotional vulnerability. I don’t ever want to pile stress onto something that obviously does not make them happy, so when someone says this to me, I will (depending on setting) either tell them very gently that I believe they CAN sing, and if they ever wanted to explore that with a group, I’d love to help, OR I will try to find more information about where that belief has come from. Which leads onto the next point…
  2. “I was told I couldn’t sing when I was a child. I was really awful!” This makes my heart bleed. It doesn’t take much imagination to see the person before you as a small child being told to shut up, and believing that their voice has no value. I could cry with the sadness of a voice lost to shame and ignorance. I’m an ex-primary school music teacher. I’ve taught LOTS of small children, and I’m happy to say that very, very few of them have absolutely mastered their voice by the time they leave primary school at 11. There are exceptions, and it is mostly down to the environment the child grows up in. My own kids are very musical and have a really solid sense of harmony, and have done since they were very small. Are they genetically musical geniuses? No. They just grew up in an environment of continuous music and no judgement. They made mistakes and learned from them without anyone telling them to shut up and that they couldn’t sing. If you didn’t grow up in an environment where music and participation was constant and normalised, you can’t possibly hold yourself to the same standards. Most people start to get control of their voices around 12 or so. And then puberty kicks in and makes everything impossible again for all genders. What you could do as a child, and what you can do now are very different things. Think about the things that you are truly excellent at now, as an adult. Maybe you are an amazing baker, or can knit intarsia patterns, or rewire a house, or train a dog, or name all the films of Humphrey Bogart…. But whatever it is, I’ll bet a penny to a pound you weren’t amazing at it when you were 6, were you?
  3. “I can’t read music. I wouldn’t know what to do.” Music reading isn’t necessary. It *can* make things much easier, but it can also make things MUCH harder. As I’ve said on many occasions, though, reading music is nowhere as difficult as most people make out. You don’t have to be fluent, and you don’t have to have the ability to hear the notes in your head as you read them. Some people do. Some people don’t. Personally, I don’t. I don’t read music fluently – I read to the level I need for what I do. I recently handed music and lyrics out to a choir and one lady asked for the sheet music and said, “I can’t read music, but it is really useful to see where the notes go up and down and when we start singing compared to the other lines.” Well, I hate to say this and puncture your self-image here, but if you are seeing where notes go up and down and when your part comes in, you are TOTALLY reading the music. People who tell you that reading music is complicated and hard, and you need to have been taught by a teacher when you were 7 are just trying to big themselves up. You are absolutely able to do it. I read, but I don’t read as well as my husband, who played viola for years. But just because he can hear thirds and fifths without thinking about it, that doesn’t minimise my ability to do what I do. The wisest piece of advice I was ever given was this: “Play your own football”. In other words, don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. Do what you are happy and able to do, and to heck with the rest of it.

There are other reasons and thoughts, and I’ll come to those eventually, but right now – sing. The best time to start singing was when you were a toddler. But failing that, the best time is NOW!


We Have a Shop!

I have been asked many times whether we can have a uniform in the same way as some of the other large scale aggregated choirs. The sense of belonging and pride in the group is a thing that a uniform can often foster, so I have finally found the time to get around to setting something up. The webshop (which I will link from the menu bar at the top, as well) is:

If you click this link, it should take you to a new Etsy shop selling T-shirts (they all have the same logo, but different choir names, so make sure you buy the right choir!). I was also asked for hoodies and water bottles, so have done those, too. I am using “print on demand” as a service, which means that the t-shirts will take a little longer to come out to you, but that I don’t have to have 100 t-shirts printed at the same time, and store them all in my spare room…

Please do be aware that you do not have to wear uniform to take part in choir events – the choir colour remains red, and you are absolutely welcome to wear a normal red shirt/scarf/tie etc. on the other hand, if you fancy wearing something to broadcast your love of your choir, then this is the thing to do!

Choirs do have their own logos, and I am happy to design and add shirts for individual choirs if that is something that people would like to carry forward. But at the moment, the idea is to have something that can make us all look like a unified singing group for larger events such as The Lincolnshire Show. Do have a word if you’d like something individual for your own group. I’m feeling a little more confident that I know how to do this now!


Happy New 2024!

It’s a little late to be wishing people good year, I know, but I’m always a little relieved when January is over and done with and February puts its boots on and it feels like the year properly gets going.

So we’ve got a lot of new starts here in my community choirs – new members, new repertoire, new friendships and more, all of which feels super positive!

I’m going to be doing a newsletter soon, but I thought I’d drop some information here for those who follow along online.

First of all, the new practice album for our “Songs from the Movies” theme is up and mostly populated at this point – if you haven’t explored our practice albums yet, check out the tab that says “Sound and Video Downloads”. The very first link on that page is the Bandcamp download page, where you can download the whole album for free.

There are two songs missing: “A Million Dreams” and “May It Be”, both of which I want to re-record, but the house next door is being gutted, and the noise is truly impossible to work through, particularly for songs with quiet passages. I promise I will get those done, but I will have to wait for a day when the builders aren’t around!

Sheet music should now all be uploaded to the “Sheet Music & Lyric Downloads” page, and ready to put onto your tablet, or print out for your own use. If you are unsure about the password for this page, text or message me and I’ll send it to you. It isn’t public knowledge as the material is copyrighted and I want to make sure that I stay nice and legal!

The big news for today’s update though is that today I have opened a Community Choirs merchandise shop via Etsy, selling choir T-shirts for those that have requested them! I will be getting more choir merchandise up as time goes on, but for now, we have T-shirts and water bottles! I am looking into jackets/fleeces, but these are likely to be a lot more expensive, so we’ll see! For those who would like to partake, the link is here:


New Practise Tracks Up

Dear Choir Members,

I’ve been promsing to get the new practise tracks up for the Light Up a Life event on the 21st November, 2023.

It’s taken me a little while as I’ve been snowed under with various things. However, it is finally done. LuaL23 tracks can be found and downloaded here:

If you cannot download, let me know and I will burn CDs for those who require them – downloading is the best way of getting tracks, as some CD players will not play homeburned CDs, but if there is no other way, just let me know and I’ll get them sorted for you!


Back to Singing!

 We’re back to singing a little later this year than normal because I got married at the beginning of September, and then took a week to recover from the process of getting married!

But we’re back singing now, and welcoming anyone who would like to come along and join in with us. The 2023/24 theme is “Songs from the Movies”, and we’re starting off with “Do Re Mi”, “Over the Rainbow” and “How Far I’ll Go”. I’ll be getting PDFs of sheet music and practice tracks up as soon as possible.

If you’d like to join one of my choirs in the Lincoln area, I currently have openings in the following choirs:

Tuesdays 2-4pm, Treble Cliff (The Venue, Main Road, Navenby)

Wednesdays, 11.15am-12.30pm, Silver Voices (AgeUK, Park Street, Lincoln)

Thursdays, 7pm-8.30pm Ermine Voices (Jubilee Halls, Lamb Gardens, Lincoln)

(Please note that I also run SCONE: The Steampunk Choir, but we do not currently have any vacancies for singers)

We welcome any and everyone!


The Ageing Female Voice

Diana Ross – no spring chicken, but sounds amazing!

Ageing affects all voices, and often in ways that we perceive to be negative, based on our experience of our own younger voices.

  • The vocal folds dry out in a similar way to other mucous membranes – often leading to a feeling of sticky residue requiring coughing to clear.
  • Muscles can atrophy with lack of use, leading to a weaker voice that is less easy to control
  • The larynx can sit lower in the throat, leading to a higher tension on the vocal folds, making the perceived range lower.
  • Laryngeal cartilage will calcify over time, and the muscular joints operating the opening and closing of the folds become stiffer leading to problems closing the cords completely leading to breathiness.
  • After a long period (years) of non-singing or quiet conversation during post-menopausal years, the folds can atrophy and thin and “curve” leading to an inability to close completely.  This will make the voice sound weak, breathy and lead to breaks in the range, and a lack of control or “yodelling” (sudden unexpected pitch change without intention) and a lack of vocal stamina.  This is called glottal or glottic insufficiency.

It is important to understand that all these are the natural effects of ageing and insufficient exercise in the vocal cord muscle group.  They are not a sign that there is anything wrong with the throat or voice, and should be viewed as a wake-up call to get things moving!


Depending on your age, and willingness to undergo surgical treatment, there are operations that can be done.  You should talk to your GP, and ask for a referral to an ENT appointment, where you can discuss the issues you are experiencing.  There is a voice clinic in Queen’s Medical Centre that you may be able to get a referral to, and the specialist practising there is Mr Julian MacGlashan who is the best in the country.

For those who are not keen on chasing through the medical profession, there are several things you can do at home.

  • Practice closure of your larynx:
  1. Take a deep breath and hold it.  Keep that breath held and then swallow.  After swallowing, cough.  Repeat 10 times.
  2. Inhale and hold your breath tightly.  Bear down as if you were having a poo (sorry for the indelicacy!), and whilst bearing down, swallow. Repeat 10 times.
  3. Take a breath.  Hold it as you bear down for a few seconds.  Release gently.  Repeat 10 times.
  4. Hold your breath tightly.  Put both hands under your chair and pull up as if trying to lift the chair with you in it.  Let go of your breath gently whilst saying, “aaaahhhhh”.  Relax and repeat.
  5. Hold your breath tightly.  Turn your head left.  Let go of the breath with a gentle “aaaah” whilst the head is turned.  Relax.  Repeat with head on other side.

You can also perform simple exercises at home:

  1. Put a wide straw into a half-full bottle of water.  Hum a simple tune through the straw, making the water bubble.  Do this for at least 5-10 minutes.
  2. Sing along with your favourite songs – don’t worry about whether you can hit all your notes, just enjoy singing along.  Sing every day without exception.  Sing until your voice and throat feel tired.
  1. Drink a LOT of water.  Not tea or coffee, which will dry out your mucous membranes, but constant water.  Buy yourself a pretty water bottle and keep it by your side constantly.  Aim to drink at least 1.5 litres of water per day.  We are aiming at keeping your mucous membranes moist and supple, and they need water to do that.
  2. Talk a lot!  Keep your voice in constant use, and don’t consciously try to be quiet.  Every time you exercise your voice, you are making a step towards vocal health.
  3. Vocal warm up exercises are good – ask your choir leader for some suggestions if you don’t know any yourself.

Most importantly – don’t feel angry at what you’ve lost.  As we all age, our bodies and voices change, and reflect our journeys.  Sing with the voice you have now, whatever you think it sounds like.  Remember that this is the same voice that sang to children, took wedding vows, gentled animals and shouted in strength.  Be kind to yourself and your voice.  Celebrate the journey that it has taken.

It isn’t the same as when you were 20, but that is part of the beauty of it, too.


Your voice is beautiful, with all of its strengths, weaknesses, breaks and breathiness. Remember that!


Back to Normal!

Huge thanks to the choir member who reminded me that I hadn’t updated here for absolutely ages! I’m sorry!

Choir singing has been up and down since November, with an early end to our Winter singing season due to people getting bugs, isolating in case of a Christmas lockdown etc. We got back into the new year/new season with a theme of “requests”, which has featured some much beloved old favourites as well as new things.

Then two weeks ago, I realised that the coughing person sat behind me at an orchestral concert in our cathedral had almost certainly given me Covid.


I’m one of the “Clinically Extremely Vulnerable” people, (because my lungs are a bit useless) and I had about 12 days of feeling quite rubbish and finding breathing an ongoing challenge. But I’m better now! I’m still coughing (not due to Covid any more, happily – just the healing process) and my intonation is a bit exciting, but apart from that, I’m fighting fit and this week (week beginning 21st March) is back to normal singing/lessons/meetings etc.

So do come along and have a sing with me!


S*d’s Law!

So I wrote a long-overdue post about the fact that we were back and singing after lockdown! Hurrah!

And promptly 24 hours later, we had two reported cases of Covid in the choirs, and multiple exposures.

I’ve decided to shut down for 2 weeks, as a “firebreak”, meaning that hopefully any incubating cases will develop and the people can self-isolate, and those already living with a Covid infection have time to get better.

We start again on the 22nd November. We will be singing a different program of songs at the Light Up a Life Commemoration on the 23rd November, and I’ll have the practice tracks to learn them at home up by the end of today on the Sound/Video Download menu up the top there.

But we won’t let this stop us! Onwards! Upwards! Sing!


Back and Singing!

We started singing again in July 2021, and I’ve been so busy I haven’t had chance to update here…

It is a different and brave new world of social distancing, hand sanitiser, track&trace and safety before everything else. Some people don’t feel safe coming back yet, and some people have decided a different direction is called for entirely. And all of that is OK. We’re a little down on numbers in most choirs from where we were before Covid hit, but there are new voices, new songs and new adventures ahead of us.

If you’d like to come and sing with us in Lincoln or Navenby, you would be very welcome indeed, just contact me for details on what is happening where and when.

Our annual “Light Up a Life” commemoration in collaboration with St. Barnabas’ Hospice is going to be a hard one – everyone has lost someone, or suffered during the long months of isolation. There will be tears this year, more than ever previously, I suspect, but we’ll sing our hearts out as we always do, remembering the gaps in our midst to those lost during the last two years. That’ll be the hardest, hearing the gaps in the harmony and knowing it can never be filled, only accepted.

Wishing you all love and peace as we start the long slow dip towards the bottom of the year.


Cautious Hope…

I have been watching the news like a hawk since the new year, hoping that the government’s “Roadmap out of Lockdown” will hold true and give some hint as to when we can start singing again.

Thanks to the sterling work of everyone working in the vaccination program, it would appear that unless something dramatic happens, the dates given by the government might well prove accurate.

Whilst many people have embraced singing outdoors, it has not been something that I’ve pursued, and I’m happy with the decision to wait until indoor singing is possible.

I am growing increasingly happy to say that I will start indoor singing from mid May 2021 for those who are fully vaccinated. Whilst I don’t want to exclude anyone, I do believe that full vaccination (both doses) will make singing as safe as possible for everyone – if you haven’t been able to schedule yours yet, I will keep a seat for you, don’t worry. As soon as you are up to date with vaccinations, you’ll be back and in that seat, I hope!

I’m going to be spending my time until then making sure that I’ve got everything booked, risk assessed and as safe as possible.

And just so you know: if you are worried that you won’t be able to sing after so long, I am equally worried that I will have forgotten how to conduct, and am pretty sure that I’m going to spend at least 10 minutes crying in happiness the first time we sing anything together.

Stay safe, get vaccinated and be very, very sure that I can’t wait to see you again.