Music in the Community and for the Community with Annie Griffith

Music in the Community and for the Community with Annie Griffith

Month: May 2015


Sing What You Love…

Music_Children-Parenting-Singing-Talent-ShowI have been lucky enough to  be asked to take part in a mentoring scheme for new singing leaders in my area.  This involves going out, meeting the leaders, watching them teach and chatting with their singers to find out how they are doing and whether there are any areas that can be improved or worked upon.

That all sounds very posh and important and as though I am standing there with a clipboard, marking them all out of ten.  In reality, what I got to do on Tuesday night was to go and meet a lot of delightful young singers, learn some new songs and chat about leading singing – one of my favourite things to do ever.

The young people in question were lucky to be presented with a wide variety of  different material to learn – they had rounds, campfire songs, action songs and modern material.  As with the vast majority of younger people, it is pretty difficult for them to hide what they thought about the various songs that they sang, and I found that really interesting.

They responded really well to very simple call and response songs – usually in thirds (if you sing the notes of a scale – do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do – singing a third would be like singing “mi-so”).  The 20th century music educator, Zoltan Kodaly, had a LOT to say about the importance of singing in simple thirds with young people.  He was of the opinion that the third is the first musical interval we hear, because it is how our mothers call us in that sing song way tht all mothers seem to default to – “Geo-orge!” (usually with the voice falling to the “mi” note on the second half of the name).  We are hardwired to sing it to our children (most nursery rhymes use it – “Seesaw, Margery Daw…” and to respond to it as children ourselves.

I watched a roomful of 7-10 year olds loving working with that most comforting of note ranges and making a glorious sound whilst they did it.  Kodaly hit that one right on the head, I think.

But even more than the simplest of intervals, they responded to modern pop songs.

I know that a lot of choir leaders bristle at modern pop songs – the bubblegum of music (no nutritional value, gets stuck to everything and mostly appeals to children who don’t know better…), but I kind of like them.  Depending on the songs that you choose, they can be just as challenging and enjoyable as older, more classical repertoire, and for some people, vastly more so.  The key is singing what they want to, a choir – any choir at all – should be a democracy, not a tyranny.  When people enjoy what they sing, their voices blend better, their oxytocinon levels rise, leading to feelings of happiness, wellbeing and friendship.  Of course, singing something that you are not immediately sure about can be a challenge and the ability to divorce your immediate feeling of dislike from the material and look at it dispassionately is most definitely a skill worth developing.

But don’t be afraid to sing the old favourites.  Don’t be snobbish about music – if people enjoy singing something, then it is a good song, regardless of everything else.


So, Why Do I Do It?

singing-on-the-brainI spend a lot of my working week singing for a living. Mind you, if I’m honest, I also spend an awful lot of my week singing for no reason other than “I love to sing”.

I recently bought a new CD by one of my favourite artists (Kate Rusby, if you are really interested) and have had it on continual play whilst I work. Because I’m not paying much attention to the words whilst I concentrate on other things, I couldn’t really tell you what many of the words are, but I sing along nonetheless. It’s a good thing that I have an office door I can shut because the one day a week that I work in an open plan office, I have to be *very* careful not to let my bad habits spill over. I hum, sing and vocalise made-up sounds *all* the time whilst I am typing. They go a bit like this:

“Come all you lovely lahyeeehah, ladadah warning. Oooooooo, sterry bield of hay…..” etc. Occasionally, I get the right word sound in the right place, but more often than not, I’m just singing a lot of rubbish, but still vocalising and enjoying it. The vibrations from my voice get faintly meditative after a while, and I find it very restful. I’m not singing to be heard, or for anyone to think that I’m wonderful, I’m just singing because I love to sing. And that is precisely the sort of singing that I wish more people did. Not to sound clever, not to get rich, but just because it is so much more fun than simply staying quiet.

Because I am lucky enough to lead a number of choirs, I get the feedback from lots of other people as to why they enjoy singing, and that is a very motivational thing. I’ve people in all of my choirs who have depressive issues, and find singing incredibly helpful in lifting the spirits without medication, or to help smooth out the transition into a new medication. I have met several people in my life who claim that singing has saved their lives by providing them with an outlet for emotions that simply couldn’t be channelled any other way. That’s pretty major.

But it doesn’t have to be the big stuff. Maybe you just feel tired, and need a little bit of a lift? Suffer from social anxiety, and find talking to new people difficult? Choirs and singing are perfect for both of those – one of my favourite sounds in the whole world is the sound of people leaving choir, still singing together as they walk away. I know that they feel so good singing that they don’t want to stop – best sound and best feeling in the world, that! And the social anxiety thing is difficult – but in a choir you don’t have to make small talk. And there is a ready built subject to talk to the person next to you – the music that you are singing!

You probably already know that it sounds great to sing in the shower. I’m here to tell you that it also sounds great to sing in the kitchen, the garden, the living room, the bedroom and the office. The pub is perfect – other people generally join in, as well…

Go on – have a bit of a warble!