I don’t come from a musical family, really. Well, my Dad was Welsh, and loved to sing hymns with me – I was given a welsh pronounciation guide and there were a set of words to the hymns on my Dad’s favourite Cymanfa Ganu LP, lovingly typed up on onionskin paper by some member of the family I didn’t know about. But it wasn’t something that happened often. He’d sing one of two songs to me when it was his turn to keep me company whilst I had my evening bath on a Sunday – I’d either get “My Bonny Lies Over the Ocean” (which I heard as “My Bunny…” which made me very sad about the loss of someone’s rabbit…) or “Oh My Darling Clementine”, which he always sang as “Oh My Darling Turpentine”. To this day, those songs make me think of the feel of warm towelling nappies and winceyette pyjamas, lovingly put to warm on the bathroom radiator because he knew I felt the cold…
But that was about it. No-one played a musical instrument in any branch of my family, no-one knew how to read music and certainly no-one sang with a choir.
So how did I get here (running 3 community choirs, playing guitar, harp, bouzouki and flute, teaching singing and musical performance and theory) from there?
I put it down to three things:
1. The people you surround yourself with.
2. The enthusiasm with which you approach it.
3. The work you are prepared to put in.
If you get all three right, then you are putting yourself in the best possible place to succeed.
1. The people you surround yourself with: If you surround yourself with friends who love music, who play music and who love to share it, then you’ll find yourself with a group of people who encourage you, build you up and can offer pointers in regards to teaching and learning techniques. If you normalise music as something that happens in thought and action every single day, then you will start to look for it when your practice falls short.
2. The enthusiasm with which you approach it: Stick with it. Enjoy it. Do every part of it with enthusiasm. The enthusiasm will carry you over the times when you are tired, bored and just want to watch TV. If you find that part of your studies are boring, try and find out why. Foster the parts that you love and let your enthusiasm direct you.
3. The work you are prepared to put in: I firmly believe that “natural talent” is a myth. Anything can be learned, and the best results are generally from those who put in the hours. The phrase “natural talent” implies a lack of discipline and practice, a lack of hard work and a sense of entitlement. Don’t listen. No-one ever became great because they didn’t bother to work.
If you get those three things right, then you’ll be setting yourself up for success. It is most definitely the path that I followed. My husband is a musician, and his friends were musicians. Slowly, but surely, they normalised my vision that what one did was … music. I sang. I sang all the time. I sang in the bathroom, in the car, in the kitchen. I practiced my instruments when I wasn’t singing. I taught myself fragments of music theory. I went to events where singing was encouraged. One day I woke up and realised that the vast majority of my friends were also musicians. It became my “normal”.
The enthusiasm and work came hand in hand for me – I let my enthusiasm guide me in the direction I wanted (which is why my main instrument is harp!) and put in the hard work once I’d figured out what I loved most.
If you’ve always said, “I want to be a singer!” then the ONLY way to become a singer is… shockingly… to sing. Don’t wait for the right time. Don’t wait for a teacher to land in your lap. Join a non-audition community choir, and have FUN!