How can I keep from singing?

Since performing in the chorus line of the village production of The Wizard of Oz at the tender age of seven, I have secretly/not so secretly harbored the desire to pursue a career in show biz…a rockette…Rizzo inMunchkin 19891
Grease…Dorothy…to be honest I’d have been happy singing in the chorus line forever… !
Now I’m no Rachel Berry (well duh, of course I love Glee) so realistically this dream was never going to be my reality – also the thought of auditioning brings me out in a cold sweat – but I can hold a tune.

It has only been since moving here though that I came to realise what I
enjoyed most about my brief dalliance with ‘the biz’, was singing. I dabbled in choir at primary school, winning an actual competition with our Joseph medley! This continued at secondary school. I even scored a solo singing MJ’s Ben, much to my sisters’ glee…see what I did there. So when a friend mentioned that she had found a choir that didn’t require auditions, and that joy of all joys they were running a summer programme called ‘Broadway to Beatles’, I signed up sharpish, along with said friend and another for good
measure – strength in numbers and all that!

Despite its glorious headline I knew we wouldn’t be recreating scenes from Glee, Pitch Perfect or Sister Act 2 (some of my favourites). I also figured our age would probably tip the average, but to be honest I didn’t care and nor did my partners in crime. Cut to our very first rehearsal and my predictions on demographic seemed spot on, though with the surprising (to me) addition of a sprinkling of under and slightly over 40 year olds…well of course if we loved to sing why wouldn’t others our age(ish), duh! So, we’re each handed a stack of sheet music (eek hadn’t had to read music for about 15 years, turns out it’s not quite like riding a bike!). Irrational fear sets in, what if everyone here is a professional musician, how am I going to sing from sheet music (I mean they do it in Glee but as we’ve already established I ain’t on that level), what if I actually can’t sing…! Then ‘boom’ I’m taken right back to being seven again – violin lessons, Saturday music school, ballet lessons in the drafty village hall – because in to my vision enters a woman. The kind of woman who commands attention just by entering a room. The kind of woman who, with just a ‘look’, can silence a room of 40 plus cackling adults with too much to say, and one who reminded me exactly of my old ballet teacher, the original school ma’am! Tall, slender and immaculate, though minus the orange hair and lipstick! She would be our leader, and though something about her scared the shit out of me (possibly her ability to tell grown women off without a second thought), it weirdly made me feel comfortable, I liked her immediately.

After a very American style round of introductions – where you live and how long you’d sung with their choir (some for over 25 years!) – we got to singing and started to make our way through the summer repertoire. Beatles Medley (no problem), All That Jazz (mini fist pump), You Can’t Stop the Beat (awesome –  always wanted to learn all those lyrics) then horror as I realise our formidable leader is talking about solos…! Now had this been a choir in the UK I’m pretty sure at this point, even if you’d thought ‘yup, I can nail this’, heads would have been lowered and eyes averted or at the very least you’d wait to be asked, because you’re British and you can’t possibly claim that you’re good at something, especially not in front of people. But this is ‘merica ya’ll and in ‘merica shit goes down differently. Hands were raised, people stepped forward and said they’d give it a try, wait, what!? It was so refreshing to see such non-arrogant confidence – and they were really, bloody good!

Anyway back to our rigorous rehearsal regime! It became clear pretty quickly that there was a reason our formidable leader needed to be, well, formidable. Because trying to keep 40 plus people (particularly women) focused for two hours of rehearsal is much like herding cats. As soon as we would stop singing conversations would begin, and because the majority of our merry band were over 65 what they thought were subtle, whispered exchanges were in fact rather loud ones. This was all met with hilariously cutting comments and quite frankly ‘looks’ that could turn milk – from our leader. Ever the goodie two shoes, and because I’m able to converse in whispered tones, I managed to avoid her wrath! I also came to realise that she had incredibly high standards and was notoriously hard to please. Now whilst this provided us with many amusing moments listening to feedback and remarks, that bordered on insulting, it also meant that we started to sound really bloody good. Summer progressed, as did the confidence I had in my ability to sing (mainly due to the fact that I wasn’t asked to leave), and before we knew it we were in the throes of performing to our ‘warm-up’ audiences at residential homes in and around Marin (very rock and roll!). It was amazing to see the affect our singing had on these people and hearing all their compliments afterwards.

Inevitably the day of the BIG concert rolled around. I’d expected to feel nervous but for some reason, knowing I was singing with others, meant no sweaty palms for me, no siree, I was actually excited!  Excited to sing and excited for our friends to hear what we’d been up to for the past ten Tuesday evenings. Knowing the high standards that were expected of us meant that we were all pretty determined not to let our leader down. The performance seemed to be going quite well, the applause seemed genuine, She even smiled a few times but what happened during our final song – a wonderfully happy, slightly cheese song, entitled Why we Sing – I most certainly wasn’t Singers Marin 1expecting. Tears formed in her eyes as she was conducting…whether they were because we’d made one too many mistakes, the fact that it was all over or our beautiful singing I’m not sure but she was clearly moved, and the fact that we had made that happen felt pretty incredible.

Since this first session we subsequently signed up for the delightfully named ‘Holiday Singers’ which I was desperately hoping would involve some sort of victorian costume and a lantern on a stick…it did not…it was dead Christmassy though! We then decided in January to join the slightly more hardcore ‘Wings of Song’ the repertoire for which scared me to death. I didn’t know any of the music so would have to learn everything from scratch…oh yes, I forgot to mention that we have to learn ALL the words and music off by heart! We also took part in a choir festival in Berkeley where we joined other groups to form a choir of 180 and workshopped with a Grammy Award winning conductor no less!

Now I’m not a miserable person, I’m generally pretty upbeat and feel fortunate to live the life I lead but it hasn’t escape me that this singing lark seriously affected my mood – it made me feel so happy, uplifted and content. And it turns out that’s not just coincidence, it’s actual scientific fact that singing makes you happy, and it doesn’t end there, the benefits seem to be endless. On that note I’ll leave you with some words of hilarious wisdom that were bestowed upon us by Alice Parker at the choir festival previously mentioned (turns out she’s a bit of a big deal in the world of choral composing!). She explained that she was absolutely certain war would end and the world could live in peace if only, at the first sign of conflict, the countries involved would immediately swap children’s choirs!!

 

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where to begin…

Since moving here we’ve managed to cram in a whole heap of stuff – I should have started this baby ages ago – so to bring things up to date I thought I might do a bit of a run down of some of the highlights! Imagine it kind of like one of those cheesy end of year tv specials but without the ad breaks.

One of the lures of moving here was that we would live only 20 minutes away from this (left) and three and a half hours away from this (right). The novelty hasn’t worn off yet…I’m not sure it ever will.

Coachella = Awesome…that is all…2015 tickets are booked.

So after surfing here for almost a year, in freezing cold Norcal water, we decided for our honeymoon we wanted to try surfing in warmer waters. Hawaii seemed like the obvious choice but when our surf instructor, turned friend, affectionately referred to as ‘surfer Dave‘, mentioned he was headed to Costa Rica and that we should join him, we were sold!

Camping on the Sonoma Coast. Totally seduced by the idea of flinging open our tent flaps to be greeted by these views.

We pitched our tent on the edge of a cliff.  Needless to say as our eyes drank in the amazing view they were also slowly blinded by the bucket loads of sand being whipped in to them by, what I’m certain could only be described as, gale force winds! Note to self, next time pitch better!

Yosemite is an incredible place, it literally looks like the set of a prehistoric movie. We were totally in awe and can’t wait to go back, though perhaps not in September – 107F made for a pretty sweaty few days.

We have come to realise that the US loves admin – fact. So after completing endless forms, medical tests, retina scans, fingerprinting and after proving that our marriage was not a sham…our Green Card arrived!

hardly strictly bluegrass San Francisco

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass – we were told it was one of the things you have to do in San Francisco before you die…we now know why. Highlights included St. Paul & the Broken Bones, chips (fries, if we’re going all American) dipped in vanilla milkshake and ‘special’ strawberries. We took the visiting parentals along too, they loved it!

 

I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to armistead maupin tales of the citybooks and have been known to forgo meals in order to finish a particularly compelling story. So when a fellow immigrant recommended Armistead Maupin‘s Tales of the City, I was instantly hooked and busted through the whole series. If you’ve not read them then do it, now! Turns out it was also made in to a miniseries AND he’s just released the final book in the series, oh joy!

Beach Blanket Babylon San FranciscoBeach Blanket Babylon is a San Franciscan institution and ‘the longest running musical revue in theatre history’  no less.  I’d wanted to see it before we even moved here. ‘Spectacular’ is one word I’d use to describe it and ‘awesome’ another. Even the very skeptical male company, convinced to join us with the lure of Italian food and wine, thought it was ‘bloody brilliant’.

 

So many lovely things and many more besides.