What are the three most intimate things you can do with another person? I’ll give you a clue - they all begin with S.
Any ideas what they are?
Ok, so the first one is obvious.
- Sex - this is probably the most intimate thing you will ever do with another human being. Although in my opinion, it does come a close second to number two on the list.
- Sleep - this is an extremely intimate thing to do with another person because it does take a massive amount of trust to be completely unconscious for eight hours in the presence of someone else.
So what is the third one?
In my opinion, doing this thing makes us pretty vulnerable and requires a lots of trust in the other people involved.
It is...ta da...
Singing. Yes singing!
Because - think about it, singing with or in front of other people you don't know is an extremely intimate thing to do if you are not used to it or confident in your vocal ability...unless you are Ed Sheeran of course, in which case your vulnerability may have melted away with your growing fame - although of course it may not…I guess I’ll never know.
Whether we are having sex, sleeping or singing with other people (and in the case of sex, I would say person rather than people because - well, just call me old fashioned) - we make ourselves extremely vulnerable for reasons I don’t have time to explain here. And if you need them explained, this blog may not be for you - just sayin'...
Obviously I can’t speak for others but for me, doing any of those three S things should always be out of free choice and only when we completely trust anyone else involved.
Which is probably why I got so upset when Miss Butler tried to force me to sing, alone, in front of people I did not trust, at 13 years old when I was at my most vulnerable. Way too intimate for me.
And yes, I made her cry. I made my music teacher cry because it was her or me and it wasn’t going to be me.
So I rebelled big time and, with my heart in my mouth - I defied her commands to sing.
It was far less threatening for me to be seen rebelling against authority at 13 than it was to sing solo in front of my class and the handful of hard-assed mean kids it contained.
So when Miss Butler decided to make me sing in front of the class, my mouth dried up so much my tongue wouldn’t move and I began to laugh hysterically every time she played the opening chords of Scarborough Fair.
Miss Butler didn’t like me. Looking back, I don’t know if she liked any of us. But I took it personally and dreaded her lessons.
On the day I made her cry, (sobbing in front of your class is probably quite an intimate thing to do now that I think about it) we were in our music lesson at High School.
At the time, it was called a Secondary School and was for the dumb asses who failed the 11 Plus (are you kidding me? - that is another blog post all of its own!).
We were in what was known as the small hall. The small hall had double doors at the back that opened to the outside of the school building.
For reasons known only to her, Miss Butler decided to humiliate me that day. It was a bad move on her part. Like most 13 year olds, I didn’t have the maturity to handle humiliation well. Especially not in front of the mean kids.
So on that day, she plays the opening chords of Scarborough Fair and at the moment I am meant to start, she leans forward and nods her head for me to come in and of course I don’t.
I’m burning up with the embarrassment of having the eyes of the class on me and there are already stifled giggles coming from my little band of rebel friends sitting around me.
Miss Butler turns from the piano and tells me, very sharply, that I missed my cue to sing.
(“Oh...don’t make me sing!” - seriously - watch the SNL video with Kristen Wiig!)
By this point, my face was crimson. My heart was racing with the stress I was under and all I wanted to do was burst into tears and run.
Couldn’t do that. Didn’t want to get sent to Wally (that was what we called Mr Webber, our Head Master).
So I waited until she started the intro again and at the point I was supposed to come in, I began to laugh hysterically and of course, so did the whole class.
I don’t remember how many times she tried to make me sing but each time she played the intro, I laughed more and more until it was uncontrollable and the whole room was in stitches.
And each time, Miss Butler’s face got redder and redder until she leapt up from the piano in a fit of anger, stormed over to where I was standing, dragged me out the double doors by my arm and once outside, whacked me several times, very hard across the back of my legs with her hand. She was out of control.
Yes you younger people reading this - it used to be acceptable to physically attack children at school in the 60s.
My reaction? More hysterical laughter. What else could I do?
She then stormed back into the lesson, sat down at the piano, bashed her hands down on the keys (just any old keys, she wasn’t too bothered about tuning by that point) and screamed, “Do you know girls, Gillian is STILL laughing!” At which point she began to cry tears of utter rage.
I never did sing solo in that lesson or any other, because she never tried bullying me again. And I have always avoided singing in front of people. At funerals I always used to mime.
So when my old school friend Sue invited me to go along to the choir she’d just joined, I laughed and sign-posted her back to that day in the small hall when I left the lesson with Miss Butler’s hand-prints on my legs and suppressed sobs of shame in my chest.
Joining a choir 48 years later was the furthest thing from my mind.
I reminded her of the attempted forced solo singing debut when we were in Miss Butler’s class and we both laughed. Sue and I both remember each others worst times at school. She remembers me being dragged outside and having my legs attacked by a crazed music teacher and I remember her having her eyebrows and fringe blown off while trying to light a gas oven during a cookery lesson - but that is another story.
“Come to the choir” she said, “just for one session and see what you think.”
So I went. Just for one session. To see what I thought.
I honestly had no intention of ever going back again because…well, I don’t sing, so why would I?
But going to a choir was an interesting diversion in my week. Something to drag me away from the self-imposed exile of being self-employed working from home interspersed with taking care of elderly parents.
It would be a trip out with Sue doing something different. An interlude in my working week.
I had no idea that Pop Chorus existed until I walked into the rehearsal hall and found myself in a music lesson for the first time in 48 years.
Once again, Sue and I were in a room with 30 other people, side by side, facing a singing teacher, and for me, memories of Miss Butler came flooding back like a tidal wave.
As Jen, the vocal coach for the Felixstowe branch of Pop Chorus, called for quiet to start the session, I wondered if we would sing Scarborough Fair and how she would feel if I suggested she tear it up and eat it.
But oh my goodness - here we are, three months down the line from that day and what a transformation in my life and possibly the lives of all of us who joined Pop chorus in January.
In my next post, I will tell you about Yula Andrews and how she facilitates change for people through singing, while at the same time helping others by raising much needed funds for the local hospice.
I will tell you how, in the space of one term with Pop Chorus I, and around 29 other people in the new Felixstowe branch of Pop chorus, feel confident singing in four-part harmony, tackling songs such as Chandelier by Sia.
And once again, I have seen my singing teacher cry. But this time, It wasn’t because I angered Jen by refusing to sing alone, no one will ever make us do that in this choir. It was because we all sang Chandelier willingly, together, so well after only a couple of weeks coaching, it touched her heart and brought tears to her eyes.
And that is what belief in people does.
Thank you Jen and Yula for actually making me want to sing, outside of the shower, for the first time since I was 13!
Coming up next - how did Pop Chorus happen? What is it for and where can you see the choir perform?
What about you? How do you feel about singing? Is it an intimate activity for you and do you need to trust the people you do it with?