World Choir Games Flanders 2021

Some people take pride in saying they can’t sing – but is that just fear talking?

  • [A version of this article first appeared as a post on my blog From the Front of the Choir]

    You’ll know by now that I believe that everyone can sing.



    Apparently this irritates some people who really think that they can’t sing. Why is that?

    everyone can sing …

    I was reminded the other day of a quote by the lovely, gentle, encouraging singing master Edisher Garakanidze who first taught me Georgian songs in Cardiff back in the 1980s:

    “Everybody without exception has the ability to sing, just the same as to laugh, cry and run. It is from God. Many people sing only when they are alone, never for or with other people (because of shyness). But it is not even half the joy the music brings. Singing together is completely different. Singing in common gives the occasion to take into consideration another person, to give him, or her, something, but at the same time also find pleasure oneself. And my and your pleasure together is – happiness!” from the introduction to 99 Georgian songs.

    Yes, everyone can sing.

    Maybe not to a professional standard, maybe not precisely in tune all the time, and maybe not with a voice that pleases everyone. But everyone can sing.

    … except me

    Here’s the kind of comment I get on posts like this one:

    “I wouldn’t want to inflict my voice on anyone else. You should hear me: terrible! I’m tone deaf. You won’t catch me singing in front of anyone.”

    I’ve heard this lament so many times now that I’m beginning to think that these people are using “I can’t sing!” as a badge of pride.

    Everyone can sing — except them. They’re a special case. A difficult challenge. Different from your average person.

    Why might they be doing this?

    I used to think it was a lack of self-esteem or attention-seeking, but I’m beginning to wonder if it’s FEAR. Fear of failure, fear of stepping outside their comfort zone, fear of ridicule. Maybe even fear of success: if it turns out they can sing, they would have to re-evaluate their identity as a “non singer.”

    If you love music, then you can sing.

    If you’re one of the roughly 4% of the population who suffers from amusia – an inability to distinguish between different pitches – then you’ll probably find music unbearable to listen to.

    But if you love and appreciate music, then you can clearly differentiate between different pitches. And if you can do that, then you can sing.

    Like anything else though, it takes time and practice.

    learning to sing takes time

    If you have enough co-ordination to be able to hit a ball with a racquet, then can you play tennis. It might take years to develop an overhand serve or be able to deliver a killer backhand, but you can definitely learn.

    It’s the same with singing. Start small and build.

    Some people get angry when I say that everyone can sing because their experience doesn’t bear it out.They’ve been told that they can’t hold a tune or to stand at the back and mime. It can be humiliating and have long-lasting effects.

    These are cruel things to tell someone and says much more about the person doing the telling or the context of the singing (see Never tell anyone they can’t sing – it is brutal, damaging and untrue).

    For example, if you’re starting out and your pitching is no yet accurate, you’d probably be asked not to sing with a small, classical chamber choir. It’s not the appropriate outlet for you at that stage.

    If you’re one of 30 kids rehearsing the school concert and you’re enjoying yourself so much that you’re singing out loud and proud but not accurately, a harassed teacher without enough time to give you individual attention may ask you to stand at the back and mime (remember, singing with others is all about listening).

    choose your singing outlet carefully

    If you love to sing with others, choose the group to join carefully.

    There are Tuneless choirs which don’t expect you to always pitch accurately; there are Singing for the Terrified groups if you lack confidence; there are karaoke choirs which sing unison to backing tracks (if harmonies put you off); and plenty more in between.

    If you love to sing and aspire to join a more advanced choir which sings in harmony, then if you know you have pitching issues take some positive action. Choose a non-auditioned choir with a sympathetic and supportive choir leader (there are plenty out there!) who might be able to give you some individual attention. Or take some one-to-one singing lessons to improve your accuracy.

    If you’ve had a bad experience in the past, don’t let it stop you from blossoming in the future.

    But if you don’t love to sing, then no matter. Stick to your mantra: “Everyone can sing — except me”, but don’t tar others with the same brush.

    If you love to sing, but are happy to do so on your own, then keep singing!

    For the rest of you, maybe it’s time to step out of the shadows, stand up proudly and say “Everyone can sing — even me!”

     

     

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    Chris Rowbury

    website: chrisrowbury.com
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