#ChallengeCompleted: Singing lesson
When? 23 July 2017
Nominated by: Sarah
I’m sure I’ve got it in me to sing. I play the piano, so I get pitch. But while I somehow always muddled through the aural parts of my piano exams, holding a line without being able to hear the tune, and belting out a proper song have never been something I’ve managed.
Step forward my colleague Sarah, who Challenged me to find out what kind of singing voice I have, with a beginner’s taster singing lesson at City Academy in Soho.
Neither of us really knew what to expect as we whetted our whistles with a cooling ice cream prior to our group lesson.
There were a dozen of us in the group, a variety of ages and nationalities. Our tutor, Jonathan, first asked us each to introduce ourselves and say briefly what we hoped to get out of the session. Experience ranged from an older gent who had been an actor for 20 years (albeit allegedly ‘retired’ for many years since) and had been through something called ‘Mountview’ (it earned respect; turns out it’s some kind of British Fame Academy for wannabe actors, dancers and singers), to a young girl who simply enjoyed singing in the car/shower and was curious to learn more about using her voice. I’m not entirely sure where Sarah and I fitted in – really just there for a giggle…
Jonathan explained that our hour’s session would involve the ‘warm-up’ routine that kicks off every lesson. It began simply enough: ensemble humming of two tones (doh-ray-doh-ray-doh-ray-doh; up a tone and repeat); gradually working up the scale as Jonathan banged out the notes on the piano. Even I could manage this and I hummed loudly and confidently.
Next stage was the same two tones, this time alternating between ‘mmm’, ‘aaah’ and ‘oooh’ sounds, so starting to form shapes with our mouths to change the sound. Again, not overly tricky. So far, so good!
Then it was time to learn the ‘warm-up song’: ‘Comedy’. The lyrics aren’t tricky, largely (read: completely) involving the line, ‘There will be some comedy tonight’, across four verses. We learnt them one at a time. First, the line was sung legato (smoothly) to a simple tune. Next, just the word ‘comedy’ was sung, quickly and staccato. The third verse returned to the original line, twisted into ‘Comedy tonight, there will be some’, with crescendo for excitement. Last verse was… actually, I can’t remember. But there was definitely a fourth verse. And while it might sound simple to you, you try remembering all of it, and the tune. Seriously, it was a Challenge!
Anyway. We moved on. Time to explore range. We went to a top E flat and revisited our ‘ooo’, ‘eee’ ‘aah’, ‘eee’, ‘ooo’ sounds, up and down three tones. Next up was a (very) brief experiment with ‘retraction’ (where you sing through your nose) and ‘expansion’ (pushing the sound out more roundly). More sounds to try: ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’ for retraction, as though you’re sneering at someone; ‘yah yah yah’ for expansion, like a posh twit. More ‘lyrics’; more tunes. You still think this is easy, don’t you? Think again!
The final challenge: tongue twisters. And here is where it all started to go horribly wrong. ‘Fluffy puppy’ I managed. ‘Red lorry, yellow lorry’ I could do. Even ‘Seth at Sainsbury’s sells thick socks’ and ‘unique New York’ I achieved (more often than not). All this and new tunes for each, too
But then came the pièce de resistance. We all know how it goes. Goodness knows we’ve most of us got drunk to this tongue twister: ‘I’m not a pheasant plucker, I’m a pheasant plucker’s son; and I’m only plucking pheasants till the pheasant plucker comes’. You think you know what’s coming, don’t you?
Wrong. My confidence was up. I sung, ensemble, with gusto. Over and over, word perfect. This was fine! But then.
Jonathan singled out the first girl in the group, indicating for her to sing the tongue twister solo. Shocker! In fact, I think she was so shocked, she got it perfectly right. Jonathan immediately pointed to the next guy; his turn. He also managed it.
Trouble was, Sarah and I were the last two in the group, which meant we had far too much time to think about how we were going to ‘perform’ this tongue twister. And every person was taking their turn without screwing up. No pressure.
I was there. I was ready. I was good to go. Word perfect. Just the girl immediately before me to go. She was virtually through it.
Then, as she got to the last line, she transposed the syllables (you’re with me, right?). It had to happen. It had just been a matter of when. And who. Everyone fell about laughing. Jonathan played a comic sting on the keyboard. The moment was lost. I was lost.
But no – Jonathan quickly picked up again, pointed at me and said, ‘Go!’
‘I’m not a pleasant fuc…’ I started, confidently. Oh dear.
‘I’m not a pleasant fuc…’ Oh dear. I’d lost it.
Third time lucky.
‘I’m not a pleasant fuc…’ Nope, it’s gone.
Jonathan helpfully reminded me of the correct lyric. I know the lyric. I KNOW the lyric. I’d had it all totally sorted in my head. Till that blasted girl before me had screwed up.
‘I’m not a pleasant fuc…’
It simply wasn’t going to happen. The moment was lost. I’d lost it. Sarah – you take your turn. She was kind to me. She totally lost it, too. Several similarly aborted attempts to get the correct lyric out followed from her. It wasn’t going to happen.
Neither of us managed our solo moment. Guess we’re just meant to be part of a team. Who needs the solo spot, anyway?