I saw him at a table quiz last week. He is a polite, genial, warm man, but being so extraordinarily talented, he can afford to be. I think he is not much older than me, and probably had no more desire to lecture us than those of us at the lecture had to listen to him. I remember not a single thing from my church music lectures, apart from his comment when he had to listened to each of us attempting a scale or arpeggio, or whatever it was, that he felt that it would probably be in the best interest of everyone if I didn’t sing at all.
He was, of course, right, I cannot carry a note in a bucket, my entire vocal range probably extends across three notes in the bass line, and even they would be sung in the wrong places. But I felt hurt at the time.
Singing had been a big thing in my childhood days. I could never play the recorder or the Glockenspiel, it being reserved for a very talented girl called Audrey, but I could sing along with everyone else in my primary school class. Every week we tuned in to ‘Singing Together’, on BBC radio for schools.
‘Singing Together’ is deep in the consciousness of those of us of a certain age. One wet evening in France last month, I texted everyone I knew who had been to a British primary school and asked which songs they remembered. I got a few sniffy replies, but my sister in Belfast came back with a list of about ten songs.
‘Singing Together’, in retrospect, was a deeply subversive programme. There were traditional, fun, sing-along songs, things like “Antonio, it’s raining again.” But there were some songs that gently challenged our Anglo-Saxon view of the world like the 17th Century Huron Carol. There were even songs that were downright radical and would surely have prompted letters to the ‘Daily Telegraph‘ if it had been know that primary school children were encountering such lyrics.
My first encounter with the Irish famine was in the words of “The praties they grow small.” I remember feeling aghast that Britain, which I had always been taught stood for freedom and justice, should trample people in the dust. My sister recalls the words of “Blackleg miners”, how it got past Education Secretary Margaret Thatcher is a mystery!
I don’t mind not being able to sing, what I fear is a loss of singing in our culture. The tales that were told in our folk songs will not be carried by the banality of the average iPod download. It is not just music that will be lost, it is something of the truth about the society in which we live, and losing the truth can never be a good thing.