Thursday, 2 June 2011


Listening to a Bach Cantata on Margaret's blog (Filey Gardener) on this lovely Ascension Day, it struck me for the first time, how very little I've said on the subject of music, when it was once the central theme of my life.

As a twenty something Welsh girl brought up in Birmingham then moving to Kent I never put down roots in any fixed location but my whole life was rooted in music. 

I started paying for singing lessons when I could afford it (at the age of 23 or 24).  Luckily the late Alan Bush
was the president of the Workers Music summer school I used to attend annually and he recommended my teacher who happened to be a very well established tutor and more good luck, local to me in Bromley.

This led to singing with first Kentish Opera, then Morley College Opera and finally, The New Opera Chorus at Sadlers Wells.

Very occasionally we would be paid for what we did, more often we got expenses only, so I worked as a Civil Servant for 23 years.

Having, by then acquired a good nose for what was afoot in the opera world I was able to audition for all manner of little extra enterprises and over the years sang at almost all the well-known London venues and also did quite a lot of recording for various organisations including the BBC.

Best of all was the chance to work with some of the world's greatest conductors and the very best principal singers of the day.

At home, a small bedsit with kitchen, in Bromley, I had what was in those days a top of the range radiogram.
For those who have never heard of this pre-techno piece of equipment, it was a substantial piece of furniture which contained a radio, record deck and large speakers.

This was permanently (whoops the colour has vanished), on what was then called The Third Programme & during a period of some 9 or ten years I listened to all the broadcast Bach Cantatas, many with John Carol Case as the soloist (I sang with him in 1966 at the Tower of London), which added an extra frisson to my enjoyment.

I also collected a vast number of opera recordings, leider recitals, Jazz recordings and other bits and pieces like ballet music etc.

These records added to John's collection and then our combined stash amounted to many hundreds, so when we got married and moved into a flat in Putney we had to 'weed' them and gave away a couple of hundred of the one's we least loved.

John worked for Decca and we added considerably to our vast library of music for a few years until we really had to come to a stop.  We sold hundreds at boot sales for a year or two and gradually reduced the vinyl army to manageable proportions.

When I gave up singing, about 12 months into my marriage I had no intention of ever singing again but, John who was convinced he could sing (he had a good bass/baritone but couldn't sing in tune) auditioned for The London Philharmonic Chorus.  After being told in no uncertain terms by a well-known harpsichordist who was repetiteur for the auditions, that he had 'no ear', he told them that his wife was with him and she 'could' sing!

Horror of horrors, I had no music with me, had not sung for ages and had also had no idea what he was going to do.  This in no way detrerred the Musical Director who said "come and sing some scales and we'll find you some music"

To cut a very long story short, I did so and was invited to join them as a soprano.  Having always sung as a mezzo this was disconcerting but I agreed to give it a whirl.

The next seven years were full of choral music - not something I had done much of before, but a really good experience and even more top conductors and soloists.

This was brought to an abrupt end when I got a severe attack of bronchitis which lasted many weeks and at the end of it my voice had gone.

Twenty-four years later, a month or two after John's death I started trying to sing again, had some lessons and found to my delight that there was still some voice left - admittedly now a contralto - but enough to join St. M's choir and give music a place in my life again.

I don't know what to call this compulsion to sing, it's not a hobby, certainly not a mere interest, more a way of life.


  1. What great life in Music. We lived in Southfields near you and Colin has always been a singer . I bet I have been to things where you were singing without realising it.Colin has just made me find Finzis ' God Has gone up' which he remembers singing . He only sings at Church now ,not a robed choir, but used to be in LSO Chorus. I guess you both have sung some great music with great conductors. You have made me realise I must listen more music than I do. Living in London we had so muchlive music to listen to-now I have more time I would like to hear more but we have not the energy to go to York. Here it is a cultural backwater . Great Post XX

  2. Sorry about the punctuation, making that above sound as if you were a singer without realising It!!!

  3. Ray, as I have gotten older I have begun to really appreciate the mezzo soprano, alto and conralto voices. I am glad you are again finding your voice, both here on the blog and your singing voice!

  4. How wonderful to have been able to do so much singing, Ray, and to be gifted with different voices at different times in your life.

    I discovered choral singing at university and absolutely loved it. I did a bit after I left university, but the combination of a job with some evening and Saturday working and a growing family meant I couldn't continue. Nowadays my only regular singing is at church.

  5. I think it is a gift to be able to sing. Yes - you can improve by working at it, but more than anything it is a gift. Glad you can use your voice again.

  6. Margaret
    Thanks for the comment and all the new info about Colin's musical past (never is quite past is it?)
    As for the punctuation, let it stand, you were right first time!

  7. Penny
    Thanks for the kind comment on the blog and the voice too. Nice to know not everything curls up and dies on you as you get older.

  8. Perpetua
    Yes, I think it is indeed good luck to still be able to sing at my age even if the quality is not as good. St.M's doesn't appear to mind about that - long may it last!

  9. Freda
    There is no doubt in my mind that you are absolutely right. Singing even reasonably well is a gift and one to be cherished and nurtured.
    It is one of my few sources of real pleasure these days.