“I want you to tell me whether you think my voice is any good,” he said.
John is a sturdy man of medium build with closely cropped brown hair. I was recommended to himby another student of mine. Today is his first session.
‘Tell me about you and singing,” I say.
“I sing all the time, around the house, at work, any opportunity out with the boys. My mum’s ltalianso we all sang at home when we were kids. Except my dad. He played the spoons,” John laughs a big, booming laugh.
“And at school, did you sing in choirs or bands?”
“You’re joking. I tried to join the choir but the choir master threw me out.”
“Threw you out?”
“He said my voice was too loud, that I drowned everyone out.”
“Did he not suggest ways to help you to blend ydur voice with the others?”
“Nah, I wouldn’t have been able to do that. When I sing or speak you can hear me from one end of a football pitch to the other no trouble. I coach lads in our local football team in my spare time. I’ve never had to raise my voice, never had problems with discipline. They hear me,” he laughs.
His laugh is infectious, his personality, his love of life fills the room. After a few more questions and weather niceties we begin, I, briefly explaining what we will do to ascertain the type of voice he has – bass, baritone – and to check out his range.
“I’ve not done this before,” he looks apprehensive.
“I have,” I grin.
As expected John is a bass happy to wallow in the low notes but unsure in the middle and higher tessitura. Using imagery and story I “massage” and stretch his voice, explain through exercises how the weak areas will be strengthened. He laughs, delighted with the feel and sound of his voice.
Over the ensuing months he practices diligently following recordings made during his lessons. He tells me he’d like to sing some classical pieces as well as popular songs – especially those recorded byMatt Monro – and that he’d like to join a choir. It’s on his bucket list.
“OK, I’ve an ltalian song for you,” I say handing him a sheet of music, Santa Lucia, an abbreviated version arranged by Ruth de Cesare. ‘
“I can’t read music,” he says taking the music.
“No problem, I’ll teach it to you.”
John is very musical and follows easily. He sings the song with bravura and, a few weeks later, tells me, when asked to sing as he now often is, he bursts forth with Santa Lucia.
His singing voice matches his personality. But over time my concern is how to avail him the more subtle sounds I feel sure he has and will need when he decides to audition for a choir.
A few weeks before the summer break John asks me whether l’d like to see some photos of his children. l’m touched. Of course I would.
“They’re handsome, handsome and beautiful respectively. You must be very proud of them.”
“They’re great kids, both travelling, following careers. We’re very close,” he says.
Sensing a change in his voice I look up at him.
“l’m divorced,” he says quietly.
For a moment the only sound in the room is the soft tick of the hands of the clock standing on the piano in front of me.
The following week, handing him a sheet of music I say –
“l think you might like this. lt’s a renaissance song -‘Since first I saw your face’.”
“Renaissance huh, bit of a way from Matt Monro,” John grins.
I sing it to him and then we work on it together, he following me line by line. l’m right. He loves it.
After the summer break John strides into the room for his lesson.
“l’ve learned the song,” he says, “l’ve listened to every recording I could find. lt’s one of those songs you could listen to for-ever. I think l’ve got it now.”
I warm up his voice and, checking the changes that have developed during the break, work on and explain technical aspects needed through exercises. l’m impressed with his progress, the way he follows suggestions, there is an ease, a fluidity I hadn’t heard before in his singing. Then I place the sheet music of the song on the piano.
“ln case I forget the words,” he beams placing his copy on the music stand in front of him.
“OK?” I ask looking toward him. He nods.
The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face is a simple love song deceptively difficult to sing because of the demands it makes on the singer. lt requires the technical ability to enable the singer to express both tenderness and vulnerability without which the song remains pallid and saccharine tainted. John’s singing has both tenderness and vulnerability. Deeply moved I ask him to sing the song again. And again, his singing has all the shades of pathos I heard when he sang it the first title.
He fulfilled his bucket list, joined a choir and continued to sing the songs through which he could express the joys and sorrows of his heart. ln re-making song he re-made himself.
Names and circumstances have been changed to protect identity.