A guest blog from our new team member, #maninthehat Mark James
Music has to be perfect right? Every note has to be right, every beat on time and every word sung on pitch, right?
We are starting to lose sight of what music is and what is has been for thousands of years. The more technical and complicated we make the processes of music the more pressure we put on ourselves to achieve the unachievable. Why? Because big business is taking all that is pure and commercialising it. So it is time to take back ownership of what is rightfully ours!
As a singing teacher and a choir master I have lost count of the times that people have said to me they would love to be part of group singing but they just can’t sing. Each time I say the same thing to them, “yes you can!”
Have you ever wondered why in pubs that have been opened for decades, there is an old out of tune piano sitting in the corner? How about how if you sing a song from the 40’s, 50’s or even 60’s people that grew up to that music will still remember the words and not just hum along with the tune, unlike today when you may or may not remember certain parts of the song or chorus?
The reason is that up to not even 50 years ago music was not about commercial success and perfection, it was a way of people getting together and having fun. Don’t believe me? OK, well which of these terms is correct? We work music, We play music? Music is played and not worked because is something that should bring joy.
During times of war soldiers have faced truly unimaginable hardships in living conditions and personal grief. There were very few home comforts and even fewer away comforts. So how did they boost morale at the end of a day? Everyone sang together. Everyone knew the words to Mademoiselle from Armentières (Parlez Vous) and ‘It’s A Long Way To Tipperary’ because that is what they sang together. It reminded them that there was more to life that bombs and bullets, that they were fighting for more than just a piece of land and that life was going to be worth living when they got home. Of course, those at home had their own songs like “Keep The Home Fire Burning” to keep their pride and faith intact. Although in danger now, their loved ones would come home.
The piano in the pub was not just a piece of furniture but was used regularly. Sounds of “Roll Out the Barrel” would be sung at full volume on a Saturday night by the locals and as the night went on the music would get louder and the words a bit more slurred, but everyone loved it.
Music was a means to build communities and bring a smile to the faces of everyone that got involved. It was not over criticised or judged – it was just fun!
So what has happened to change this? How have we lost the ability to have fun with music? The reason that music has changed so much is down to the money that it now brings with it. Music has become a business and is being claimed as such by those that make the money out of it. Talent shows like the X-Factor have taken the enjoyment of music and made it about having to be the best, vilifying those that are not perfect. In a society where everyone worries about how they look, and whether their social media shows off the best of them, we have now lost the ability to let down our guard. For us to truly enjoy being a part of music we have to feel free and relaxed.
When I talk to my students I always tell them that a singer’s worst nightmare is tension; the more we worry the more we tense and the less we can do with our voices. I have seen so many excellent voices that have been a victim to low confidence and lack of self-belief.
When I started singing professionally I would get very very stressed before my gigs, I would work myself up so much that when I was singing I would always over-critique myself even as I was singing! This led me to not enjoying the gig and even to giving a bad performance. Even when I was being told by the audience they enjoyed it I wouldn’t believe them, and would point out everything that was wrong. It was at the end of one of these gigs when I came off stage and started saying to my dad and my brother about how this went wrong and I didn’t hit that note, my brother turned to me and said “Well give it up then.” I admit this took me by surprise!
“If you don’t enjoy it, whats the point?” It was a fair comment but as he is my brother I didn’t want to tell him he was right. 😅 “Do you know the best I have ever seen you sing?” he asked. “It was when you sang for fun a few weeks ago. You were just all laughing and enjoying yourselves and that made the audience enjoy it too.” Again – he is my brother and therefore I cannot admit that he was right, even though he was… But it did make me change my attitude towards the work that I do now. If I don’t enjoy it neither will anyone else.
Now, not everyone is going to work in a professional environment and if you do want to make money out of music then you are always going to have to work on your musical skills, but for everyone who doesn’t want to make it a career, no one – including yourself – should stop you from enjoying getting involved with music.
At my music school, all my teachers know that if someone comes in for a lesson on, for example, guitar – even if they’re just learning three chords – if this is the best time of their week, if they practise and love just trying to create those chords, not matter how many times they don’t get it NO ONE has the right to tell them to give up or that they are not good enough.
So the same goes for everyone else; if you love music and want to get involved, what can you do? Music groups are a great start – you have safety in numbers to start with and more than likely there will be other people there who are at your level too. It goes back to the roots of what music was for generations: a way of bringing people together, having fun and even just escaping from the real world for a few hours.
My school’s motto is ‘music for everyone’. All you have to do is find the right fit for you. And believe me, no matter what, there will always be a fit for you somewhere.
Mark ‘ManInTheHat’ James
Owner and Singing Teacher