When my mother taught me to sing she gave me a headful of songs. She passed me down a dozen or so of her favourites, each one learned by singing and repeating back. I remember lying in our campervan carefully receiving verse and chorus and committing it to memory.
‘…If I had the riches/Of the East or West Indies/If I had the Gold of the African shore./If I could gain thousands/I’d lie on your bosom./You’d be my greenwood laddie/The boy I’d adore…’
At first I was only able to follow her, joining in and being carried along by the strength of her contralto. And each week we’d amuse the denizens of the folk club with a new outrageous song. My mother was anxious that the rest of the group shouldn’t feel the need to censor themselves in their choice of songs on my (eight year old) account and so she devised that we should sing at least one rude song each week, just to make them comfortable. So dutifully, I learned to reel off ‘Seven Drunken Nights’, ‘Maids When You’re Young’, ‘Firelock Stile’ etc. with great enthusiasm.
‘So come all young men, come listen awhile,/I’ll tell you what happened at Firelock Stile,/When a stump of a nail catched hold of her clothes/She fell down, and did expose…’
As I grew older I realised the importance of listening to the voices around you and learned to find the harmonies, those sweet places to lay down a variation on the lead voice and add texture and an extra depth the body of the sound. And so I learned to harmonise with my mum, practising in our living room by holding hands and sending our voices up together, interweaving and entwining around the pattern of a careworn song.
‘…So far doe-ray-me/Sing to me loudly,/Serenade me,/Mess with the melody./Light and shade/All my eyes can see…’
Since leaving home I don’t sing with my mother so often, but when I do I’m always heartened by the ease with which our voices slide together, as I lean in to add my complement to her song; a comfortable return to a long tradition.
Yet, as is the way of things, new traditions spring up only a step or two away from the older root and now I find myself singing more and more with my partner. It’s a natural but entirely different fit as I place my lower voice beneath hers to give support and add weight to our sound. And while we don’t perform as a duo, we are often singing our way through the world, passing the time as we walk home or out to meet our friends.
It occurs to me that the union of voices is a symbolic representation of the meeting of our spirits, an ephemeral emblem of the ways in which we complement each other in our personalities, and a deeply personal connection.
This is possibly a source of our strength as a community choir. Although we rehearse in a friendly and supportive environment, to add your voice to the greater sound is to give something of yourself. Yet we give and receive in equal measure, as we accept the trust of the women who sit around us, hearing their voices and giving our response. Is it any wonder that the bonds we build are strong ones?
– Amo Rex, Oct 2015
Songbirds Choir meets at 7.30 every Wednesday at City United Reform Church, Windsor Place, Cardiff.