I sang in my junior school choir at the age of nine. There were four criteria for selection: a reasonable voice, good behaviour, the ability to learn the words and regular attendance. I managed three out of four and my poor voice hid behind a happy smile. The choir was large so I got away with it but that was the end of my musical career.
It amazes me what a good ear the world has. Almost everyone I know sings or plays an instrument. Doing neither, I feel like an outcast, someone with a missing gene. My parents could sing, not brilliantly, but a song was recognisable, they could both hold a note. My brother sang well. How did I miss out?
It was when I reached senior school that I realised the extent of my misfortune. I remember the dreadful embarrassment I suffered when we were occasionally required to sing alone. There was no pleasure in it. I would rather have given a speech in assembly, written a ten-page essay or run a mile. Anything rather than sing.
What is enjoyable entertainment to others can be a nightmare to me. The word ‘karaoke’ makes me go cold. No amount of alcohol, consumed before, during or afterwards, can improve the experience. Miming is not an option and although everyone says it doesn’t matter how well anyone sings as it’s just ‘a bit of fun’, it matters to me. I’ve heard and cringed at dreadful performances – I realise there are a few others in the world who are unmusical – and don’t want to be one of them.
To compound my problems, I married someone who has an even worse voice. He cannot tell when he is out of tune which, in a way, is fortunate for him. I can hear when I sing badly. Our poor kids were really damned before they opened their mouths. Our youngest son has inherited all our musical talent; his voice is worse than either of ours. He has married the musical daughter of an opera singer and a professional clarinettist. His mother-in-law believes that anyone can sing if they find their pitch. Well, she believed it until she met my son. She is working on him. So far, without success.
I do sing occasionally with the grandchildren. I can manage ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star’ when no-one else is about. George, at three, even enjoys it. However, once the grandchildren reach an age when they can tell me to shut up, they usually do.
It’s not that I want to sing brilliantly. Just adequately would do. I’d also love to play an instrument but my mother protected me from such torture. The thrill of playing Scott Joplin on the piano or blasting out a melody on the saxophone will never be mine. I suppose I would always have been out of tune.
But in spite of my failings, there is something I can provide to the world of music; something that all musicians need when they perform. They need an audience. I am consistently good at appreciating others, applauding and cheering. Where would concerts be without folk who enjoy music and are there to listen? I went to the Proms last week – no embarrassment, just pleasure. That is my ongoing contribution to the musical world.