Claire Gardner: Wrong notes fails to deter mums

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UNTIL recently, I hadn’t sung since I was a giggling schoolgirl in assembly.

Of course, having kids has taken me on a magical musical journey and I now know the words to almost every sodding nursery rhyme there ever was. But gaily belting out “Wind the bobbin up” in a fusty church hall with a gaggle of equally pained-looking mothers and snotty kids doesn’t really count.

No, what I mean is standing up straight, shoulders back, holding a book of songs and singing along with a proper piano player and a conductor to keep us in time. So, when a friend of mine suggested that I try out at a local singing group, I jumped at the chance.

Which is why, two weeks ago, some friends and I found ourselves in a room with a group of rather professional-looking singers, clutching the score to Handel’s Messiah.

Now, although it was through pals that I had heard about this musical group, the singing seed had been sown in my mind back in 2007 when nerdy choirmaster Gareth Malone burst on to our screens in the reality television series The Choir. This, and subsequent singing programmes, as well as the launch of Malone’s hugely successful Military Wives’ Choir, had captured not just my attention, but struck a chord with many middle-aged singers who have not sung since school.

The National Association of Choirs recently reported a 10 per cent increase in members, with thousands signing up in the past two years to bring its current total to 27,000.

The reason for this growth they say is due to popular “choir” programmes inspiring secret singers to come out of the closet and sign up to have a go. And it was watching ordinary folk enjoying a good sing-along on the television that made me think: “I could do that.”

So, back to Handel, the singing group and the conductor – North Berwick’s answer to Mr Malone. Now, our Gareth, I’m sure, would have been twirling one of his garish bow ties with delight at the sight of yet another new face in his flock. However, our conductor eyed me with the weary scepticism of someone who had recently seen an unwelcome influx of frazzled looking mothers trying to find some “me time” by joining a “singing sisterhood”.

It probably didn’t help that myself and two neighbours were giggling like schoolgirls in the back row and waving to friends and gossiping and rummaging in our handbags for nothing in particular. But after that, we got to the actual singing bit and in an instant I was transported back to when I was a 16-year-old schoolgirl in assembly, just with a few more wrinkles and a larger girth.

How uplifting it was to be standing up straight, shoulders back, singing with a group of people and bellowing out “For unto us a child is born” and other lines from the music score. True, my voice wasn’t as versatile as it used to be. Years of heavy smoking, drinking and gossiping have taken their toll on my vocal cords and I struggled to reach some of the top notes, but I think I got away with it.

After the rehearsal we were buzzed up and, inspired by our evening at the singing society, myself and my neighbours started to act out our lives as if in some dramatic opera. “Your washing will never dry,” sung one as I was pegging out pants on the line the next day.

“What are you haaaaving for dinner,” inquired another hitting a top “C” as we struggled into our respective homes with heavy shopping bags.

So it continued – our lives in song. It was such great fun and we began to look forward to the following week’s practice and the gathering of our new singing society. Then the e-mail came. The conductor, it seemed, had not been amused by our lack of professionalism.

Unlike the enthusiastic TV choirmaster Mr Malone, who always seemed delighted for anyone to turn up as long as they were regular and dedicated, our man wanted talent. And he did not want us.

The e-mail stated that a sudden influx of newcomers had caused “great confusion,” and that unless singers could read music, he did not even want them to come and audition for his choir. So, that was that. Kicked out of the choir before we had really joined.

Fair play really. He obviously has grand plans for his singers that do not include a bunch of mums trying to recapture their youths.

So, now we are on the hunt for a new choir, but this time one without any standards.

If all else fails, I’ve always got an old CD of children’s nursery rhymes to sing along to. I’ll just remember to stand up straight.