The other night I went along to join some friends who sing in a little choir. They had relaxed the membership rules for their last meeting of the year, a time for Christmas carols and mulled wine. Snow had fallen in London for the first time this winter, and it felt very Christmassy. I haven’t sung in a choir since I was about twelve, but I sing quite a lot around the house, so I thought I could have a go at the alto part.
After about two carols my throat was starting to hurt. I had that disconcerting sensation that players of orchestral instruments must have when they first play in an orchestra: ‘Where’s my sound gone?’ Only by forcing myself to sing much louder than usual could I hear my own voice. When I couldn’t hear it, I couldn’t tell if I was singing in tune with those around me. Twenty minutes later I felt as if I had a full-blown throat infection coming on. By the time we stopped for mince pies, my speaking voice seemed to have dropped an octave, and by the end of the evening I could hardly croak ‘Merry Christmas’ to my companions as we drifted out into the night.
Clearly my voice projection was all wrong. I didn’t know how to ‘support’ from the diaphragm, even though I tried to copy the posture of those around me. And yet, when I sing at home, I feel no strain on my voice at all. My hoarseness was clearly caused by trying to sing loudly, with no technical know-how, throughout a whole evening. It was a sobering experience. And it was instructive to feel like a beginner again – “possibly”, as Alan Bennett would say.