Anyone can sing - it just takes courage!

The Blackmore Theatre, Exmouth

The Blackmore Theatre, Exmouth - Credit: Archant

Wendy Groves, actor and director with the Exmouth Players and musical coach writes for the Journal in this week's community education column.

Wendy Groves, of Exmouth Players

Wendy Groves, of Exmouth Players - Credit: Wendy Groves

My friend John Astley speaks about alternative understandings of Community and Education.

Community to me is my neighbourhood, and the ‘education’ word that resonates with me is enlightenment. With the people I coach, engagement, learning, understanding and self-development are the focus.

My message is to have courage, dare to dream and don’t let anyone tell you “you can’t...” whatever your age, occupation or background.

I have witnessed just what singing can accomplish, increased confidence and the first seeds of self-belief.

A sense of freedom and joy can follow, to say nothing of the ability to lose oneself in the expression of every emotion in performance, either as a soloist or part of a larger group.

Coupled with the truly uplifting and wonderful sensation of achievement and the satisfaction of pleasing an audience.

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Let’s not forget that there are physical benefits too like accurate posture and breathing correctly, as with Pilates or Yoga, and indeed acting. With singing can come surrender to a healing outpouring of emotion and feeling, a definite stimulus to our health and well-being.

We draw on our life experiences, but in the event escape from the hurly burly of our everyday lives. In a group we not only learn more about our neighbours but discover more about ourselves and in doing so enhance our ability to care and share, in other words a hub for collective experience and discovery.

So, how did I make my journey of engagement and enlightenment?

As a small child my world was filled with music emanating from an ancient wireless. Our choices were limited to the Light Programme and the Home Service, and whilst I embrace today’s multitudinous sources, I wonder if the limitations of the 1950/60s weren’t a blessing? We simply listened and absorbed whatever was broadcast, from popular standards and classical music to jazz and eventually rock ‘n’roll.

School, with our books of national folksongs, and church, with hymns and oratorios, added a further layer to my musical experience. My dad (a beautiful tenor) and my mum (who didn’t consider herself a singer) encouraged me to listen and learn, while we joined in.

This diversity was key to my journey of discovery.

Our home accommodated a piano and I was persuaded to take lessons, and because I loved to sing, I became expert enough to sing along and accompany my Dad.

Many homes contained a piano then and, if not, the neighbourhood pub and church provided a hub for community singing. My neighbourhood created the opportunity for people to argue and debate anything and everything. A culturally diverse place where I learnt a lot.

I was more interested in becoming a ballet dancer, and it wasn’t until my late teens that I tentatively sought singing lessons. Fortune has accompanied me in the choice of teachers, especially so in my 30s when I met with the most influential, Mark Raphael, whose exuberance and passion for his craft, as well as his belief in me, changed my awareness of what could be achieved.

Although I did not progress to become a celebrated performer, nonetheless a background of oratorio and opera, musical theatre, large and small band vocalist, as well as drama, has provided me with a breadth of knowledge and experience to impart Mark’s teachings to ‘students’, groups and choirs of various ages.

Like many I suffered the anxiety of being afraid to try, a fear of the unknown; I’m not good enough, and the phrase students often repeat to me “I was told I couldn’t sing”. I recall that Mark once said to me “everyone has the ability to sing – just think of the newborn baby whose first instinct is to cry or yell; the sound is completely free and natural”.

As we develop and become caught up in the whirligig of life, we need to challenge being inhibited, sometimes complacent, and worse, apathetic. Musical engagement can be the remedy