Unlike any genre of music I have come to realise that without a doubt Jazz is most likely my favourite. In that past few months I have become a heck of a lot more determined to follow my pursuits in singing. Before now I had been a stroppy teenager about the whole business. When told I should “use my voice” (a line that still makes me shudder with anxiety and nausea) I would turn into a bear with a sore head and come up with a million excuses as to why I couldn’t, and wouldn’t do it.
So why the change?
Part of the reason why I didn’t want to do it stemmed from the fact that really I didn’t like performing that much…strike that…AT ALL. There are times in everyone’s lives when we want to be looked at, I don’t think anyone can deny that. But the thought of standing there in front of a room full of people and singing filled me with dread…it still does, but something has changed.
Lured by the promise of fish and chips and wonderful music I started attending a jazz club in my hometown. Each week I attended and saw some incredible musicians playing and what struck me as the most wonderful thing was that there was seemingly no hierarchy between the musicians, young or old, experienced or fledgeling anyone was welcome to play…and then I was asked to sing…Oh gosh!
Now the first time was horrendous, I shook uncontrollably, I stuttered through the verses, the middle eight was completely lost to mumbling and afterwards I burst into tears…Not a great start but after this trauma I was certain that I would overcome this set back.
I needed to address the fears I had of being looked at by people. Even as a child singing with the Southend Girls Choir, where all the others faced the front I would stand at a right angle so as to not look the audience in the eye. I wanted to find the root of the problem and I think I have traced it back to the precise moment when I started being scared of a sea of faces expectantly waiting for a performance.
I must have been eight, I was in the Brownies and we were doing our annual talent show for the parents. I was I think playing a short piece on my flute, my sister was doing a dance to The Corr’s ballad Runaway. I remember watching her float across the stage in a beautiful white skirt and top, she looked like a princess and I only wished that I could have that grace that she has. There is a school photo that sums this dynamic up perfectly, its one of my dad’s keyrings so if you see it I’m sure you’ll agree. As Lauren sits behind me her hair is expertly french plaited, her uniform is impeccable, she smiles and honestly she should be wearing a halo and some wings. That day I seemed to be chanelling the Dickensian urchin look. My plaits are two knotted and wild, my shirt is askew and I have two teeth missing. I’m sure they would have been better off getting a stunt child to sit in for me because I look pretty terrifying. But back to the Brownies…
After Lauren finished it was my turn. Flute under one arm, music under the other I took to the stage confident that I would do well.
The music stand fell over and the first titter from the audience came. It was picked up and a reassuring glace from Brown Owl let me know I was going to be OK.
My score fell off the stand, this time the laughter was a bit louder. I think they thought I was performing a Chaplin-esque routine.
Each time I picked up a sheet another would fall off the stand increasing the hilarity and tragedy with every moment. Until I finally managed to get it all together and perform a shaky tune after which everyone smiled and applauded politely and I thought I cracked it. Until all the music fell of the stand again and thus laughter ensued.
I’m sure that all of this only took place in just a few minutes of my life, but it feels as though it lasted for hours and I’m sure the laughter probably wasn’t that loud but it feels as though it could have been fog horns. Having the disposition of a nervy, over sensitive child this situation had a lasting effect.
That’s where I pin the fear too at the moment because that is the one most clear to me. And from then on singing by myself was a fear and soemthing I dreaded. The thought of singing in front of those who not only loved jazz but knew a lot about it was terrifying. But as soon as I stepped up to the bet I felt that in that room no one was wishing my music would fall off the stand again. The band who were used to playing solo wanted a singer for those few songs and that each and every person roots for one another.
This feeling of unity is one that I am sorry to say I have not truly witnessed with other genres. People have tended to be a bit more guarded about who they play with and having someone just turn up in the middle of a set to sing a song. So I wish to say thank you to all those who have helped me thus far and to those who I will meet in the future.