Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Singing and Writing

A few years ago, I started taking singing lessons from a very talented and gentle teacher named Tracy Fehr. I'm not one of those people who are told, "Oh you have such a beautiful voice, you should really take up singing..." Quite the opposite. Well, maybe not quite the opposite. No one ever told me my voice was bad, but I assumed it was. Although I knew I had a good ear for music, I grew up in a household where the family refrain was "The Greenslades can't sing." I'm not sure where this came from. Both my grandfather and my father loved music. Both could carry a tune and were partial to opera. My father had an enormous collection of CDs and albums; it was an obsession for him, almost as all-consuming as his obsession with collecting books. Sunday mornings our house reverberated with the sounds of Mozart's Horn Concertos or Beethoven or Schubert, his favourites. My mother would sometimes turn it down a bit, saying, "I can't hear myself think." At the time, his music habit was on par in my mind with his cigar-smoking habit, one of the annoying things my father did that I couldn't wait to escape.

When my grandfather died, I inherited many of his record albums. Alone in my own apartment, my favourites became Mozart's piano concertos, music I listen to now to help drop me almost automatically into the world of my writing. I think my father would have made a fine tenor or baritone in a church choir, something he would have loved. And I've discovered, with Tracy's help, that I have a serviceable alto voice. My favourite singing is when I have the harmony part with my soprano friend, Heather. We both like old, sad songs, full of round "o" words like home, road and gone and "ah" sounds like night, wild and mine. These are good, open words to sing.

Singing has led me to pay attention to the beauty of plain, serviceable nouns and verbs in writing. When I'm editing, I go through my writing and strike out extraneous adjectives, articles and prepositions. Plain words are evocative. Moon, ripple, rise, pool. I don't want to fancy them up. I like the rhythm of them in my sentences. 

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