Sunday, 14 November 2010


Imagine you are one of 25 men, not necessarily in the first flush of youth, but none-the-less content to spend a considerable part of every Wednesday evening singing just two notes with these lyrics.... ‘jingle-tingle, jingle-tingle, jingle-tingle, jingle-tingle, jingle-tingle, jingle-tingle’ and so on and so on ad nauseam.

If you are not one of these lucky fellows, you may not appreciate just how much you are missing on a Wednesday evening. If you will permit me to mention the word ‘Christmas’ at this stage, I will report that this ‘jingle-tingle’ sound could be heard for several weeks here in our village, and it looks as though it will last throughout the festive season. At rehearsal, while the men are ‘jingle-tingling’, we ladies are whizzing through the tune at some speed...any faster and our rendition of ‘Sleigh Ride’ could gain us entry onto the Cresta Run. You see, our choir is in intensive rehearsal at this time of year, and when I say ‘intensive’ I am not mincing my words.

Last week, for example, after two solid hours of rehearsal, we all emerged from our Wednesday night session in a state of thrilled exhaustion. Anyone who has ever sung in a choir will be able to relate to this particular form of knackerment...the throat is shattered, the eyes aching, the ears ringing, the mind numb, and yet you are able to dance all the way home with a wealth of festive ditties swilling about your brain. Once safely installed in the bosom of one’s family, you irritate the blazes out of them by bursting into spontaneous song at every opportunity for the rest of the night.

We had started with Berlioz. You will remember that in this neck of the woods, we have a Doric twang to our accents. Well, our Director is having none of that. We were trying to sing ‘tender care.’

‘Stop, stop...accents ladies and gents...there will be nae ‘tendurr caiurr’...pretend you’re a posh English person and sing ‘tendaaaah caaaah.’ We put on our poshest accents. You’d never have known.

Then it was a bit of Handel’s ‘Messiah’. That man...did he ever hear of breathing? I began to think I was having a panic attack as I and my fellow sops hammered out several lines of ever-so-slightly different groups of demi-semi-quavers...I’m sure you know the bit....’fooooor unto us a child is bo-ho-ho-ho, ho-ho-ho-ho, ho-ho-ho-ho, ho-ho-ho-ho/ho-ho-ho-ho, ho-ho-ho-ho-, ho-ho-ho-ho, ho-ho-ho-ho/ (ditto for two more bars)...orn’ (enormous and desperate breath). It’s a serious workout for the diaphragm, but if you make it all the way, the sense of achievement is second to none.

Soon the Doric twang was threatening once again. ‘Ye canna sing ‘Peace on Eeeearrrth’ like a bunch of old farmers from the Mearns....get your posh voice out again and stretch out the ‘Peace’...I want ‘Peeeeas on Aaaaahhhth.’

We all obliged. A startling change. We could all have been born in the Home Counties, nae probs.

And now we were wrestling with Poulenc. If you listen to someone singing ‘Quem Vidistis’ you will realize it is a hauntingly beautiful piece, but you will have little notion as to just how tricky it is. Full attention is absolutely necessary or the whole thing collapses into a Latin nightmare. As for the tenors, well, they have a most awkward ziggy-zaggy bit in the middle for which, if they get it right, they should be awarded a prize of some kind.

I have written about singing before, and mentioned my belief that a ‘good sing’ is one of the best tonics a human being can experience. Perhaps this sense of choral-induced well-being is the reason so many people up and down this land are so dedicated to choirs. After all, singing in a choir takes quite a chunk of time out of one’s week. And it’s no picnic...deep concentration is required, not to mention a reasonable voice, a certain musical ability and very good behaviour. But despite these obstacles, I am delighted to find so many wonderful singers scattered throughout the Scottish population. In these days of ‘X-factor’ and ‘Britain’s Got Talent’, one might be forgiven for despairing at some, not all, of the hopefuls who enter these competitions. Frankly, most choir members could give those contestants a good run for their money, but we remain quite content to stick to the local choir rather than seek the glam and glitz of the Big Time.

And here, of course, I must mention the extraordinary tale of Susan Boyle. A member of a local choir in the Borders, she decided to take things a little further and prove that normal people know how to sing perfectly well. Her performance was quite the most refreshing thing in the media last year, and quickly became a ‘You Tube’ sensation. Her album sold over 10 million copies and became the fastest-selling global debut record of all time. And now, her latest Christmas-themed album is at the top of the UK album chart. It is altogether a most pleasing story, but to all those who happen to sing in a choir, it is especially thrilling in a sort of ‘told you so’ kind of way.

You just never know where a bit of ‘jingle-tingling’ in the village hall might lead.


  1. I completely agree with you about the benefits of singing, especially in a group (as would Gareth Malone). I often think that the older generation(s) are far more attuned to the power of real singing than the X Factor generation. I remember one of the first New Year's Eves I experienced in Scotland (18 years ago nearly), I was amazed and delighted that everyone sat around singing, both solos and also together. I was even more amazed, and rather less delighted, to be asked to sing myself! I had no party piece and could only remember "I had a mule and her name was Sal" but this went down okay.

  2. I too am in a local community choir where we are admonished to get rid of the ars on the end of words. And of course since we are all from the southern USA we have a bit of southern twang that is simply not allowed! But such fun and this year we are going to visit some elderly folks in their homes who can't get out to our concert . They will be so happy to have company they won't care about those "r" sounds.

  3. Hope you don't get fed up with the festive songs before the festive season is properly here. I used to love singing, but unfortunately cannot manage to get the breath - or the right sound - these days. But I sing along at church in my head or under my breath!

  4. I especially like the bit "irritating the blazes out of your family"...doing a run through of our full repertoire is a great way to take your mind off the ironing. This drives my family absolutely crazy as they think I've gone mad, but bring on the Concert on 11th Dec and we'll show 'em!

  5. Christine, game for a song?
    Pam, never mind how you sing them, be very careful how you SAY your 'r's...enjoy it.
    Freda, I'm sure singing is good for everyone, even if they think they can't do it...what else are showers for?
    Susan,I'm sure it's good for one's family to think you are mad from time to least it reasures them you are less mad the rest of the time.