Wednesday 30th May 2012
The music above in that rather blurry photo is what was giving me the heeby jeebies this evening at our choir rehearsal. I play the piano for our casual women’s choir. It’s run by my colleague Gill, and there are usually between ten and fifteen mums, teachers, teaching assistants, grannies and friends of the school who turn up to sing. Some read music, some are trained singers, but most just enjoy singing and most are just learning as they go along. We are a happy bunch of singing amateurs.
We sing showtunes and whatever else we feel like; our repertoire includes Fields of Gold, Feed the Birds and various other well known tunes… Originally I went along to sing, but in week two, I suggested a song that I fancied singing.
"Fine, we can sing it," she said, "But you’ll have to play the piano, as my sightreading is not up to it."
"Ok!" I said recklessly and sat myself down at the upright, heart in my mouth, wondering what I’d just agreed to.
Three years later I am the regular accompanist, playing every week come hell or high water, (or I was until I was ill in November). There were times at the beginning when playing for choir was hell. When I was doing my teacher training, I was so tired in the evenings and I had so much work to do after a full day of teaching and then looking after kids that the thought of choir made me feel sick. But I couldn’t let my choir friends down, so I went every week. I pretty much hated it then.
And then when I was a brand new teacher, working full-time I still went each week. I can’t say that I really, really enjoyed it. I was just too tired. But during the falling apart of my marriage and the painful parts of that, it was a rhythm to hang onto, a group of people who came together to simply enjoy an hour of singing. I liked being a part of something and playing. I liked being necessary to the creation of something lovely.
Initially, I remember I was a ball of nerves playing the piano in front of parents and colleagues. I have always hated performing at the piano. I worried intensely all Wednesday, every Wednesday that I wouldn’t remember how to play the various accompaniments. I would sit at the piano stool worrying that everyone thought I was useless. And then I would worry that Gill thought I was useless. And I thought I was pretty useless. Stupid really.
It took years before I realised that actually, if I didn’t play the piano, choir was much less fun for everybody. They needed me to play. If I wasn’t there, if I didn’t play, even taking into account the wrong notes and misreading of music, the multiple times I accidentally threw my music on the floor instead of turning a page, or turned two pages and played the wrong bit, or forgetting to repeat, or playing in the wrong key, or daydreaming and starting in the wrong place, it wasn’t the same. Despite all of my painfully obvious foibles, I was the pianist. I am the pianist.
And it’s a funny thing really. I’ve grown into the role.
Nowadays, Gill just hands me music. Usually I just play, and it’s fine. Most of what we sing doesn’t have anything too tremendously challenging as an accompaniment. But sometimes I open it and groan, like today, when I realise it’s going to be me thrashing up and down a keyboard hopefully hitting some of the notes in at least some of the right places.
I’m not an awful pianist, and my sightreading is quite good these days, through necessity, but I’m not a professional musician, I’m just a jobbing joanna player. But I have grown a thicker skin and lost my silly, slightly precious attitude to performing. I’m there as part of the team. I don’t care if I get something wrong, and I don’t have kittens any more over playing the introduction to a song in D flat major and forgetting a flat. It’s not the end of the world if I have to start again, and nobody actually cares if I don’t get everything right. I think, in fact, that a willingness to be exposed in one’s fallibility can be an encouraging thing for others.
Starting to play for choir again in the last few weeks has been really important to me. I didn’t anticipate that at all. I thought it would be harder than it is proving. In fact it is a barometer for my ability to cope with stress and to manage my own stamina, my energy levels. Tonight I played one song that I knew, and 4 that I had never seen before. A year or two ago, that would have sent my stress levels through the roof and I wouldn’t have enjoyed my evening. Tonight I had a good old go at whatever was put in front of me, I played it mostly pretty accurately. And on the occasions where my fingers just mysteriously hit any old note at all, I stifled my giggles and carried on. I only threw the music on the floor once, and I think I didn’t forget anything important at all this evening. No disasters. Oh, apart from my hysterics over six sharps of course, but well, that’s understandable isn’t it?
There are definite signs that I’m returning to my old strength, and I think my ability not to completely freak out over an unexpected modulation is one of them. Having said that, if you could somehow persuade my dear friends in the choir that this Abba medley is shite to play on the piano, I’d be tremendously grateful. Ta.