Finding my voice (part 1)

One aspect of my music which has changed the most over the years is my singing ability and style. This blog explores my vocal journey and the influences that have had an effect on my style.

Choirboy

As I've mentioned in previous blogs, after a couple of situations where I showed that I had some talent, I began to sing regularly at the age of 8 in the local children's choir. Songs included classic hymns like 'All Things Bright And Beautiful', 'Make Me A Channel Of Your Peace', 'There Is A Green Hill Far Away', and 'Morning Has Broken'.

During my time in the choir I went on a couple of Summer workshops at Bristol cathedral; achieved my Royal School Of Church Music (RSCM) 'Dean's' award, now known as the 'Bronze' award; and became 'Head Boy', receiving a fancy medal on a green ribbon.

At the age of 12, I moved up into the adult choir, where I remained until the age of 16 before I decided I didn't want to be a regular part of the choir anymore. I occasionally come back for the Christmas and Easter services to help with the tenor part, since the only regular tenor they have is dad (and we all know what his singing ability is like).

Folk Music, Barbershop, and School Choirs

Starting secondary school meant the opportunity for regular singing lessons. It was during these that I made the biggest developments in my vocal ability with the help of the amazing Tim Parker. For the first few years, before my voice began to break, I would learn folk songs from a little purple book, which I cannot now remember the name of. I learned songs such as 'Early One Morning', 'John Riley', 'The Cuckoo', and 'No, John, No!'. I also sang 'Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo' from Cinderella for my Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) grade 4 exam.

Around the same time, myself and a few friends decided to form a barbershop quartet (straw boaters, dickie ties, and all), singing in school concerts and at village fairs. Songs included 'In The Good Old Summer Time', 'Goodnight Ladies', 'Mr Sandman', and 'Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight'.

Tim Parker had also started up a school choir which, again, would perform in school concerts, sometimes sharing the stage with the barbershop quartet, as it was from this choir that we formed the barbershop quartet in the first place. Songs sung here were more secular in nature, like Yazoo's 'Only You' and Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody'.

Speaking of which, I'd begun to get bored with the folk music and was having such a fun time singing pop songs, I started singing pop music in my lessons instead (much to dad's dismay). This included songs like Queen's 'Who Wants To Live Forever', their version of 'Crazy Little Thing Called Love' and Keane's 'Somewhere Only We Know', 'Bedshaped', and 'She Has No Time'.

Cantilena and Soul

Having had lessons with Tim for a few years and now having an almost completely broken voice, I'm auditioned into Cantilena, the county's senior choir for secondary school kids from the local schools. At the time, Tim ran it with the amazing Christabel who sadly passed away 10 years ago. I remember being so surprised and happy to see her there as she was my fantastic clarinet teacher in primary school and I hadn't seen her in 3 years.

I was a member of Cantilena for 4 years and sang a huge variety of songs, attending summer schools like Bryanston; entering competitions at Bath city hall, and touring in Belgium. Repertoire included: Rutter's version of 'All Things Bright and Beautiful', Puccini's 'Nessun Dorma', Anders Edenroth's 'Chili Con Carne' (a favourite that reappeared a few times over the years), and spiritual and folk songs like Mátyás Seiber’s 'Three Hungarian Folk Songs', 'Go Down Moses', 'Shenandoah', and 'Black Is The Colour (Of My True Love's Hair)'. There are so many more I could list but it would go on forever. Oh yes, another big event to note here: I met my wife, who joined the choir a year before I left. Quite important that.

In my mid-teens, I was listening to a lot of soul and funk music. I also gained a new sense of self-confidence, no longer a quiet and shy boy. This was probably noticeable due to the fact that I would randomly burst into song around school, singing loudly songs like James Brown's 'Papa's Got A Brand New Bag' and 'I Got You (I Feel Good)', and Marvin Gaye's 'I Heard It Through The Grapevine', much to the embarrassment of my friends. I was soon a member of the school's soul band, singing a few numbers and playing tenor sax on others. This led to one of the best times of my life.... other than getting married of course!

The Blues Brothers

The school had put on a number of stage performances over the years but it had taken me a while to pluck up the courage to take part in one. In my final year of GCSEs, I was cast in Shakespeare's 'Much Ado About Nothing'. I'm known for being someone who likes to do impressions and make silly noises so there I was, cast as 'Spanish Soldier 2' with a few lines (and a terrible spanish accent) and the freedom to do random sounds at any point while I was on-stage, which was for the whole second half. The moment that sticks out the most is when the group of Spaniards are all told to leave and instead of turning tail, we reverse with me making 'beep... beep... beep... beep' noises. Simple, stupid stuff.

It came as a bit of a surprise then when the following year, in my first year of sixth form, I am approached by both the head of drama (also my head of year), and the head of music, with an idea of putting on a stage production of Blues Brothers and me playing Jake Blues. To be honest, most of the lead parts were given to members of the soul band but it was still an amazing honour to be chosen for the role.

As a child, I loved watching Blues Brothers and we had a cassette tape of the soundtrack which was played regularly in the car. To be actually playing Jake Blues was amazing. Tiring but amazing. Learning dance routines (or attempting to), memorising practically half the script, and keeping an American accent going for the whole 3 hours each night was difficult but it was all great fun.

The performance ran for a week and for the next few months afterwards, the soul band became the 'Blues Brothers Band' where we'd dress up and perform all the songs on a tour of the Chew Valley. For the next year, I had teachers coming up to me saying 'I never knew you were so talented'. A backhanded compliment but I'll take it!

I realise I've nattered on for a while and we've not even finished school yet so part 2 will cover university and beyond. Have a good week! Back to blog page

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© 2020 Ed Brown