Monday 27 January 2014

Music is so good a thing, I wish all men would learn to sing’ – wise words from one of our great Elizabethan composers over 400 years ago.

Why is it so good a thing? We know of its health-giving effects - using the full stretch of the lungs, oxygenating the system, improving posture, stimulating the brain.

We also know of the life enhancing  effect of meeting with other people, enjoying the social interaction of life in a choir.

William Byrd grew up in an age where singing was part of your everyday entertainment. After dinner, the part books would be brought out and distributed amongst the guests or family members and each would sing their part in the madrigals or partsongs of the day. If you were lucky enough to have a lutenist or viol (predecessor to the violin)player among your company, they would just join in and all would sing and play together. We think of it now as a golden age of music and art and we have a wealth of material from that time still being sung today by choirs and groups across the world.

In our own day, we are experiencing a resurgence of interest in choirs and singing, through our TV channels. Choral singing is again becoming a national sport!

For the lucky few, having a beautiful voice and winning a talent show can be the fast-track doorway to untold fame and riches.

For many people, taking the time to exercise and train the voice can lead to a lifetime of pleasure singing in the many amateur, semi-professional and professional choirs that we have here in the UK.

The pleasures are many. There is the sheer delight of finding you have and can use a voice, feeling it grow and strengthen as you use it more and more.

There is the pleasure of setting a target, working for it and attaining it in performance.

And of course everyone loves applause and admiration.

It can be a welcome break from the working day. It’s not hard to find a city choir meeting at lunchtimes for hardworking business men to relax and enjoy.

We have all enjoyed listening to those lovely Welsh Male Voice Choirs, many of whose members spent their working day far underground, digging coal. What a joy and relief singing must have been to them.

But for me, the most rewarding thing about getting people together to sing is that it is a great ‘leveller’.

Looking along the lines of singers you will find Bank Managers next to bricklayers, surgeons and shop assistants, high flying sales people and busy stay-at-home mothers. There is no thought as to what religious or political beliefs you hold. Noone cares how big your bank balance is or whether you go home to a bed-sit or a mansion.

You are there, as a group to make beautiful music – and in doing so, you, and the audience sharing the musical experience, are uplifted, out of a world of friction and dissent to a world of pure beauty.

To me that is the main message behind the words of William Byrd, a man who knew well the social, religious and political difficulties of his day and yet survived them all  - due in no small part, I am sure , to the power of his music and getting people together to sing.


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