Tra la, um, la (I think)

Anyone who has sat within fifty seats of me in church will be aware — perhaps painfully aware — of the fact that I can’t sing. No, let me qualify that a little. My early training was in many ways excellent, considering the fearsome obstacles in its path. Thus, my phrasing is superb. My voice production is second to none, regularly rattling windows at a hundred paces. My dynamics are good if a little showy, and many a morning service has been disrupted by the rubato of the loud bloke in the middle row. I can usually manage, also, to get the breathing nearly right. The only problem I have is in actually hitting the right note.

There are two reasons for this. The first is that I can rarely remember which note I am supposed to sing next. Tunes go up or down in places where I would expect them to go down or up, and I have learned over the years never to attempt song without the actual dots in front of me to tell me, like a simplified street map, which way to go next. That, however, is only half the problem. The trouble is, you see, that even when the correct note is pointed out to me, I am shooting with a shotgun rather than a rifle. I aim confidently in the appropriate direction, and succeed only in peppering the target with a hail of harmonics. ‘Pick your note’, said Victor Borge once as he sat on the keyboard, ‘It’s in there somewhere.’

Of course, from my side of the noise it sounds wonderful. Perhaps I ought to add a third defect to the list above; the fact that, while intellectually I am aware that sensitive musicians are moaning and fainting all around me, emotionally l am sure that my voice is an inspiration to all who hear it. I am abetted in this by the surprisingly large percentage of the population whose perception of the right note is accurate only to a couple of semitones. For myself, when another singer slips up, I wince and grind my teeth; only my own imperfections are inaudible to me. But there exist people who, standing next to me and singing with perfect accuracy, turn to me afterwards and say what a pleasure it has been to follow my lead. I know of no cure for this; one can only pity.

There is a poem, a touching poem, which sums up most poignantly the relationship between my perception of music and my production of it. It goes as follows:

Behold the happy moron;
He doesn’t give a damn.
I wish I were a moron.
My God! Perhaps I am.