I am a rich woman


I have never been afraid to sing. Singing helps me feel brave, calm, focused, more like myself – at least the self who talks inside my head. I love to sing because my whole body vibrates while my mind cuts through all externals, to concentrate on a pinpoint of pleasure. And I’m often surprised by the sounds that come out. So are Helen and Jamie and Steve. I simply don’t quite know where they are coming from. It makes us laugh that it just jumps out like that.

In order to sing I breathe, deeply, and that makes me feel strong. Carried up on a stream of air the sound plays with my face, it rolls around on my tongue and I shape it with my lips. I narrow it and send it into my nose. The frequency of the sound climbs and slides, bends and curls. These shapes tell a story. They can be level, serene, unruffled. They can be turbulent and overblown. They rise in a question and fall in sympathy. That’s what Tony said, ‘it’s the shapes man, circles, squares, taxis…’

As a child I learned to push the noise out. There were competitions: who could open their mouth the widest; who could make the loudest sound. I think I was the running the competitions. As an adult I learned the power of control, of quiet. It took a lot of flying hours but I got there. Singing is a ‘doing subject’. The best singing I ever do is both soft and loud. I always like the loud bit. My daughter said, ‘I guess your fans like that’ because the desire to go completely off your chomp has actually gone out of fashion. That makes me laugh.

I sing with my hands and I feel the pulse, the patterns and the disruptions of the music in my spine. From there everything plunges and rolls, arms and legs akimbo. This is why I’ve never accompanied myself. Sometimes with Pearly I clap, the offbeat, little spurts of rat-a-tat-tat. Clapping together is a special kind of fun. But singing together is one of life’s great pleasures. With Anje and Barbara, in undercover areas in the steaming afternoon and the freezing morning I have been much comforted by harmony. We are sisters by virtue of shared life experience.

Singing is communication. I want to connect to people. Sometimes I need to speak first to make the song work better, but it is the singing that brings my story home. From my earliest memories songs have gone right inside me, lit up my imagination, lodged in my memory, resurfaced in my body memory awake and asleep. I am grateful for all of my learning, my friendships, my experience and my reflection; all these riches have come from singing.

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