Category Archives: singing

Gathering round the fire

This year I’ve had the real pleasure of uniting some of my deepest interests – music, poetry and my humanist outlook on life – to write some songs for the British Humanist Association.

Here’s a song we’ve recorded recently – it’s now released on itunes and all proceeds go to the British Humanist Association, with some of the money going to support the BHA choir to record more music for humanist celebrations.

Flame and friendship, gifts and giving
Defying the winter’s ire
An instinct known to all the living
Gathering round the fire

May your fireside be warm and the people you hold dear be close at hand either in the real world or in this mad and wonderful online network!


An unexpected compliment…

I wrote a few months ago about slowly starting to challenge the self-perception that I’m not a good dancer. And about working through the frustration of learning new skills, particularly in areas that don’t come to me as naturally as others.

At an early stage of learning tango I was getting frustrated at the way my body was slow to respond to the music, when I knew so clearly how I wanted to respond musically. I also was very conscious of how slowly I was learning the new skills, compared to others who seemed to pick them up much more quickly. It added up to a deep need to show my teacher and dancing partners that I wasn’t slow at learning everything or insensitive to the music.

Although most of my life I’ve seen myself as a weak dancer, being a good singer is definitely part of my self-image. Over time I’ve acquired a real confidence in my ability to sing and to communicate to an audience. So I set myself to learn to sing some tangos. Partly because I knew I’d enjoy it, but also because I felt the need to make up for my lack of competence as a dancer.

And so, at a milonga last Friday, as well as dancing almost all evening, I sang three tangos that I’d learnt…

What really surprised me was that I received as many compliments for my dancing as for my singing!

I’d danced several tangos with a new partner – he was a good dancer, and we really seemed to understand each other, so I found it really easy and fun to dance with him. Not just with him, but with other dancers that evening, I really felt how much progress I’d made in the last few months. But what stunned me was that, as he led me back to my table, he commented that he didn’t know which had been better, my singing or my dancing.

Once I got over the surprise, I realised that there’s something very special about receiving a compliment that so strongly supported the hard work that I’ve done in challenging my own perceived boundaries.

The most unexpected compliments are the best!

Song of fragility

These precious wooden eggshells
Out of their tough cases they are vulnerable
But locked away they cannot sing –
when singing is their reason for being.

There is always a tender tension
in a good musician whose instrument
is resting on a chair
even as he chats with colleagues
in an orchestral teabreak.
part of the mind is always attentive
to the fragility he has drawn
out of its case. An attention
not guilty, but born of gratitude
for the open trust
that allows them to sing together.

The defenceless fragility of the walls
is what allows them to vibrate.
The strength of a tree planed down
to this delicate membrane of music.
And something is betrayed when these
fragile cocoons of sound
are ruptured by carelessness or spite.

My body is a dusty guitar
strung by the hair that falls
past the curve of my waist.
Wounds patched, barely visible now,
wholeness restored by patient hours of healing
until the intact walls are ready
to sing again. Yet still the dust lies thick,
undisturbed by the waves of emotion
that once shrugged away both dust and time
The waves of emotion that used to make me tremble
flowing up the shell of me and coming out in sound.
The waves that were stranded in the doldrums
when the songs of my heart
and my body
were silenced by the pain of love’s abandonment.

Unplayed, an instrument
grows stiff, loses its sweetness
must be coaxed back by the gentleness
of patient fingers. As if the wood
knows how fragile its defences are
and fears to once again
be twisted to play uncongenial tunes
by hands that force its fragile walls
not to resonate
but distort.

Yet a body that has once known the joy of song
will always yearn to sing again.
And the music that is in me
cannot be silenced
for long.

This responds to two prompts – the picture above, by crzycowgrl046 at photobucket, which is the Monday Mural at Poefusion, and this week’s prompt at One Single Impression – defences down.


Dear Dana and Dave

In a world muddied by fake vibrato the real thing
becomes mythical. So rare for the ears
to glimpse the vibrant voice that springs
from the stretch of a diaphragm sinking low
to touch the gutrock of emotion. And yet
when you hear that voice coming up from
the depths of the soul, trembling with the
force of its intimate journey, you know
why there are so many imitations of this
pulsing heart-sound. The endless shabby
imitation doesn’t flatter – it clutters,
makes it harder to find the real gold –
yet cannot debase the real coinage
for those whose teeth know how to bite it.
Still sad to see the thousand wild goose chases
of shaky singers, who, like celebrity chefs,
pretentious poets or arrogant artists
seek to show that they are great cooks
by pouring salt and spices over
tasteless battery meat when flavour
comes from the deep bone marrow of a life
lived as free-range as a skein
of geese winging their heart songs
across the face of the coming dawn.


I’ve just butted into a poetry conversation between Dana and Dave, who have been exchanging poems, each one responding to the previous poem. They’ve kindly extended the invitation for other poet-bloggers to join them. If you’d like to reply to my poem, or any of theirs, all you have to do is link back to the poem you’re responding to, and leave a comment with the original poem so that people can follow the conversation in both directions. Have fun…

Six months’ worth of writing, living and learning

To celebrate six months of blogging (over 200 posts and nearly 100 poems!), I thought I would share thirteen things I have learnt in that time, many of them directly from blogging:


  1. Hearts can heal, and a thoroughly healed heart is stronger than one that has never been broken.

  2. Creativity, particularly new creative projects, is a great way not just to recover from a broken heart, but to grow immeasurably from the experience.

  3. Writing doesn’t have to be a solitary activity – and sharing drafts with an understanding audience is a great way to keep motivated.
  4. Writing things in a public forum, even to a small audience of people whose faces I have never seen, is different from just writing them for yourself – and it can be much more healing.
  5. Sometimes the things I don’t want to say are the ones I most need to say. Sometimes the things I don’t want to say are also what others are most interested in hearing

  6. Free writing practices often produce some of my best writing… and paradoxically often my most structured writing too. And I’m increasingly realising that the ideas and experiences that go into my poems are strong enough to stand as free verse. I enjoy playing with different structures, but I can have more confidence in the interest of my own voice. 

  7. It’s better to say too much than to be too vague to be understood – even if you have to clarify what you meant, or soothe someone’s agitation, you’re communicating. And being so tolerant of other people’s views and beliefs that we don’t express our own is almost always counterproductive – and leads to much less interesting discussions.

  8. It’s far too easy to accept arguments and evidence that supports your conclusion, and not notice the obvious flaws. Reading and participating in the debates in the blogosphere has made me very aware of this, and hopefully made me a more honest debater!

  9. There are some wonderful people out there in the blogosphere…. as well as a lot of people who can’t string a coherent sentence together. Many people out there have had lives incredibly more difficult and complicated than mine has been. I’ve been touched and moved and shocked by some of the things I’ve read. I don’t know whether bloggers are more likely to have trauma in their past, or whether it’s just that in the blogosphere, people tell stories that you would normally hear only from your closest friends. Either way, thank you all for increasing my awareness and understanding of what it is to be human.

  10. Finding my own words to express myself is, right now, more important to me than singing the music and words written by others, however beautiful and powerful.

  11. Always follow your dreams can be a good principle, but it can also be a trap that leaves us struggling and miserable, feeling like failures or forcing ourselves to do things that just aren’t right any more. So it’s important to leave room for both you and your dreams to change and grow.

  12. This last year has been an intense time – difficult in many ways, but I don’t regret a moment of it. I have learnt so much and grown so much, that it’s a hundred times worth all the tears and the pain of heartbreak.

  13. Writing means far less without readers – so thank you all!

Being melody

(Click here for a recording that goes with this poem)

A garden of sweet strings softly lit by
The warmth of flute and clarinet
Rises into the air, inviting my entry,
Into flowing landscapes of sound

And now I hear those notes that are
For me a cue to prepare my body
To take in air – every inch of my torso,
A balloon whose walls are poised muscle.

Smooth inevitability of the passing bars
Leave me no choice but to join the dance
And suddenly the internal space of my head
Is throbbing with sound – my voice lives.

Who am I? A mournful abandoned lover
Every emotion raised to operatic intensity
By the magnificence of the pouring harmonies
That awaken powerful echoes in my heart.

The endless lines must flow unimpeded
By self-doubt or adjustment. I try to float
And trust that the sound will ride secure
On the smooth strength of the tensing muscles.

Suddenly a change of key brings out the sun
Rushes optimism through every bar
The heart beats faster as if obeying
The quickened pulse of the conductor’s arm.

A new challenge now – cascades of notes
Too fast to think, or fear mistakes
Just following, setting the voice free to fly
And soar above the racing orchestra.

Now tension builds towards the climax
My breathing deep, my throat relaxing
To soar above the frozen orchestra
And plummet down to the final note.

Responding to a prompt at one single impression to write about melody, I thought I would try my hand at a poem that trys to capture a singer’s perspective of singing one of my favourite arias – Bellini’s Qui la voce sua soave from I Puritani.

To make this a multimedia experience, I’ve added a recording of me singing the aria I had in mind. It was recorded at home on my computer so it’s neither great quality sound nor my best quality singing – but I thought it would give you an idea of what the experience I’m describing sounds like from the outside.

Song to the moon

Click here to listen to a recording I made recently

Pisen Rusalky O Mesiku (Song of the Moon), Rusalka’s aria from Rusalka

Mesiku na nebi hlubokem…………O moon, high in the heavens
Svetlo tvé daleko vidi,………………Your light sees far,
Po svete bloudis sirokém………….You travel around the wide world
Divas se v pribytky lidi…………….Gazing into human dwellings

Mesicku, postuj chvili ……………. O, moon, stand still a while
reckni mi, kde je muj mily………..Tell me, where is my love?

Rekni mu, stribmy mesicku,……..Tell him, silvery moon
me ze jej objima rame,……………..That I embrace him tightly,
aby si alespon chvilicku……………That he should for at least a while
vzpomenul ve sneni na mne………Remember his dreams!

Zasvet mu do daleka,……………….Shine on him, wherever he is
rekni mu, kdo tu nan ceka!………Tell him I am here waiting!

O mneli duse lidska sni,……………If he is dreaming of me,
at’se tou vzpominkou vzbudi!…..Awaken his memories
Mesicku, nezhasni, nezhasni!……O, moon, don’t disappear!