call & response, cellophane & wire

I can’t quite remember why I joined the school choir, but it was probably because my friends were doing it. Marika néni, the choir leader decided I’ll sing with the sopranos, because I didn’t have any musical background and the mezzos always had the difficult parts, and I think she rightly assumed I wouldn’t be able to hack those. My voice was probably in the middle, but singing high was manageable (mostly.) I definitely couldn’t read notes. I still can’t. I often wondered what reading notes was like for those that played an instrument, or at least had the faintest idea what they were supposed to sound like. I learnt the songs by listening and vaguely associating the black dots with what I heard. We sang odd things; old Hungarian folklore songs and classical religious pieces. I don’t recall liking the things we sang very much. But I stayed in the choir for a few years. Actually my motives behind continuing with a lot of things at that time are unclear to me. I think I did so out of some unplaceable sense of stubbornness or something. A lot of the activities I stubbornly did I didn’t even enjoy very much. Like reading Les Misérables when I was 12. I positively suffered through that book. I realised after getting through over 1000 pages (including some 15 pages describing a. single. building.) that there is A SECOND PART – at the low, low price of 800 pages – and right there, between the two parts of Les Misérables, I drew the line. I’ve never read that second part, which became an important lesson at letting go. I continued with choir practice despite the strange songs, sometimes singing way too loud to the bemusement of the other kids. But being in choir also came with a few advantages. Sometimes we were practicing when other kids had to do something even more gruelling, like sit in class. Being in choir granted us access to the practice room where the piano lived. On some days my friend Juli, who played piano with ease and elegance, would play us the theme tune from Amelie. We would sit in the sunlit room, eyes closed, listening to beautiful tones floating through air. I remember thinking I needed to add this to my good memories – record the music as precisely as I could in my mind. That was what I intended, but in reality my attempt to commit to memory all those sounds were propelled by some semi-accurate, DIY note-reading technique. When we left school I stopped singing and didn’t really think about it very much.

Years later, when I was working in a pub in East London, I became really good friends with Freddy, who was really good at writing music and playing flamenco guitar. We became housemates and later bandmates. I was singing again. I didn’t ever think I could sing without lots of other people doing it with me, but it was going well for us. It worked. We performed twice, once in London and another time in Toledo, before darkness broke and exploded everything. And like any explosion this one also was followed by complete silence.

As a child, I was told a few times that I can’t sing, that I shouldn’t sing and that I don’t have a good voice. I believed the embarrassment that I felt from these words strongly and for quite a long time. The thing is that fear can grip your throat like a pair of cold steel pincers. I needed to get considerably drunk before both those gigs to wrench open the tightness that was closing my throat. Once the fear was gone, performing was awesome. I wanted to improve and I became interested in what real singers did. I listened a lot. Based on my observations I reckon that a ‘good’ or technically perfect singing voice does not necessarily make you want to listen to a singer. Lots of singers are interesting precisely because they sound so utterly strange; it means you can always recognise their voice. Emotion isn’t confined to travelling via well-polished channels. Sometimes it’s quite the opposite. Observing my artist friends and learning about their processes taught me that being good at something is directly linked to actively doing that thing. Doing it with conviction. Doing it as long as it takes until you find some of yourself in that thing. Until you make it irrevocably yours. Does it matter whether you’re good or not, once you totally own something? Conviction conducts people’s attention like electricity; good or not, you can’t look away. The power of attraction is laced with this kind of magnetism.

I am singing again, with Power Therapy.

Come and see us performing here:

Bratislava Fuga

Prague  Sonitus Petrohradská

and Berlin Noiseberg

 

 

 

 

 

 

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