In the first of our guest blogs, Miranda Warner, who will be teaching with us this May, talks about the joy of singing for its own sake, and the connections with others that music can forge.
Aged 17, I was sitting in a Spanish lesson at school next to a friend, and our teacher instructed us to turn the page of our text book. There before us was a double page spread about the ‘Camino de Santiago’, a pilgrimage route through Spain towards Santiago de Compostela. ‘Shall we do it?’ she whispered to me, adventurous twinkle in her eye. ‘This half-term?’ I whispered back. And that was that. A small chunk of the route was decided on and that half-term we set off on our first unsupervised adventure together. Many disasters, challenges and a whole lot of hilarity ensued – accompanied by plenty of spontaneous singing – mainly songs like ‘Build me Up Buttercup’ and ‘A Whole New World’ from Aladdin. On our next hiking adventure together, also in Spain, we had a barrage of cyclists pass us as we happened to be singing Blondie’s ‘The Tide is High’ in two-part harmony. We laughed at what they must have thought of us, but then discovered that night that we were sharing a hostel with them all and they wanted us to provide musical entertainment for their New Years’ Eve party having heard us on the road! ‘Perhaps some English folk songs?’ they suggested. We didn’t know any, to our shame, but they accepted our strange musical offerings and incorporated us into their party, nonetheless.
On other adventures together we made the discovery that Christmas carols make excellent two-part sing-songs – particularly in countries like Spain, where their Christmas melodies are different from ours (although English and German passers-by did tend to give us confused looks when we were singing ‘Silent Night’ in August!) Two months ago, and half a lifetime on from our first adventure, we decided another pilgrimage was in order; this time the ‘Camino Del Norte’; the northern coastal route, walking from San Sebastian to Bilbao. We were at my parents’ house when Andrea said, ‘you know what we need to do this time before we go? We need to expand our singing repertoire’. My Dad was on hand with the answer. ‘I have the perfect thing for you both, Morley’s canzonets; 16th century, ridiculous words, fantastic counterpoint, everyone knows them – whistle one at a bus stop and someone will be sure to join in!’ My father has a flair for the dramatic, and I have no idea which bus stops he frequents, but the canzonets nonetheless seemed like the perfect addition to our eclectic set of songs. So, instead of physical training before we went on a hiking adventure, we met for singing practice.
Once we set off everywhere that we found ourselves – the airport, the churches we passed, stunning scenic vistas, cities and towns we walked through, and yes, bus-stops – became both our practice and performance spaces. The line between practice and performance was completely blurred. We sung some of our old favourites as we walked, just for our own enjoyment, and come across fellow pilgrims who were often amused to encounter us belting out dated pop songs. We would work on the canzonets in darkened churches, head-torches on so we could make out the music, enjoying the acoustics, and then someone else would wander in to the church and part way through we would realise we were unintentionally performing. All of this reminded me of the joy of working at something musical that felt challenging but doable, simply for the joy of it – not for the sake of mastery or applause.
There is something freeing, wonderful, and gloriously childlike in doing something creative simply because to do so brings delight to those doing it, and then discovering that that delight can spill over to others who cross our paths. On our last day, soaked to the skin, we sung through the torrential rain as we approached and entered our final hostel, much to the amusement of the other hostel residents. In this moment, and many others, we were reminded that music for its own sake is simply a life-giving and wonderful part of being human, that somehow connects people across language, culture and other multiple differences. I am very much looking forward to meeting the Open Stage Arts crew in a few weeks and revelling again in the joy of music and drama for its own sake, without purpose or performance, but simply because it brings joy, fun, and connection.