Lovely article in the Marple Review
Singing is a universal response to life’s ups and downs, a gift that multiplies when shared. While it may transcend barriers of culture, creed and language, there are nonetheless some who feel left out when the music begins. People who believe they can’t sing maintain a stoic silence rather than risk revealing a tuneless squawk. Only in the privacy of car or shower, or camouflaged by the vacuum cleaner’s drone, dare they give their hearts full voice.
Now help is at hand. Olwyn Pearce runs Secret Singers, a group that welcomes everyone, including people who think they can’t sing, or who have no musical knowledge. “We aim to express, not impress,” she says. “I encourage ‘secret singers’ to come out and feel the joy of singing in harmony with others in a fun, non-judgmental and supportive atmosphere.”
Olwyn has a lovely voice and has always appreciated being able to share it. She’s the musical director of a ladies choir, a member of a seven-piece a cappella group, and in no doubt that singing has value beyond the sound produced: research by Canterbury University recently demonstrated its benefits to general health and well-being. Previously an occupational therapist, Olwyn is now fully occupied in music, balancing formal choral commitments with work that follows the principles of the Natural Voice Practitioners’ Network: that singing is everyone’s birthright and this natural form of expression should not be denied to anyone. Leading her groups of secret singers, and of dementia patients and their carers, is proving stimulating and rewarding: “When you are used to a formal approach it’s liberating to work without music, entirely by ear, and learn all the parts.”
Marple is lucky to have her – we’re miles from her home near Clitheroe. However, her mother-in-law lives in Disley, and she knew enough would-be singers in the area to prompt Olwyn to start a group. They are now into their third year, evidently enjoying their fortnightly meetings on Tuesday afternoons at Marple Methodist Church. Men and women of any age, any ability, any experience are welcomed, there’s no audition, no expectation to sing alone, no musical terminology, no obligation to perform. Olwyn’s energetic encouragement is a most effective accompaniment. “Many people have carried their inhibitions since childhood, when a thoughtless teacher or careless comment embarrassed them into miming,” she reports. “I am delighted when someone tells me they have gained the confidence to join in with hymns at church, and I consider it a success when I lose a member to a conventional choir.”
Secret Singers are currently preparing for this summer’s Manchester Day Parade celebrations, when they will be adding their voices to the Sing for Water North choir, to raise money for Water Aid. The concert will launch the entertainments in Albert Square on 2 June.