Let the Joy In

For various reasons I won't bore you with now, I've never really been a joiner, particularly as an adult. Holding a hobby down was pretty hard due to the chaotic life I led post university. Then, in 2010, after some pretty big life changes, some chosen and some thrust upon me, I thought, "Let's change this". And screwing my courage to the sticking place I joined a choir. 

I was absolutely TERRIFIED. Those of you that know me will know I am not quiet and certainly not shy, but I do have a pretty serious issue with anxiety. My fight or flight triggers are set way above the norm, so I tend to react to anything I can't control with the same response as a caveman facing a sabre-tooth tiger. And sometimes my brain will just decide that it can't control anything at all; those days are not fun. But I digress. Back to September 2010 after a week spent freaking out that I was actually going to do this, I remember walking down to St Gabriel's Hall for my first rehearsal with Forte, a choir run by Starling Arts, and while my body was moving forward, everything in my brain was going nonononoOHNOrunRUNwhyareyouSTILLwalkingRUN!

But I did not run, and I am so glad I didn't.

I wasn't the only new person- at the opening of every new term no one ever is. However, my anxiety always flares at warm-up games, getting to know you activities and ice-breakers: these things for me equal sabre-tooth tiger. I have a tendency to cover it with sarcastic or self-deprecating comments; I'm basically a nightmare to anyone trying to run a group (sorry). Starling Arts don't shy away from these games, but neither are they rattled by anyone's level of enthusiasm or any number of sarcastic comments. They just crack on. They have a seemingly endless supply of interesting and fun warm ups (I can only assume Anna and Emily have a Mary Poppins style bag which gives them ideas) and before you know it, you're laughing at someone's choice of actor who would play them in a movie of their life, or chewing an imaginary toffee that is getting bigger and bigger in your mouth. And you are all doing it together and not noticing (in my case) that you feel calm and happy, yet alert.

And here's the point: the thing about singing, is you have to go for it. You cannot sing unless you breathe deeply, stand properly and commit. And the very act of singing releases endorphins, seriously! It improves wellbeing physically and mentally, and that is a fact, well documented, and if you don't believe me, just GOOGLE. Go ahead, I'll wait. 

See? 

I thought I was just going along to try a proper hobby for the first time in my adult life, chosen because I liked doing musicals at school, enjoyed pub karaoke and sang in the shower. I didn't realise I'd get a weekly dose of wellbeing, and that's just a tiny part of it. 

Alice (R) performing in one of our concerts Photo: Rebecca Pitt

Alice (R) performing in one of our concerts
Photo: Rebecca Pitt

I have met so many wonderful people through Starling Arts. It's a community that really does welcome everyone and the diversity of the choirs never ceases to amaze me. Such a variety of people with one thing in common: music. And we're not all musical theatre or Glee obsessives. This week we talked about the Seattle grunge scene. You don't need to be a choir kid to join this choir. What I love the most is that you can have a long in depth chat about exactly why your choir mates love Rent and why you think it is overhyped nonsense, and only after several such chats finally learn what they do for a living!

Or can spend an entire term getting confused and muddling through the harmonies with the person standing next to you and then mention you saw Love Actually at university and discover they were only 8 when it came out. It's this I love, these little moments that demonstrate that singing unites you - whatever you do from 9-5 (or 8-7, this is London!), whatever your age or background, whatever little or big sadness you are wrestling with, or if you spent the day fighting your anxious mind – it only takes 2 hours in the basement of a church hall every Tuesday to make you feel safe and calm. 

I now have two hobbies: choir and going to the cinema alone. Both work brilliantly for calming my anxiety and I will never tire of sitting in the dark and being taken away from everything by a good (or a even a bad) movie. But I will admit that seeing 30 people break into spontaneous smiles as they hear themselves 'getting' a new song in 5 part harmony - even if individually the line they are singing is just one note repeated – that feeling of unity and of creating SUCH a beautiful sound, there's nothing like it.

I'm approaching my seven year anniversary with Forte and Starling Arts. A lot happens in seven years and I haven't got to every Tuesday rehearsal or even to every term, in fact as I write this I am back after an eighteen month break (more big life changes), but once a Starling always a Starling. And publicly, Anna, Emily, I'm sorry for being sarcastic and not always being the jazz hands choir kid and thank you both, and all of the Forte crew, old and new, for letting me in and giving me joy. 

Alice Hiendl
May 2017