Laura Slattery on . . . being good enough
‘It must be lovely to be able to say ‘this is it, if this isn’t good enough for you, then screw you’’
‘There’s a tuneless choir in West Bridgford, Nottingham. They don’t have a note between them. Well, they do, just not the ones that Björn and Benny intended.’ File photograph: Yiannis Kourtoglou/Reuters
I’m not being weirdly judgmental, from this safe remove, about the people of West Bridgford, Nottingham. Not this time.
The Tuneless Choir of West Bridgford is a proud social club for the musically challenged, and soon there will be Tuneless Choirs in every parish hall everywhere, occupying slots left vacant by the tragic decline of zumba.
As a child, Nadine Cooper was told to stop singing, because she was “spoiling it for everybody else”.
Nadine has now called bullshit on this miserable instruction by quite brilliantly setting up a choir for people who can’t sing, but want to sing, and not just when they’re hideously drunk.
I’m not often uplifted before 9am. Most days, a winch is required. But the morning the Tuneless Choir was on breakfast television, warbling erroneously through Walking on Sunshine, woah-oh-ohh, I ripped the intravenous caffeine drip from my vein and absorbed the joy of these non-singers, who once freed from the pressure to sing in tune, had traded inhibitions for endorphins by the first chorus.
The Tuneless Choir, many of whom had been told to shut up as kids, bopped and swayed and sang their wounded hearts out.
It was a bit like those discordant early X Factor rounds, but without the delusion, or the exploitation, or the suspicion they’re all paid actors.
True tone deafness, the choir leader explained, is rare. The choir wasn’t actively trying to be bad, but nor was getting better the point either – anyone who uncovered bona fide talent would be asked to join a regular choir and stop spoiling the “tuneless” one for everybody else.
There is something so refreshing about pursuing things you’re not good at, and do not require, for the sake of your pride, to be much good at.
As adults, we often feel the need to justify our interests by being proficient at them and making them part of our identities.
It’s understandable if we use our spare waking hours this way. We’re compensating, and not just for childhood slights.
Google has made us think real expertise is relative and long-honed skills easily replicated, and it’s created havoc in the workplace, where labour has been so devalued that even doctors may be regarded as awkward nuisances by their employers.
We reclaim some sense of status by giving our hobbies a professional gloss.
Pretty soon it will no longer be enough to run a single marathon in a mediocre time. You will have to run 687 marathons like Eddie Izzard and be able to give a TED talk on the meaning of shin splints.
A commitment to A-list-level grooming and a PhD in combination skin is already preferred to having a vague interest in basic cosmetics and hoping soft lighting will do the rest.
Spare a thought, too, for people who just naturally enjoy giving unsolicited advice. They’re now forced to become full-time lifestyle gurus, with agents and social media strategies and special masks for hiding their fear of being found out.
I “can’t” “sing”, but I do, all the time, because Nadine Cooper is right: singing is good for you, and that’s enough of a reason.
That I may also harbour a secret dream of becoming the fifth member of All Saints is entirely coincidental.
If a Tuneless Choir ever sets up in Dublin, I’d consider joining, though at the moment I’m busy being rubbish at the piano for the first time in 20 years.
Last year, I spent the price of a holiday on a digital piano – or a “synthesizer” as a friend calls it – in order to once again rattle through Don’t Cry For Me Argentina from The Complete Piano Player Book 4. My mad existence, huh? I’m not even learning a new skill here, just reverting to the barest bones of a teenage one.
“You could take lessons,” I’ve been told. No thanks. My only ambition is to be able to make some fist of my latest musical fixation, the song All The Things You Are by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II.
I’m having trouble with the “easy” arrangement and consulting the Small-Handed Pianist Support Thread for help, but that’s as far as it goes.
A recent advertising campaign for a training college struck me as unintentionally funny. It featured the smiling face of a woman, let’s call her Mary, who had completed an accountancy diploma, or similar.
“Mary has reached her full potential,” it read. What a damning thing to say about someone, I thought. Mary looked quite young. Surely she had more to give?
But now I think it must be lovely to be able to say “this is it, I’m not getting any better, if this isn’t good enough for you, then screw you, I wasn’t looking for your approval anyway”. Self-improvement is exhausting.
Noise-cancelling headphones are available.
Róisín Ingle is on leave