This is a revised version of a post which first appeared as When and why do we stop singing? in April 2007.
The average age of people who attend the choirs and workshops that I run must be around 50. I would say that about a third of any group is of retirement age, and the majority of the rest are in their early 40s to late 50s.
Most of these people sang when they were kids, but then they stopped. Why?
my early singing experiences
I had plenty of opportunities to sing as a kid (certainly in my early school days in the 1950s): morning assembly, “music & movement” on the radio, the school choir (especially at Christmas), cubs and scouts, the local church choir. I sang in all of these regularly. I even persuaded my Mum to go to my primary school and complain when I didn’t pass the audition to get into the school choir! They relented (my Mum is a force to reckon with) and I joined.
When I was about 15 or 16 I started a band with my mates and we sang lots of Beatles songs. I distinctly remember sitting in the garden on the swing singing along with “I wanna hold your hand” on the radio when it first came out. I loved singing and used to harmonise automatically with all the pop songs on TV (“Juke Box Jury”, “6-5 Special”) and radio. So it’s not as if there weren’t any role models for adolescents.
suddenly we stop singing
Then it all stopped and I didn’t really come back to singing until about 25 years later in the early 1990s when I was working in theatre. They often say it’s because boys’ voices break and during that embarrassing transition they find something else to do. But I didn’t have that experience and also I have heard similar stories from the many women who join choirs or come to my singing workshops.
Just this weekend at a workshop a woman came up to thank me and said it’s the first time she’d sung for 50 years!
These people obviously love singing, but have let it lie dormant for such a long period. The desire to re-connect with their singing voice must be very strong as it’s a brave thing to walk into an open workshop when you’ve not sung for such a long time. I often wonder what has compelled that person to come back to singing at that specific moment. After 50 years, why now? Why this particular weekend? Why this particular workshop?
it’s so easy to put kids off
Many people who come back to singing were put off in some way when they were kids: “stand at the back and mime”, “will you stop that awful racket!”, “you can’t be in the choir, you’re not good enough”, “you just can’t sing”.
We have such a personal relationship with our voices that this can cause a huge set-back and put people off singing for a long time. Many participants in my workshops still believe that they can’t ‘sing’ because somebody told them they couldn’t 40 years earlier!
But the desire to make music is strong and can survive for many years. The need to express ourselves through our voices is a primal force, otherwise people wouldn’t come back to singing in later life having been put off so thoroughly in their youth.
what’s your story?
If you came back to singing later in life, perhaps you’d like to tell us your story. Why did you stop singing when you were a kid? And what prompted you to start again on that particular day all those years later? Why did you leave it so long?