Sunday, January 21, 2007

The writing's on the wall!

Well, it’s the second week back after the Christmas and New Year excesses. Loads of choir members always seem to turn up late to the first session after a long break, as if they’ve got out of the habit of going out on that night of the week. I’m always slightly worried that nobody will turn up at all! I try not to get complacent and don’t expect everyone to return, but am always pleasantly surprised when familiar faces arrive who have been coming for years and years. It’s surprising how quickly everyone gets back into the swing of things again and all are in fine voice.

I always try to introduce some new elements at the start of each term. This term I have written the words for simple foreign songs on large A1 sheets of paper which I then put up on the wall. There are always people who immediately write the words down, even if there is only one or two words in a new song, even though I ask them not to! To be fair, some people have a visual memory and need to see the words written down at least once (me included). However, many people simply don’t like to inhabit that strange space where they haven’t quite learnt something yet. It usually takes a few weeks before a new song begins to bed in, and rather than working through that difficult, eggy stage where you haven’t quite grasped it fully, people panic and rush to write the thing down, frightened that they won’t remember. The trouble is, once words are written down, it is very difficult to stop looking at them! Even if I know a song inside out and back to front, as soon as the lyrics appear in front of me, my eyes are drawn to the page (more next week in Words are flowing out like endless rain ...).

The “words on the wall” scheme seems to be working well though. Nobody so far has written down their own version – knowing that they’re up on the wall somehow allows people to relax. And very soon people have assimilated the words and no longer need to look at them on the wall. The question then becomes: when is the right time to take the words down?

There seems to be a different part of the brain involved in remembering song lyrics. Often, if someone asks me for the words of a song, I can’t speak them out but have to sing them. It’s as if the melody and lyrics have been stored together and inextricably linked. As opposed to when one learns a poem, say. This seems to get stored in a completely different part of the brain and is recalled in a different manner.

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Chris Rowbury


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