When the singers come marching in

15th August 1997 at 01:00
We don't sing together any more," commented a local teacher. He had thought it through, and we should heed his words. In the past there were numerous occasions for group singing; there would have been singing classes at school, joining a choir was a regular pastime, and more people attended church than is now the case. Schools don't have this focus any more. Before anyone jumps down my vocal chords, think about it.

School in England in the fifties involved song time, where we were introduced to a stock range of numbers including the Lass of Richmond Hill, Swing Low Sweet Chariot, Widdicombe Fair and Summer is Icumen in. I can still manage a few verses of the Camptown Races and the Vicar of Bray. We even had our own song time jotters where we copied down songs from the blackboard.

For six weeks I attended a Fife school, and sang heartily with the other children from Kincardine-on-Forth. Their songs were different from the ones we sang in Lancashire, but, strangely to me, were identical to those my mum and dad sang with us on the long car journeys north to see grandparents. There were favourites such as the Wee Cooper of Fife, Westering Home and Coming Through the Rye. But the one we all liked best and sang the loudest was the one that started "Let the Irish sing of their Emerald Isle" and continued through all parts of the UK to make it clear that Scotland was the best.

My schooling encouraged me to sing; it gave me songs and the opportunity to be hidden among those who knew that top C wasn't a lousy mark. I love singing, but these days only indulge myself when alone or at funerals, weddings and other pantomimes. Like many others, I sing with most abandon in the car and feel self-conscious when I am in full flow at traffic lights and have a audience. Working with Scottish Opera is not a concept that I had toyed with until last week. The education unit is visiting Cromarty this month to run a range of workshops on music, singing, dancing, drama and creative writing. Once everyone is up to speed, the community's results will be co-ordinated into a short performance.

Should I enrol to sing or to write songs? To succeed in the former would destroy demons of the past; to attempt the latter would break new ground. Ever since I overcame my natural reticence to Gilbert and Sullivan, the rhymes and syntax fascinate me, and, after living in Orkney, my understanding of country and western lyrics puts me in poll position for this kind of creativity.

This could be it, my chance of fame and recognition. If a song called "Making Love to You's Like Eating Peanuts" can capture the mood of a late Saturday night in Papa Westray, then I am in with a chance. It is all about getting the storyline in and keeping it simple and tear-jerky. Do you remember that song about the lad with horrendous immobility problems, whose mom worked far too hard, whose poppa died in an all-American war and whose days were filled with chatting to truckers on his CB radio? It comes to a tearful ending when the truckers gather outside his home to take him for a ride in their big-hearted motors. A simple tale, well told.

I'll need a few good and unexpected rhymes. Martin, the singer-songwriter par excellence, taught me the basics. "Always find your last word on the last line first, and make the rest fit. That way it sounds smart; anything else is contrived." Take Saturday, for example; now there is a useful word, albeit one with few rhymes. The best I can come up with so far, has to be Latter Day (as in Saints), so we could compose something along the lines of: No one sings in the school or church no more Not even the Saints of Latter Day So come to Cromarty's community performance On the day before the Saturday

Well, how could you expect anything better from a beginner? For more details contact Jenny Gunn on 01381 600277, and I promise I won't sing.

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