Singing eats strategy for breakfast

This post has an intent, something that I advise that you do immediately you have read it. And that is to join a choir. And to join a choir particularly if you can’t sing or rather tell yourself that you can’t sing.

Now you may be thinking, what the fuck has that got to do with brand strategy? Well there is a short answer and a long answer. The short answer is that this is my blog and if I want to go off topic that’s my look out.

The rather longer explanation is to do with the well-being of anyone working in any profession with intensity and pressure.

In many respects, the fact that this is hideously off topic is the point. It is meant for the vast proportion of your life that this blog has never sought to touch. The bit when you aren’t creating strategies or making award winning work. In the hope that it will help you create strategies and make award winning work.

Because, while we talk a good game about seeking a work-life blend, the truth is that if you do the sort of job that we do, work and life will always be a balance and the reality is that that balance isn’t usually very fair.

In other words, you have to create firm boundaries to hold the work back from some aspects of your time and life. So that you can engage in something very different, something that stimulates and engages you in a very different way. Something that improves you, not just the quality of your output.

And that is why I sing in a choir.

It’s why I sing in a choir but it’s not why I started to sing in a choir. That was down to the Do Lectures

Last July, feeling rather spent, I joined the Do Lectures in west Wales for 4 days of inspiration and encouragement. It was a profound experience. But the thing that has stayed with me the most was an hour and a half in an old silage pit with a man called James Sills.

James believes in the power of singing together to right all sorts of wrongs. So, James creates choirs and singing communities across the country to do just that. And at the Do Lectures he organised a singing workshop to prove the point.

Now, the truth is that there is nothing about the phrase ‘singing workshop’ that would ordinarily speak to me. I can’t sing, have never been able to sing, won’t sing and don’t much enjoy other people doing it either. But it the Do Lectures had been a rather emotional experience to that point and I was in the right space to try something a bit random. Plus, I needed a break from the intellectual overload.

And so, for the early part of one afternoon twenty of us learned to sing a song tutored by the amazing James to the point where it didn’t sound shit, not at all.

That was the first revelation for me. That after an hour and a half, someone who cannot sing could contribute to a sound that was actually musical. And that a bunch of us, most of whom would never ever dream of singing in public, would be eager to perform to the rest of the Do community after such a small period of time.

As soon as I returned from Wales I played a recording to my slightly doubtful wife and if she didn’t cry, she certainly welled up a little. Not about my experience but about hers. You see she can’t sing, was told as a child she couldn’t sing, and would never knowingly sing in public. But if I could squeeze out something vaguely melodic, albeit with a group of people and not alone, well maybe she could. And rather rashly we made a pact to join a choir as soon as the new term rolled around in September.

Everyone that I talk to about singing, with few exceptions, feels that they can’t sing, were told that they couldn’t sing as a child and so never sings. Never using one of the most natural means of human expression. And I find that if they don’t cry during my story they certainly well up a little. And then they join a choir. Honestly, for all the award-winning strategy, blogging and tweeting, I think telling my singing story is the single most influential thing I have ever done.

Now this is the point where I am hoping that you, possibly feeling that you can’t sing, have been told you can’t sing and so you never sing, are wondering whether there is a community choir near you and that maybe if you really plucked up the courage, you might have a go. And so, I want to give you a little nudge. Here are six reasons to put your doubts behind you and give it a go. I don’t know if they are any of them technically correct but they represent my experience over the past few months.

  1. One of the main reasons you think that you can’t sing is because you aren’t singing the right part for your voice. If you are an Alto and you try singing along to something sung by a Soprano you won’t be able to get to the high notes. Same goes if you are a Bass and you are trying to sing Tenor. You can sing, you just need to find the right part for your natural voice.
  2. Finding your voice isn’t a metaphor it’s an actual thing. If you don’t exercise or go to the gym, surprise surprise your body won’t be particularly strong. Same goes for singing. If you haven’t sung properly since you were in primary school your singing voice won’t be well developed. But you will find that starting to sing regularly will strengthen and develop that voice and you will actually find it. Odds are your singing voice won’t be quite the same as your speaking voice.
  3. You will be singing your part as a group of like voiced singers and lending that sound to an overall sound that combines Sopranos, Altos, Tenors and Basses. A sound that needs all of you to work. A sound that is created by men and women together on an equal basis but doing the thing that they can do really well, singing the part that’s right for their voice. I like the gender equality of a community choir.
  4. You will realise that you can sing and contribute your voice to something that sounds awesome very quickly. What will take time is mastering it, to sing well. That is going to be hard and take all your focus and dedication. And that’s part of the appeal. For two hours every Monday night I can’t think about work, I can’t look at my email, I can’t check out twitter. Because I am concentrating hard on something that doesn’t come easily to me. This is deep work and its of immeasurable value to my mental health.
  5. If you work in a high intensity job where there is enormous pressure on you to perform then you will love the collectivisim of a choir. Sure, we talk about teams at work and we create thing through team work but there are huge expectations that our individual contribution will be exceptional. In a choir you don’t really matter, not as an individual. Much like the experience of a dance floor in full cry your individualism is subsumed into the mass. You are contributing your voice but you are not the focus of anyone’s attention. And I bloody love that, at least for a short period on a Monday night.
  6. Which brings us to Mondays. All of a sudden, I have something to look forward to about the end of the weekend and the onslaught of another week. At 7pm every Monday, if I’m not travelling, I leave work and sing my heart out. Whatever the pressures and complexities of the week, Monday nights are something to look forward to as the weekend closes.

I’m now into the second term of singing in a choir. The Christmas term brought a repertoire of carols and choral music, that is now committed to an otherwise failing memory and culminating in singing at the V&A. While the spring term has been dedicated to American music and to the fiendishly hard medley from West Side Story. Having a repertoire has been an unexpected joy, as has knowing the words to standards like ‘Auld lang syne’ or ‘Singing in the rain’

There are many ways to challenge yourself, stimulate redundant parts of your mind, find perspective and mastery and look after your mental well-being. Singing in a choir is just one. But singing in a choir, especially if you can’t sing, have been told you can’t sing, never sing and would rather run down the street naked than sing in public, is without doubt one of the most liberating and joyful.


Go and join a choir.

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One Reply to “Singing eats strategy for breakfast”

  1. I couldn’t agree more – being a part of a small community choir has revitalised not only my Monday nights but my outlook on life and my confidence on many levels. I had to give a short presentation about my inspirations and influences to the rest of the agency recently and singing in my choir was right up there for both…

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