Singing lessons in Bali

 

I never knew how much pleasure there could be in singing lessons. A few people have suggested it to me over the years, because I enjoy being in choirs, and finally I made what felt like a brave move and went for it last year. The singing teacher was someone I met in a choir, and I really enjoyed her company, and it was probably that that got me over the line.

It turned out Julie Anne had invited up to four people at a time, so it was like a cross between a choir and individual teaching. We did the usual vocal exercises, loosening up our facial muscles and humming/singing up and down the scales as high and as low as we could each go. We learnt a song together, with Julie-Anne listening closely to each of us. She talked about our respective strengths and weaknesses, and then asked us to take turns singing part of the song. My main discovery was my ‘head voice’; the higher register above the point where my voice breaks into what I have always thought of as falsetto. In fact it is a wide range, that takes great effort to produce (I had a sore throat for two days after the first time), but sounds surprisingly pleasant.

Then she asked us to sing to each other in pairs, face to face, up close. As these were love songs, this was a whole new leap of courage for all of us, which quickly led to laughter, and sometimes to tears. I had not met any of the other students before, and this degree of intimacy with men and women felt giddily risky at first. Julie Anne egged us on with such lines as ‘David, you’re saying you long for her every day and night—I want you to sound and look like you really mean it’. Every lesson included this type of exercise, and after some moments of flushed awkwardness, I found myself enjoying it enormously.

For the next and subsequent lessons, Julie Anne asked us to come ready to sing one of our favourite songs solo to the rest of the class. It was these experiences that live in my heart still. A French-speaker from Mauritius sang a spiritual that really rocked; we were all clapping and moving within seconds of her starting. A middle-aged mother from Latvia gave us—in Latvian—a lullaby that she first explained was the one she used to sing while breast-feeding her baby girl. As she sang, the tears came freely, hers and ours. Her voice was like a soft bell ringing, and I hear it now. My efforts felt a bit superficial until I came to one I have sung many times to my partner, often to put her to sleep. Yes; within moments all of us were teary, all of us feeling so close that we wanted to freeze-frame the joy of being together free of other distractions, of being completely who we wanted to be for a little while.

I left these lessons in a mood of optimistic peacefulness. As I rode off through the streets of Ubud, I marvelled at the good luck I was reaping from taking a risk. A few months later, I was back, and I went looking for Julie Anne. As so often in places like Bali, she had moved on; to Thailand I was told. Most likely she had to do a runner because she was charging for the teaching, without having the necessary visa. I warned her several times not to be open about what she was doing, but to no avail.

I never met the other students outside the lessons, and I guess the same will go for Julie Anne. It feels as if it was all a dream now. Half a dozen hours of bliss that returns to warm me even as I write this.

 

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