Tracey Macleod: A reluctant diva finds her voice

A first time for everything: We all know that variety is the spice of life. But what happened when we challenged four writers to explore their untapped potential?

I secretly believe I'm quite a good singer. But so, presumably, do most of the deluded people who turn up to audition for The X Factor. Singing along to the radio, my voice sounds decent, even pleasing, at least to me. I can muster a basic harmony line; James Taylor and I have been duetting together for decades, on a strictly in-car basis.

But in public, something goes wrong. Exposed to strange ears, my thrilling contralto is replaced by a thin, nasal sound. At karaoke nights, I usually take refuge behind "Reet Petite" or The Proclaimers' "500 Miles", songs which depend largely on the ability to make funny noises. The idea of singing a straight song, in that weedy, reedy voice, is horrific to me. So my secret fantasy is to learn to sing. Or at least to have the confidence to sing in public. I want to release my inner show-off, maybe even to make music with other people. To sing a karaoke song that doesn't rely on yodelling for effect.

My singing teacher, Bridget de Courcy, is recommended by a friend who discovered after one session that far from being tone deaf, she had a beautiful, silvery soprano voice. Bridget has worked a lot with actors and, over the phone, she sounds fabulously theatrical. "I'm interested in whatever you bring me, and what we find together," she tells me. "It's like an animal that comes roaring out."

Cut to me and my caged animal standing nervously at the piano in Bridget's north-London front room, while she questions me about my singing history. I tell her I think my voice is OK, but I'm not sure where my range lies, or what style of music would suit me best. My mission, I tell her, is to be able to find My Song at karaoke. I'm sure I see a flicker of pain pass across her features.

The first two minutes are the most excruciating. Singing into the face of a complete stranger is something I last did at school, either for my Grade IV piano exam (failed) or my audition for the choir (still waiting to hear back). Bridget goes up and down the piano scale note by note, and I follow, singing "ma-ma-ma".

When the roar of blood in my ears subsides, I'm encouraged to hear that I appear to be in tune ("perfectly, perfectly in tune," according to the relentlessly encouraging Bridget). I can also hear that my voice sounds fuller in the lower register, switching at some point on the way up into a more strangulated, higher voice. "We're going to correct that right now!" promises Bridget.

What follows over the next hour is an idiosyncratic mix of image-making and technical information about how the voice works. I'm encouraged to think about singing from the back of my head, rather than my throat; to imagine there's a little man in a rowing boat pulling the notes out of me with each stroke; and – the horror – to sing as though I'm a child calling for its mother. Ma-ma-ma... Oh God, am I actually going to start crying for my mother?

But Bridget's suggestions work. By relaxing my face, or changing the vowel sound, I can feel that I'm using a different part of my voice. The strangulated higher voice – what Bridget refers to as a "yapping terrier" – gives way to a richer, fuller sound, and the high notes come more easily. Bridget is effusive, punctuating my "ma-ma-mas" with "just right!" and "lovely sound!" until I start feeling like Maria Callas.

Just when I've got comfy with the "ma-ma-mas", we move on to "a-ma-ri-li" and – what fresh hell is this? – "yam-burr-aaaa". Bridget encourages me to sing with a relaxed smile in my voice, and a manic rictus on my face. I'm only grateful that The Independent website isn't running this as a video report.

But the amused face produces amazing results. I'm going up much higher than I thought I could, and it sounds good. "What a lovely soouuuuund! That's pure as a bell!" Bridget trills excitably. "What colour would you say that voice was?" Um, orange? I venture, my eye resting on a nearby wall. Bridget seems delighted. "Orange! Orange has energy, lightness, drama. That combination of colours is your tone. It has a freshness, an innocence, a fullness. A woman's sound..."

This is better than therapy. And at £35 a session, a lot cheaper. Towards the end of our time, buoyed by a new confidence, I suggest we tackle a song. I'm hoping, I suppose, that Bridget will choose something by Burt Bacharach, or Nina Simone – something that will let me use my new voice in a karaoke-friendly context. Instead, she pulls out a traditional folk song called "The Mallow Fling". As I learn it, line by line, imitating Bridget's crystalline diction and pure soprano, I have a sinking feeling that whatever this new voice is, it isn't going to come roaring out at a karaoke night any time soon.

Bridget confirms my hunch. "I don't think you'll really find anything in karaoke – it all tends to be a bit pop," she tells me. Hmmm, so like my friend who unlocked a beautiful soprano, my inner beast is an exotic, endangered species, too rarefied to be exposed in public.

When I play the tape at home, my partner is less than supportive. "Why are you singing in that posh voice?" he hoots. "Did you go for elocution lessons as well as singing lessons? You sound like a distressed Joyce Grenfell."

Let him scoff. I prefer to trust the judgement of Bridget, the professional, who called my voice "indisputably lovely" and said it would be a shame if I didn't do anything with it. Until they start using "The Mallow Fling" in karaoke clubs, it may be that I never will. But for that one brief hour in Muswell Hill, I was golden.

See bridgetdecourcy.co.uk

Arts and Entertainment
By Seuss! ‘What Pet Shall I Get?’ hits the bookshops this week
Books
Arts and Entertainment
The mushroom cloud over Hiroshima after Enola Gray and her crew dropped the bomb
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Elliott outside his stationery store that houses a Post Office
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Rebecca Ferguson, Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible Rogue Nation

Film review Tom Cruise, 50, is still like a puppy in this relentless action soap opera

Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams in True Detective season 2

TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

    I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
    Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

    Margaret Attwood on climate change

    The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

    What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
    Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

    The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

    Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
    Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

    Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

    The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
    Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

    Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

    The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
    Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

    Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

    Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
    Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

    Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

    Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
    Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

    Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

    The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
    10 best waterproof mascaras

    Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

    We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
    Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

    Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

    Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
    Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

    England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

    The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
    Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

    Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

    British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'