Tonic participant Philippa Reece writes about overcoming fear in the Tonic Vocal Group.
I thought joining the Tonic Ska Choir was challenging and scary, but joining the Tonic Vocal Group took scary to a whole new level – there really is nowhere to hide when there are only 3 or 4 of you. For someone who hadn’t sung in front of anyone for over 50 years, this was a challenge and a half. To this day, I’m still not sure how, or even why, I did it – but one year on I can definitely say I’m glad I did.
I joined the Vocal Group a few weeks before the 2019 Victorious performance, but declined the opportunity to join in – bravery only takes you so far. However, watching the performance inspired me so much that I found myself promising Jade (the group facilitator) that next year I would be up there too… I’m not sure what came over me – the idea terrified me then and still does a year later. Sadly, Victorious Festival 2020 was a victim of the Coronavirus pandemic, so I have a reprieve until 2021!
Joining the Tonic Vocal Group has meant overcoming some long-standing fears. Hearing myself sing was probably my biggest fear – I could hide in the Ska Choir, but with so few of us in the Vocal Group this was no longer possible. It’s hard to forget the negative comments I’ve had over the years, and so I have to quieten the inner critic who is never satisfied. However, I am learning to trust Jade and my fellow singers – if they say I sound OK, then I must do – I know they wouldn’t let me make a fool of myself. That said, even I can tell that I’ve improved over the last year.
Unlike the choir, we have managed to continue the Vocal Group during lockdown. Initially, there were technological challenges – Zoom is great, but doesn’t allow more than one person to speak or sing at the same time. After a few weeks, we found a way of working which allowed us to progress. The first part of the hour is spent on theory and warm ups, and then we each take a part of the song ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ by Carole King to sing a capella. This has been a step too far for me, so I sing with the song playing through an earphone.
In many ways, the virtual Vocal Group has been good for me. Not only have I had to get used to hearing myself sing – I’ve also had to get used to other people hearing me sing without the music or other voices to mask it. Initially, this was possible because I could ignore the computer and pretend no one was listening. This has helped my confidence grow to the point where I have been able to sing with other group members in the same room as me. It also helps that I happen to love the song, and we have spent a lot of time working on both the song and singing techniques.
The other major fear I had to overcome was the microphone – at one of our Christmas gigs with the Ska Choir I found myself in front of one and totally froze. The first time Jade brought a microphone to the group I declined the opportunity to sing with it – it was too soon and I wasn’t confident enough to be heard. A few weeks later, Casemates Rehearsal Studios kindly offered us a studio to practise in for a couple of hours. This was such a generous offer and made a huge difference. I approached it with a mixture of excitement about meeting a new challenge, and fear – I was going to have to sing and be heard. Despite six months of Vocal Group, this was still a massive stumbling block for me, but those six months had also given me something else – trust in my fellow group members. We are all in this together, and I knew I would get the support I needed to get through it.
Our normal group sessions are only an hour long, so we don’t get much time to work on our songs. The extra time in the studio gave us the opportunity to really get into the songs and, more importantly, for me to relax and become more comfortable singing with the group. When I first stood in front of the microphone it took a lot of willpower not to run from it, but I managed to resist. I can’t say I am yet comfortable singing into a microphone, but at least I’m no longer afraid of it. With any luck, we will be able to practise again at Casemates before our next performance, but if not, at least I know I can sing into one now. My only regret from this session was that I didn’t sing louder on my solo line. Hopefully, next time I’ll do it more justice.
Next step Victorious? We’ll have to wait and see... but it doesn’t seem quite as impossible as it did a year ago.