Welcoming The New & Appreciating What Is

Happy New Year wishes to you all! I hope you are having a good-feeling week, day, hour, minute, moment, and that this year there will be many moments that feel good to you.

There are lots of new things afoot here, admidst adjusting to the constant flux of the pandemic, and I’m excited to tell you a wee bit about my hopes, dreams, journeyings, experiences and offerings as another year gets underway.

As ever, I hope, this year, to sing! And most particularly, to sing with others, in resounding unison and in colourful harmony. To move the air with other humans and to revel in the many layers of magic this simple (or complex, depending how you look at it) act can create. To engage with the rhythms and shapes and emotions of a song, to breathe more deeply, to expand the moment and express humanity, together with others. This magical, earthed and uplifting act of singing together, can catalyse so much good: I could write books about it! And I am so grateful for the ways in which it is still possible in these times.

GLOW Choir, Brighton’s Non-Audition Natural Voice Community Choir for LGBTQIA+ folks and Allies, has kept on singing and sharing in queer community throughout the pandemic, via zoom and a few outdoor singing sessions. I am excited for the new term’s plans for GLOW: we intend to meet and sing at St Luke’s Church, Old Shoreham Road, every other Saturday from February to July, with mitigations in place, and to meet outdoors or on zoom on the weeks that we’re not at St Luke’s. I’m crossing everything that this will still seem safe and sensible in February, and that the latest wave of Covid that the UK is experiencing will have dipped down by then. St Luke’s Church and its generous acoustic and welcoming atmosphere have been an important aspect of the GLOW choir experience for many choir members in pre-pandemic times.

I’m so proud of and grateful for the core GLOW choir membership who have kept the choir alive and singing, and for the meaningful space that these members have co-created within my holding of it. If any of you are reading this: thank you so much for your time, energy, presence, singing, sharing and generous GLOWing.

Many of the wider GLOW choir community members have not been able to sing with us since the pandemic came along (with all its seismic shifts in how humans do life), and I am hoping that from February some of those dearly missed folks, and newcomers who are seeking a community singing space like GLOW, will be able to join in and enjoy the benefits of singing and gathering in the good company of LGBTQIA+ folks and Allies.

Over the course of the pandemic, I have written a number of a cappella harmony songs, many of which GLOW choir have only sung on zoom. I am looking forward very much to breathing new life into these songs, as well as other much beloved GLOW choir repertoire and fresh new tunes, at our in-person sessions from February onwards. You can hear snippets of some of these original songs at my webshop, as well as purchasing sound files for listening pleasure or teaching materials and permissions if you’d like to share any of these songs with your groups and/or communities.

All voices are welcome at GLOW choir, without judgement or exception. I take care to bring patient, encouraging, clear, accessible, fun and uplifting teaching to my choir sessions. I avoid teaching styles that would single people out negatively in front of others, discourage them or bring down their confidence. Instead I seek to empower and encourage people, and to offer them the joy of being themselves in a safe space to explore, develop and enjoy their unique, miraculous and ordinary voices alongside each other.

I have been happy to be able to keep up my one to one voice coaching practice via Zoom throughout the pandemic, and am currently open to new clients if you would like an hour long session of focused, encouraging coaching via zoom, as often as you need/want it. See my homepage to find out more. Zoom is actually a surprisingly effective medium for one to one coaching, with its particular benefits and limitations, and I do think it makes singing sessions more accessible in some ways. However, if Zoom is not for you, I’m open to discussing outdoor sessions, or Covid-19 appropriate venues, if this is important to you. If you have had one to one sessions with me at any time and you are reading this: thank you! I love this work and find it very rewarding to see people grow and thrive vocally.

Singing and giving voice has been a central aspect of who I am and how I live, throughout my existence, and I care passionately about creating inclusive, accessible vocal opportunities for all voices. You can find out more about my background here, including links to some organisations and people I work with, have trained with, or have been influenced by.

Singing groups have taken a real blow during the pandemic, and most choir leaders’ plans are still very much up-in-the-air as the waves of Covid-19 come and go. I am so grateful in recent weeks to have been able to sing Shape Note Songs with my parents, in the comfort of our family home, after a long time of only seeing my parents outside and not being sure if singing would be safe to do. I am particularly grateful for this in the wake of the sudden and tragic death of Larry Gordon, an incredible human who founded Village Harmony, inspired thousands to sing, and made ripples of music and aliveness that are still resonating throughout the world. Larry was a father-figure to a whole generation of teens, and an inspiration beyond that. He taught me to be more fully and unapologetically human and myself. He, and along with the other VH teachers, showed me a way of being, around which I have shaped my life.

Here is a poem by Rumi that Larry loved:

Where Everything Is Music

Don’t worry about saving these songs!
And if one of our instruments breaks,
it doesn’t matter.

We have fallen into the place
where everything is music.

The strumming and the flute notes
rise into the atmosphere,
and even if the whole world’s harp
should burn up, there will still be
hidden instruments playing.

So the candle flickers and goes out.
We have a piece of flint, and a spark.

This singing art is sea foam.
The graceful movements come from a pearl
somewhere on the ocean floor.

Poems reach up like spindrift and the edge
of driftwood along the beach, wanting!

They derive
from a slow and powerful root
that we can’t see.

Stop the words now.
Open the window in the center of your chest,
and let the spirits fly in and out.

by Rumi – translated by Coleman Barks and John Moyne

The scarcity of opportunities to sing with others during the pandemic, and the loss of Larry’s light in the world, has made me appreciate community singing all the more deeply, and renewed my commitment to bringing music, song and voice to the world in all the ways i can.

I have been very grateful in recent times to become part of the Companion Voices Brighton Group: which meets monthly to practice in preparation for offering song at people’s bedsides at end of life. It has been an honour to sing under cloudy skies around a fire pit (and one time at St Luke’s) with this group, and to come to a deeper understanding of its purpose. I have also recently taken on the role of music/song leader when Judith cannot be there, which has also been an honour. I have yet to sing at my first bedside, as Covid-19 makes this a rather risky endeavour. I look forward to the opportunity to offer love and service in this way, when the time is right. In the meantime I am deepening my understanding and awareness of death, and strengthening relationships with the group, and familiarity with appropriate repertoire. I am so grateful to be a part of this.

I have also been very lucky, for a number of years, to sing with Packpins Madrigal Group. Connecting with friendly, thoughtful people regularly, and enjoying these complex and beautiful songs, which connect to universal human emotions throughout the ages, and help me keep my sight-reading skills and vocal range in shape with regular challenges: it is a precious gift. Just before Covid-19 hit the UK fully, we had a beautiful concert at St Luke’s shared with others and celebrating music and community, and raising funds for a charity. Throughout most of the pandemic we have met only on zoom, although in the summer we took to local parks to sing alongside folks having picnics or playing football: and once as we sang into the dusk with torches, we were graced with bats and a stork (I think)! We have had the joy of singing a few times at an indoor-outdoor home-venue in recent months, and we are now sadly/sensibly on pause until the current Omicron wave is past, or until it’s warm and light enough to sing outdoors in the evenings. I cherish this group of people and voices, and can’t wait to sing with them again.

I am also incredibly lucky to have moved in with my Beloved Partner, Chris, during the pandemic, and to have the joy of singing and dancing together with her around the house, as well as sharing GLOW and Companion Voices experiences together. It is sustaining and revitalising to share these moments of song &/or dance together, in work-breaks and whenever the moment strikes.

Something I am particularly aware of welcoming in over the Winter Holiday and New Year period, has been strengthening the wider web of community connections for me and for my Partner. Nourishing friendships and family ties and other community relationships with presence and energy, has been challenged by the pandemic. I have M.E. and my partner has fibromyalgia, so we have both had extra reason to be on the more cautious end of responses to Covid-19. This has meant that many of the things we might normally do, e.g. visiting friends in each others’ homes, have been unavailable. In recent months we have felt ready (thanks to vaccines, time, information and Love) to have some careful indoor meets with a small number of trusted close friends and family members. There has been such a sense of relief, and restoring of balance and rightness, in these careful and joyous reclamations of some simple human acts. Our flat feels so much more of a home to have had a few beloveds here, and it is wonderful to start to feel less isolated, whilst still being sensible about Covid-19 risk.

I am immensely grateful to have got to this point, and to Love and live with someone so right for me, and so wonderful in so many ways. I’m proud of weathering the storms of this pandemic together with my dear Partner. I intend to keep nourishing the bright and colourful web of community connections in the year to come, in all the ways that feel safe and sane, sensible and happy, and right to all. I’m so grateful for the friendships in my life, including my friendship with myself, with my Partner, with my family, with Spirit (in the broadest sense): and of course for all my dear, dear friends, ‘old and new,’ whose light in the world I cherish.

On isolation and connection: the Natural Voice Network of which I am a member, is made up of people scattered across different locations, with a shared ethos of singing being a human birthright. If you want to find a warm and welcoming choir near you, do check out the Natural Voice Network website, or pop me an email if you’re looking for an LGBTQIA+ choir in Brighton UK / online! One thing the pandemic has offered up for our network has been a wider embracing of the benefits of technology to keep us connected. I have had more access to (and engaged with in more depth and with more frequency) connections within the network, via facebook groups, email threads and Zoom. Our annual gatherings have taken place virtually, improving access for those who cannot travel, and greatly reducing the financial cost of taking part. I am grateful for this sense of being slightly more connected to the network. Everything is more dynamic and alive when it feels connected to the web of life, compared to the sense of stuckness/isolation that can occur when something is operating in more of a vacuum.

Prompted by these extra connections with network members, I became aware of a need within the NVN, to increase awareness of gender diversity, so that NVN members can be better informed about making their choirs safer, more welcoming and more inclusive spaces for transgender, Non-Binary and other gender non conforming people. I have been lucky in my time working with GLOW choir and in my wider life experience and research, to learn a lot about this (though there is always more to learn), and most importantly to learn about ways to be a good ally to people of all genders. In partnership with another NVN member, and with the approval of the NVN board of trustees and some help from a few individuals, I co-created the NVN Statement on Gender Inclusion and Awareness. You can access this for free at the link given here, do check it out. I am proud of this piece of work and look forward to helping bring it to life for NVN members in a collaborative way in the year ahead. I think this piece of work is important in helping the NVN continue to fulfill our mission of creating singing spaces in which all voices are welcome.

Giving voice, singing and one’s relationship to one’s own voice, can be particularly important for LGBTQIA+ people, in a variety of ways. An encouraging atmosphere in which one’s voice, one’s identity and one’s self expression are validated, encouraged, respected and celebrated, can bring wide ranging benefits that have a positive impact on many areas of life. Anyone who has had their metaphorical or literal voice stifled, judged, criticized, dismissed or even demonized, may benefit from the joy of a safe space to speak, sing, and express themselves as who they are.

For me, singing is a well-rehearsed ‘Happy Place,’ where I can find Grace amidst difficulty and/or day-to-day-ness, express outwardly what is within, change state, and gain easier access to qualities such as kindness, compassion, calm, strength, centredness, passion, mastery, curiosity, joy and so many aspects of humanity. Singing also helps me connect with other humans, with humanity, and with Beauty of a deeper kind. It can help to calm my system when I am overwhelmed, and can enliven me when I feel stuck or exhausted, particularly when singing in connection with other humans, or in connection with my deeper/higher self. It is my honour to help to facilitate nourishing singing experiences for other humans, and my great delight and relief to continue to make space for singing in my own life too.

Singing can bring people into the moment in ways that engage the whole human: mind, body, emotions, spirit, breath… Singing can make the inaudible vibrations of existence, audible to the human ear and heart. Singing can express humanity, help people explore what it is to be human, and to share this in connection with others. Singing can bring people into rhythm and harmony with one another, both literally and metaphorically. Singing helps people embody their right to take up space in the world.

Singing bonds communities, and nourishes the soul. Singing excercises the lungs and the whole body gently, and brings a host of (well documented and researched) physical and mental health benefits. Singing can help people develop empathy towards others. It can help to deepen people’s breathing and bring about a sense of greater calm and wellbeing. Singing also helps people to listen more, and to practice tuning their ears in to the sounds and voices around them, and exploring their place within a group sound. A choir in which people are encouraged to train both their ears and their hearts to listen well, can deepen bonds and wellbeing for everyone involved.

I hope to spend time listening well in the coming year. To the music of nature, to the sea, to birdsong, to my lover’s breath and heartbeat, and her words, to the people around me, to stories, to silence, to music, to feedback, to my instincts, to the yearnings of body and soul, to my loyal and ever present breath, and to the voices I am honoured to hear expressed.

Here is something for you to listen you (and look at), a video I took at GLOW Wakehurst on New Year’s Eve:

There is a place of peace that can arise from listening with loving presence and openness. There is also a place of fascination and focus, that can come from the close-listening aspects of my work at times. From breaking down the components of a song/melody to help somebody learn it, to listening carefully to different vocal qualities in order to give feedback, to hearing kindly and openly the nuances of experience that people might express to me about their relationships with their voices, how they feel giving voice, and how they want to sound and/or feel when they sing or speak.

Something relatively new that I have been doing, which also requires a lot of listening energy, is Voice Acting. It has been a steep climb starting out on this new branch of my career, and I’m loving the learning that’s coming with it! I have learnt so much about sound recording, acoustic properties of different spaces, technology, and how the industry works: most of which has involved training my ears in some way! I have also learnt a lot about accents, speech qualities and voice types, which is being enriching.

I had decided initially that I would not embark on any accents other than my own, for fear of being problematic or offensive. However I have learnt that this essential aspect of the craft of acting has its time and its place, and that, whilst there are some accents that it would not be appropriate for me as a white person to try to emulate, there is nothing offensive about creating characters who hail from different places and sound different from one another, and doing one’s best to do a good job of representing that character, within the context of that job, and with respect for the cultural context one might be representing also.

Having learnt this and discovered inner and outer permission to explore accents outside the small niche of ‘sounds like me,’ I have been deeply diving into learning the nuances and ‘music’ of a few different accents, for some bit-parts I am doing in an audio play, who all need to sound different enough to talk to each other in the same scene. It is a vast, fascinating and delightful topic (to me), and I am very grateful for all the online resources available with which one can expand one’s listening and understanding. There are shapes of vowels, melody and intonation patterns, differing consonants, different mouth and tongue positions, even different intuitive body language and/or facial expressions, that can be a part of regional accents. Add to this the qualities of different individual characters, and the context and scenes in which they appear, and there is so much potential variety and subtlety in human expression. Then there are dialects too! It’s all fascinating human communication, and music of a kind in its way.

I’m very grateful for those who have employed me and facilitated my steep learning curve in this aspect of my career, and I look forward to many years of Voice Acting revelations yet to come! If you would like to find out more, or book me to be part of your audio project, just drop me a line or head to my Backstage profile (which needs a bit of updating: my recording set up and general skills have drastically improved since I made the voice reels currently available on there: watch this space for a new improved profile of work soon).

As the New Year both gathers pace and offers a prompt to reflect on things, I have been seeking a sense of ‘fertility,’ growth, fecundity, and multidirectional mutual inspiration, in all aspects of my work and projects. A sense of wanting to feel and be less isolated (pandemic and M.E. have expanded the presence of isolation in my life), and to feel more connected to a living web of community and connection.

In response to feeling slightly in a vacuum with my yoga teaching and practice, and on the good advice of a very good friend of mine who is also a yoga teacher, I have started attending some online classes led by other teachers, and in which I can let go and not be the teacher. This has been so nourishing, and has renewed my perspective on what Yoga is, and my appreciation for the benefits that this ancient and present, traditional and evolving practice can yield.

I have also undertaken some training to improve my offerings at the Yoga for ME class, which is still operating on Thursday afternoons via Zoom, and is a welcoming space for people with chronic health conditions (and people who need a gentle and permissive class for a variety of reasons), to explore a range of carefully prepared and delivered yoga practices, and to see which practices work for them.

To improve my offerings at this class, and my understanding of Yoga and of chronic conditions like the one that I have (M.E.), I am undertaking Fiona Agombar and Sarah Ryan’s online course, ‘Yoga Therapy for Chronic Fatigue, Burnout & Long Covid.’ There is lots of content so I am moving through it slowly and taking it all in, but I am finding it to be thought provoking, interesting and inspiring already. Once I have completed it I hope to offer a series of workshops which will give people the chance to engage with Yoga in a different way than the weekly 1 hour sessions.

It’s wonderful to be studying again: I completed my first Yoga Teacher Training in 2010 at the Kripalu Centre, and I find it helpful to revisit a learning space and undertake CPD at least semi regularly, to keep my teaching fresh and to engender improvement and self reflection where necessary.

There are many things about the modern industry built on of the ancient practice of Yoga, that are not to my taste, or even that I consider to be dangerous and damaging. There have also however been some reflections of current culture and thought in some aspects of how Yoga is presented today, and in these I do see some positive changes. Such as, a move away from a guru-student model of relating, towards a model of every person being a teacher of themselves and of others by showing up to practice and seeing what they experience there. A model of equality, and of autonomy.

I see some (though not enough) class teachers explicitly encouraging bodily and mental autonomy throughout their class, and checking for consent before offering assists or public attention or unsolicited advice. I see teachers doing the work of looking at modern yoga classes through the lense of anti-racist practice, and bringing consideration to cultural appropriation and what this might mean in the context of yoga, and yoga teaching and practice around the world.

I see (some, but not enough) teachers bringing a fat positive, body positive ethos into their classes: something I’m extra passionate about given the prevalence of diet-culture and anti-fat-bias in the modern yoga industry. I see some yoga teachers considering the experiences of LGBTQIA+ folks at their yoga classes, and doing what they can to make spaces, venues, practices and language accessible for people of all gender, romantic and sexual identities. I see teachers considering how to make their classes safer for people with experiences of trauma, and I see teachers adapting practices to suit individual humans living in unique bodies, rather than trying to change the humans to ‘achieve’ the practices.

I see teachers doing what they can to improve access to yoga for those who might struggle to gain access to it: a part of the thinking behind our continued Yoga For M.E. Zoom class offering which runs alongside our in-person classes, meaning that there is something out there that people can access from home, without exposure to Covid-19 risk, at a very low price compared to standard classes, and without the energetic and financial cost of travel.

I care deeply about all these things above, and I would say I am doing better at some aspects of these improvements than others. I am so happy to be part of a tide of change, and so grateful to the Yoga for ME Class Administrator, community of attendees, and teaching team, for giving me the opportunity to continue to teach throughout a pandemic and living with M.E., and to be able to teach in a context that I care about. I am particularly grateful to Cathy and Becky who worked with me to set up the online class sometime around Lockdown 1 or 2: we have been on quite a journey together and I’m thankful for having this community project to be a part of.

I hope this year to find ways to make the most of each day in some small way, and to make time for people I care about, time in nature, work and play and rest.

I hope to bring kindness, respect and a loving attitude as often as I can.

I hope to do what I can to (metaphorically) tread lightly on the earth, in terms of care for our planet and environment. And also to (literally) dance heavily on the earth in thanks for the gift of being alive in a human body, at this time.

I wish you all safe, sane, happy and well, to whatever degree is possible, and I hope you have enjoyed my reflections. Thank you for reading.

With respect and love, Hannah-Rose.