In 2002, something awful happened to me. Every singer’s nightmare – I stood on a stage in front of 1500 people and my voice had gone.
Some time in between the final rehearsal/sound check, I’d contracted flu. My throat didn’t hurt and as the adrenaline started to get going, I didn’t notice that I was ill.
I opened my mouth to sing ‘But who will abide the day of his coming’ and a tiny squeaky croak, that split and jumped around came out.
The Messiah was off limits after that. My first ever ambition, to sing the solo part (firstly soprano, but that’s not my voice) and then the contralto solos and all was gone.
That year we moved back to the UK from Indonesia and had to start again, making friends, finding schools, buying cars and it wasn’t going well.
The first and most important issue, finding the right house to rent, was fine. We found an old railway station, which was five minutes by train from York and yes, the train stopped outside.
Next, find a neurologist. I’d been diagnosed with relapsing/remitting MS in 2000 and had been on beta-interferon since diagnosis (Rebif 44). The drug had stopped the constant relapses and after five months of serious illness, I’d recovered and gone on to perform a very satisfying recital of English Twentieth Century Art Songs and then I was offered Messiah.
It was like the swansong. The Silver Swan…well okay, I wasn’t dying.
Bad things happened after our return to the UK. I discovered that I couldn’t make musical acquaintances, as I couldn’t get through choir rehearsals due to cognitive fatigue. Twenty minutes of concentrating left me shaking and weak.
Things weren’t good and I had to retire. It was like losing a limb, or as I’ve written before, a child.
In my downward plunge to the bottom of a deep, black well, I knew that I’d get out one day. I wasn’t depressed, I was grieving and because things weren’t so good in the real world, I had to get on with it by myself.
What I did was to construct glass layers, onion skins, enough to repel even the weepiest movie. I was stone. I was a rock.
People didn’t exactly ask ‘you seem not yourself, are you okay?’ What they said was ‘You are cold, you don’t seem to care’. Inside I was dying and no one noticed or seem to want to help bring me out of this.
I wanted to be invisible. I wanted to buy a tent and go and live on a hillside somewhere and just be no trouble to anyone. Everything I did was wrong. Every time I tried to talk about my emotions, it triggered a panic attack in my husband and there was no one else to lean on.
So. Time heals. To be honest, discovering music that made me laugh, started to let the light back into my life. PDQ Bach saved my sanity. If you haven’t heard any of his music, do. His creator, alter-ego is Peter Schickele and my favourite recording is ‘The Wurst of PDQ Bach’.
Then we moved here and things were okay, Spanish was proving to be difficult, until my neighbours seized me and dragged me into their lives. My ‘Professoras’ have been my saviours. Feli, Mari-Carmen and Ana are my angels. Mari-Carmen would say ‘¡Ah carallo!’ but, she’d be touched. She’d smile and look down at the marble work surface in Ana’s kitchen, but she’d be pleased.
So, now we are 4 and we also have a grandchild in our gang. He’s adorable, the son of Mari-Carmen’s beautiful daughter, Beatrice and so the emotions unwind.
Two years ago, I had a bit of an embarrassing experience. Invited to our neighbour’s for tea at fiesta time, I met my internet pal Jo and her family. We drank some things we shouldn’t have and smoked some fierce stuff. Just before the legs went, I sang. Apparently it was quite something.
So, on a visit to Santo Estevo do Miño, a very pretty church near to us, I sang again and decided that enough was enough. It was time to get my mojo back.
I restarted aerobics (no mean feat with MS) and also vocal training and today was the first day of the return of the old voice. I can sing Rossini again and Handel and Cole Porter and Peter Warlock and Vaughn Williams and Gershwin and lo, it feels good. Oh yes. I have my old friend back. My voice. It’s part of me, yet not, as it’s a free spirit and probably a bit bigger than I am and far more flamboyant.
Let me tell you world. It’s not going to go away again. Now, all I have to do is find some other singers, a pianist and as many musicians as I can. I’m back.