I wonder if the world is divided between those who can and do push their boundaries and those who don’t?
It’s easy. The first time you stand up to read out loud in the classroom. That’s your first experience of stepping out – or up, as they say in America.
I used to have ballet lessons. I wasn’t very good, or even the right shape, as my arms and legs are too short for elegance.
I can remember having been entered for a dancing competition in Edinburgh and I must have been about seven or eight years old.
My mother (a huge ballet fan) made me practice every day. I won. It was a surprise and I still have that medal in a box somewhere.
My love was music though. Music exams were terrifying ordeals. I hated all of them except for Grade VIII flute.
What I wanted, secretly deep down, was for someone to say, ‘oh, what a lovely voice, let me teach you how to sing really well’, but alas no.
It didn’t stop me dreaming.
The Comfort Zone, that place where you are yourself and in (your dreams) which you are showered with jobs, money, compliments, must exist for some charmed people.
In all my years, the top few most difficult experiences have been:
Giving birth (terrifying).
Starting to teach people to sing.
Conducting. For two years, I taught 40 women and girls how to sing in 4-part harmony. We were ‘The Jakarta International Choir’. It was international, but Jakarta was where we all lived. It beat shopping and eating and shopping and gave us all something to aim for.
I’m not used to conducting. It’s difficult. You have know all the parts and have them in your head when conducting, so that the singers can come in at the correct place and sing up when they need to.
There was a bit of a cheat. I’d record all the parts for the girls and their mums to learn, so that when it came to the actual piece, I knew it as well as possible.
Performing can be wonderful. There was a time in my third year at university, when the members of the Early Music Group did a bit of Purcell’s ‘The Fairy Queen’ and I wanted to sing ‘The Entrance of Night’ and after a certain amount of pleading and ‘it’s not fair PJ’ the poor man Dr Peter Johnson gave in.
That five minutes or so was sublime. It was as though time was suspended. I didn’t want it to stop – ever.
The other great moment was in 2000 and at my peak of fitness and stamina, I sang Rossini’s ‘Una Voce Poco Fa’ and in the course of my vocal gymnastics hit a high C sharp and did the “Jennifer Larmour Ending’, which entailed running up to the last high B (in musical terms) taking a breath and holding the note on….and on.
I can remember saying ‘If I died tomorrow, I’d die happy’.
Since then, the year of my diagnosis with Multiple Sclerosis, most of the battles have been with my body. When I’m having a relapse, or MS attack, then I’m out of action for at 6 weeks and I worry if things will return to normal.
There was a relapse in 2005 that lasted for 8 months and I was only able to walk ten metres at a time. It played havoc with holidays, but thankfully my family worked around me.
Since then, pushing myself has involved the Spanish language. I did get stuck and felt unable to put sentences together in about 06/07 but I got past it. I make mistakes, but I don’t beat myself up.
The other challenge is fitness. Right now, I’m not able to walk much, due to a nasty knee injury. I can remember thinking ‘oh good. I’ve got through the whole summer without injury!’. Yeah, that wasn’t so smart.
I spent 4 days imprisoned in my bedroom, after trying to cycle. That was a huge mistake, as I managed to damage all the soft tissues on the first revolution of the pedals. The knee began to swell and I was stuck. I’m on crutches for the next two weeks and I really, really hope that it recovers. I may moan about having to exercise, but in reality, for a person with MS, aerobics is a luxury.
When (see, I’m positive) I restart exercising, I’ll still moan about it, but underneath, I’ll be thankful that I can do it at all.