My New Year's resolution in this column to join a choir elicited six kind invitations.
Heartening in itself. There's a lot more communal warbling going on than you might think. Miraculously, Merchant Voices meets at a time I can fit round my work and I liked their blurb: no auditions, no experience necessary and "singers don't even need to possess "good" voices – it's the ensemble that makes the beautiful sound".
So since January, in a studio high above the City Halls, around 80 of us have wrestled with the mighty Faure Requiem, a 16th-century Ukranian hymn, Jerome Kern's The Way You Look Tonight and much besides. Conductor Eric Dunlea, a crazy, delightful, Irishman has somehow contrived to plait together our varied voices into something (mostly) pleasing with his blend of homespun philosophy and Celtic charm.
In the best moments you are caught up like a surfer riding a sensuous wall of sound, hurtling – knees tingling – towards some distant shore. Of course, we often crash on the rocks and sometimes he chides us like stupid kids but when the magic works we are much more than the sum of our four parts. Having a fantastic accompanist – the ever-cheerful Gilmour Macleod – definitely helps and occasionally we amaze even ourselves.
To help navigate Faure's notoriously difficult key changes, crunching discords and sublime harmonies, we were issued with CDs with our own parts picked out in a rather lifeless electric organ. (My friend Nuala describes it as "Pinky and Perky murder Faure".) I took to singing along to it during my daily commute to The Herald, to the amusement of the lieges of Possil. Its sections became staging posts: Balmore Loch (Sanctus), Saracen Street (Libera Me!) and those giant multi-coloured metal flowers under the M8 at Cowcaddens (In Paradisium). Funny kind of paradise. Alarmingly, Brian, a booming baritone, practised while playing his CD through headphones while walking his dog.
This music is now so embedded in me that it has become a constant companion. Even at 4am, if I wake, the Kyrie or Agnus Dei is coursing through my brain.
For four months the choir has punctuated my week. I have crawled uphill towards the Wednesday practice, then slithered weekendwards. Eric is full of inspirational exhortations and epigrams, like: "Try to get in touch with the resonating cavities in the body". Or: "If the sternum stays hard, the sound is hard". We nod politely. Sometimes he shares New Age tips from a golf pro he knows. One day I will write a book called The Sayings of Eric.
Gradually you become aware of the other singers as individuals. Some of them are singing junkies, with a choir for nearly every night of the week. We come in all shapes and sizes and from many walks of life but already this choir feels like a kind of family, embracing me in its cheerful warmth. One chap joined to try slowing the progress of his Parkinson's. There is a lot of stress, illness, disability, bereavement and, one suspects, loneliness but we leave that at the door. For two hours that is all irrelevant because our 80 "me's" are one "us". And because there's something about the discipline of listening and joining in, combined with the sheer exuberance of yelling your head off with a bunch of so-called adults, that is balm for the soul. Doctors should prescribe it because it's hard to feel down when you've spent a couple of hours belting out the Vivaldi Gloria and Over the Rainbow.
Finally, on Monday we donned our black shirts and frocks and staged a concert, a first in 40 years for me. On the whole, I'm glad Gabriel Faure wasn't there to hear our attempt at his divine Requiem, let alone Michael Tumelty. Still, just to be a thread in that sound tapestry was thrilling beyond words, even if not every stitch was perfect. As if by magic, we sang far better than ever before.
Singing marries intellect with emotion. If words make you think and music makes you feel, then singing makes you feel a thought and singing together is a special kind of joy.
Merchant Voices resumes at the City Halls, Albion Street, Glasgow, on August 22, 6.30pm
We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis. If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules, which are available here.
Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.