Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Bedtime Story (13/12/2017)

By the time this story goes live, it will be a week after I've had the chance sing in my first concert in many years.  In November, I signed up for a five-week singing course with a local ladies barbershop choir.  I have absolutely loved singing with others again - so much so, that I plan on joining the choir properly in January!  So, to celebrate, here's a story all about the magic of song.

If you want to hear me read this story as a podcast, just click here.

And if you want a book as a last-minute Christmas gift, my brand new children's novella, Isabella, is out now!

Caitlin's Carol Concert

Christmas was nearly here.  The tree was up, the fairy lights were twinkling and everywhere Caitlin went, people seemed to be excited and full of smiles.  It was Caitlin's favourite time of year, but before school finished for the Christmas holidays, Caitlin had something she wasn't looking forward to.

Every year, Caitlin's school put on a Christmas play.  All the children's families would come along to watch and there would be a rush of costumes to make and words to learn, in the weeks leading up to it.  But this year, the school had decided to hold a Christmas carol concert, instead.  And Caitlin was not impressed.

Caitlin liked music and she never minded the short songs that usually featured in her school's Christmas plays, but this year, the songs were much longer and more serious and everyone had been taught to sing sweetly and clearly.  The older classes were even adding some harmonies.  Each class was also performing a song on their own.  Caitlin was terrified; she didn't think she could sing; what if she let her class - or worse, the whole school - down?!

"I don't want to sing in the concert," Caitlin insisted to her mum, the day before the show.  "I can't sing."

Her mum frowned.  "Of course you can," she replied.  "Everyone can sing!"

Caitlin shook her head.  "I can't," she said.  "I get all the notes wrong and then I get embarrassed and I forget the words..."  She took a long, deep breath.  "The class will sound better if I'm not there."

Mum tutted.  "Don't be silly.  I think you sound lovely when you sing.  Besides, it's not about how good you are.  It's about standing up there and being part of something.  Singing can be such a joyful thing to do; you shouldn't make it scary, by worrying about it.  Just let go and enjoy it."

Caitlin wrinkled her nose.  Singing didn't feel all that joyful to her.  Although, to be fair, when they'd practised for the concert at school, Caitlin was usually pretending to sing along, hoping nobody would notice that there was no sound coming out.

Despite her mum's words of encouragement, Caitlin was still feeling worried by the time the evening came.  Her dad tucked her into bed and Caitlin sighed.  "Dad, can I miss the concert, tomorrow?  I'm not good at singing and I'm really nervous."

Dad cocked his head to one side.  "Why don't you think you're good at singing?"  

Caitlin shrugged.  "I'm shy.  You have to be really outgoing to sing.  You have to be loud, not all whispery like I am when I sing.  And if I try to sing loud, I'll just sound like I'm shouting.  I just don't want to do it.  I'd rather stay at home."

Dad kissed her on the forehead.  "There are lots of very famous singers who sing gently, rather than belting out a tune," he insisted.  "Anyway, you won't be singing by yourself.  All your classmates will be with you and you can listen to them, to make sure you're doing what you're supposed to be doing."  He smiled down at her.  "Your mum and I are really looking forward to seeing the concert.  Your big sister's been practising her harmonies for weeks!"

The following morning, Caitlin waited for her big sister, Harriet, to come downstairs for breakfast.  When she joined Caitlin at the table, Caitlin whispered to her: "You need to persuade the teachers that I'm too poorly to be in the concert, this afternoon."  She patted her own chest.  "I'll just pretend to cough a lot, or something."

Harriet looked bemused.  "Why would you pretend to cough?  The concert's going to be fun!"  She blinked at her sister.  "Is this why you wouldn't practise with me, all those times I asked you?!"

Caitlin nodded, her cheeks flushing red.  "You sound really pretty when you sing," she replied.  "I'm not brave enough to sing loud, because I just sound rubbish."

Harriet laughed.  "That's nonsense!  You have your own voice and it's special because it's yours.  You should try really singing your heart out this afternoon.  I think you'll enjoy it a lot more, if you do."

They finished their breakfast in silence and soon, it was time to head to school.

The day passed much too quickly for Caitlin and before long, her class were lining up, ready to head into the hall for the concert.  The reception class were opening the show with a cute little song about reindeer.  Caitlin watched the children - all younger, yet seemingly braver than she was - and it made her feel sad.  She could see her parents sitting in the front row.  She could see Harriet, standing proudly with the older children at the back of the stage.  The next song was one the whole school were singing together.  Caitlin did her usual trick of miming along, moving her mouth in all the right places, but not making any sound.  Then, to Caitlin's horror, it was her class that had to take centre stage and sing a song on their own.

As she shuffled into the place she'd been told to stand, Caitlin looked at her classmates, all smiling and looking straight out at the audience, like their teacher had told them to.  Caitlin's mouth felt dry.  Her heart was hammering against her rib cage.  Her forehead had started to sweat under the hot lights.

The music started.  Caitlin felt like running away.  She wanted to yell "stop!"  But she forced herself to think of everything her family had told her.

This is about standing up here and being part of something, she thought, remembering her mum's words.  Singing can be such a joyful thing to do.

She remembered her dad, telling her to listen to everyone else, to make sure she was doing the right thing.

And she recalled her sister's words: You have your own voice.  And it's special because it's yours.

The musical introduction was over.  The class began to sing.  Very quietly, Caitlin joined in.  She forced herself to stand tall and to stare out into the audience, with her head held high.  And, weirdly, as she did, her voice seemed to get a little louder.

She listened to the words she was singing - all about Christmas and presents and being with people you love - and she thought about what they meant to her.  And, to her surprise, she began singing a bit louder, still.

With each word she sang, Caitlin realised her shoulders felt lighter and a smile was slowly creeping across her face.  The words that tumbled from her mouth seemed to be coming straight from her heart and lighting her up like a Christmas tree.  Instead of standing stiffly, scared to move, Caitlin started to sway to the rhythm of the music, singing freely as she went.  She listened to the sound of all of her classmates singing in unison, letting their voices wash over and comfort her, making her confident enough to sing even louder.

At the end of the song, when the audience burst into applause, Caitlin waved at her mum and dad, unable to stop herself from grinning.

Later, when the concert was over and the family were heading home in the car, Mum turned from the front seat and smiled at Caitlin.  "I'm really proud of you," she told her.  "You did something, even though you were scared, and you did a fantastic job."

Caitlin beamed back at her.  "Actually," she began, "I hope we do a concert instead of a play next year, too."

"Really?!"  Mum chuckled.  "But I thought you didn't like singing?"

Caitlin shook her head.  "Oh, Mum," she tutted.  "I just needed to find my voice, that's all!"

And with that, Caitlin turned to look out of the window, at the darkening sky outside, singing to herself all the way home.


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