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WINGING IT


It’s yet another big day today. After a halt of nine weeks post-surgery with an additional two weeks added on as we were back in the UK beforehand, I am going back to singing for my first rehearsal in all that time.


My voice suffered terribly post-op and it’s only really just returned to anything vaguely resembling normal.


I’m still struggling with some things. Where is my range and clarity? Where did all my breath go? Probably pumped into my thighs as they seem to have expanded somewhat from the inactivity of the last nine weeks. However voice and tuning wise, generally, I have noticed a distinct improvement over the last two weeks.


The voice was rubbish and also the head. I haven’t knuckled down as I had hoped I would be able, to thoroughly learn the beautiful Dvorak ‘Mass in D’, Pergolesi’s ‘Stabat Mater’, Haydn’s ‘Te Deum’ and the stunningly divine ‘Miserere Mei Deus’ by Allegri.


I’m so far behind - eleven weeks to be precise - it is giving me restless nights, and there is going to be much sight reading happening today.


My singing confidence that was flying, despite nerves before Christmas, is now very low indeed. For the first time ever in December, I sang solo in front of an audience of 100. I did it and can do it again one day though should I choose, so I try to hang on to that.


There are still parts of days punctuated with my own short private hell - putting on boots; bending over; trying to unravel a flung down hosepipe - gave up on that ridiculous effort PDQ; sitting on hard chairs for long spells; cutting my toenails, which incidentally, seem to be growing like weeds for some reason; bizarrely, drying my hair; standing in one position for too long; picking dropped things up from the floor which I seem to be doing more and more; turning my head hard left and right at sharp road junctions when driving. The list goes on. Things are certainly getting easier but still many, many times each day I am reminded of how long this particular healing process is going to take.


Back to the choir.


Canta Vivace, is run by the hugely patient, enthusiastic and talented Vicky O’Neill. She is the only MD I have sung with who is unfailingly positive and encouraging even when all appears to be going tits up. Definitely, we occasionally need picking up by the scruffs of our necks, but she does it without making us feel like a pile of shite.


It’s an auditioned choir and everyone in it has dedication and commitment in addition to a pretty reasonable musical ability. Such a fabulous honour to be a part of and some jolly good peeps too. Imposter syndrome pokes me firmly between the ribs often when I am there.


Vicky offers kind words in a crisis whether it be musical or personal, with no public histrionics, even if inside she is climbing the walls in frustration. She shows open emotion when things go swimmingly, repaying us with jolly smiles and laughter more often than perhaps we always deserve. She has rather a habit of bringing out the best in people, which is a pretty wonderful thing to be able to say about someone. I’m happy to be part of that gang and am proud to hear the sounds that come alive under her musical direction.


Plus we get to sing in some beautiful places, none more so than the delightful little unusual-for-France-as-it-is-a-spired church at Cuzorn, perched atop a hill overlooking the imposing Lot et Garonne countryside. Acoustics there are good. So much better than some of the other larger churches when the sound washes around, you lose the ability to ’hear’ what you are singing together.


Today though, may be a tad different from the normal, progressive rehearsals I am familiar with.


I am the weakest link and well I know it. My stalwart alti chums have all been beavering away in my absence as I have been idling my time, plucking grapes, cursing the patterns on the ceiling as I lie for hours on end watching the spider’s webs growing in number and size.


I’m hopeful I can blend into the background this time without making a complete arse of myself, and give it a bit more welly the next. Today will determine whether I am desperate or sanguine.



Driving myself to the rehearsal venue at the Music School in Monflanquin, I feel the stirrings of nerves from deep within.


Much like the first time I sang with Canta some 18 months ago. Since that day, Vicky has given me the technical ability, knowledge and confidence to musically make great personal strides. I will never be a Catherine Jenkins replacement but I am happy to open my mouth and something resembling music comes out.



I park the car by the ancient church in medieval Monflanquin and make my way to the music school through the vaulted arches of the old arcades.


There’s not a soul around I recognise in this sleepy, sunny, little bastide village.


When I arrive, the door to the school is also firmly locked. Cursing inwardly, I make my way back to the car but bump into some of my fellow alti who are leisurely strolling from the hilltop car park. I have apparently arrived half an hour early, thus no disaster after all.


So many welcoming smiles and kind words from Lovely Singing Friends. I feel quite overwhelmed but am secretly fretting they don’t show me the door when they hear my vocal descent into crapness.


Lovely Wendy has even made a welcoming, huge cake for all of us 30-odd singers to share. I am overcome with the kindness shown me.


It’s a two part session today with a couple of hours in the morning, a break for lunch, plus just under a further two hours in the afternoon.


Lovely Johanna and I were the only ones who didn’t bring a picnic with us so we head off to the local bistro, grabbing a very hurried bowl of excellent French onion soup with the all important glass of chilled rosé.


Perhaps I should have only done the morning as about half an hour into the afternoon, I’m in agony. Wriggling, standing up, sitting down, standing up again, finally exiting the rehearsal room alone to walk round and round in circles while singing by myself and hoping I’m getting it right.


However, I am so very glad indeed that I came along. As always, I learn so much and will work to ensure I retain at least some of it for next week’s rehearsal. Certainly, I feel no confidence in anything I actually sing today but it’s better than being yet another week behind. Reality tells me it went a whole hell of a lot better than I thought it would. Relieved? You bet.


They didn’t chuck me out either.


And the almond and rich chocolate cake is absolutely delicious, with a piece leftover for Simon too. Thank you, Wendy. ❤️





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Hi, thanks for stopping by!

I’m Jill, a RHS gold medal winning English professional gardener, garden designer and landscaper living in South West France since 2012. This is a personal account of my gardening life, some of the jolly and occasionally not so jolly japes that ensued while working, that probably caused my subsequent back problems.

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