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Christine Kydd
Christine Kydd was born and raised in the city of Glasgow. Her singing career has offered her great variety: she has worked solo; featured in bands with players who went on to form Shooglenifty and Calluna; collaborated with Janet Russell in a vocal duo; and worked in a trio setting with Chantan. Her current concert work pairs her with Norman Chalmers, performing songs and tunes of the sea, and also with other singers including Lorraine Jordan and Maureen Jelks.

In recent years, Christine and others have worked to set up community choirs as a way of encouraging people back to singing. I'm an enthusiastic member of one of her "Singing for Fun" groups, and look forward enormously to the weekly song gatherings, led by Christine. So I thought you might enjoy tuning into this recent conversation, and Christine's infectious enthusiasm for singing. Perhaps it will inspire you to start something similar in your own backyard.

(This interview was recorded in Perthshire in 2004.)


Fiona:

Before we talk about your work leading singing groups, tell us about your own earliest memories of singing.

Christine:

I've been singing "old songs" since I was very small: my family used to sit around the piano and sing when the extended family was around for various celebrations. The whole evening would be filled with songs and tunes on the piano, which several of my relatives played. These were not big ballads, but popular Scottish songs of the day, played in medleys, where everyone joined in, in full voice!

We learned folk songs, Burns songs, and narrative songs at school from a BBC radio program called "Singing Together." By the time I was about 11 years old, I was on the fringes of the folk revival in Glasgow. Too young to go to folk clubs, but playing guitar and singing with friends, we used to do wee gigs for the Women's Institute, the church, etc.

We'd enter talent competitions, and go to music nights where possible. As student teenagers, my two friends and I left Glasgow to work in the summer, in hotels, and every night possible was filled with singing sessions, the whole company singing in harmony. Songs were Scottish, American, singer/songwriter, pop songs of the day.

Fiona:

When did you start to pursue music more seriously?

Christine:

At University I joined bands and formed duos, singing and writing songs. This was a golden age of song for many, I'm sure. Much has been written about the folksong revival, and I'm not about to tackle that here, except to say that I believe around this time (late '70s early '80s), the revival came and went, to some extent, in broader society.

It changed from populist culture to specialist interest, and many potential singers, or community singers faded into the background.

By the early '80s, I was fortunate to be living in Edinburgh, Scotland, at the time when many exciting things were happening in traditional music. There was a creative instrumental surge, headed by the likes of Jock Tamson's Bairns, and The Easy Club.

I worked on the Edinburgh Folk Festival, and met a whole enormous community of people interested in the same thing. The singing community was strong, but with instrumental music becoming more and more sophisticated, singing seemed to disappear into the background.

Perhaps it was seen as less "cool" than some of the other innovations at that time. Despite that, I was fortunate to be at many great singing and music sessions, to tour and record with Janet Russell over a number of years, and with Chantan, as well as continuing my solo career.

Fiona:

What made you want to expand your work by encouraging others to sing?

Christine:

I think many people in the '90s were asking, "How can we now encourage ordinary people to take ownership of songs and singing?" Singing is one of the fundamental human rights, in my opinion. Just as the power of speech is available to all but a few exceptions, so the power of song belongs to us all.

We should all feel comfortable to express ourselves through song, regardless of the quality of the voice. It's the story, the communication that matters. People used to sing in school and in church, but the majority of the population doesn't sing now. If this means they don't have a voice, this is serious!

Fiona:

So how did you go about bringing song back into the community?

Christine:

Stan Reeves of the Adult Learning Project in Edinburgh was lamenting the lack of spaces to sing collectively in our country and asked me to start a Scots Folk Choir about 7 years ago. His inspiration to raise a sense of Scottishness, and create a space for people to sing, came from the choirs of Estonians who sang the Russians out of their country during that time of change.

I was unsure about the marrying of an essentially free, expressive form, with a regimented structure, but I was interested to see how his idea might work so I decided to take the opportunity. The Edinburgh group, Sangstream, now has a membership of 50 and a waiting list.

The other group I started at that time, Sangschule, now runs itself, and has won funding to present a series of workshops drawing from the expertise of many of Scotland's top traditional singers. Both groups have recorded their arrangements, and play in day centres and hospitals, giving back to the community. I eventually moved on from both projects, but they invite me back sometimes to teach them new arrangements!

Fiona:

What did you learn from your experiences with folk choirs that you’re now able to apply in your own workshops and singing groups?

Christine:

I learned a tremendous amount about what people are looking for! The model is clear: learn some songs while singing with lots of other people, gaining confidence to use your voice on the way. I advertise my groups as “Christine Kydd's Singing for Fun!” We always start with some warm-up techniques (I have a postgraduate qualification in Voice Studies from the Central School of Speech and Drama in London). This helps to relax the singers. I incorporate as much humour as possible: it gets the diaphragm working!

Fiona:

What about material and arrangements?

Christine:

Rounds, songs -- I smuggle in as much traditional and Scottish material as I can. Learning is mostly by ear, but with song sheets to support the learning. Harmony can be incorporated, arrangements of the songs.

As far as phrasing is concerned, I teach the phrasing I feel is right for the song, but I always stress that each person will have their own individual feel for a song, and that they should feel free to take the song away and make it their own.

Fiona:

So how do these groups develop over time?

Christine:

The developments and applications are interesting. The group can perform in a safe environment -- usually I suggest in a day centre or hospital, where it's not too formal. It means the group's role is to give, to contribute and entertain. The emphasis is taken away from the spotlight, being judged, feeling nervous. In this way the group's confidence builds, and it's ready to tackle more formal performances.

Sangstream and Sangschule met in 1999 to perform together at a fantastic event in Edinburgh, as part of a huge Ceilidh and song event. With 700 of an audience, 80 singers from various interested groups came together to perform at the Assembly Rooms in the same city. I hope to repeat these sorts of events away from central Scotland, bringing other groups together, and to make links with similar groups in other countries. The possibilities are exciting.

Fiona:

Now tell us more about the groups you’re currently running -- away from the main population centres in Scotland.

Christine:

To date these groups have been adult leisure classes, but recently in Perthshire, we have younger members from 5 to 15. This may be a direction in which it will be possible to take these groups in the future. More work has been done in the USA on inter-generational groups, so I'd love to hear from any of your listeners who have been doing this kind of work!

In my class in Angus, one member is a lovely singer, and has a great sense of humour. She has learned all of the songs by ear, and is an inspiration to those who desperately cling to their song sheets (I discourage song sheets in the workshop, as I think it's easy to get hooked on having the words in front of you). The singer I'm talking about is blind. She can't see the song sheet and she gives me a good excuse to encourage “learning by lug” (ear). The other great contribution she makes is her great sense of humour.

Then on the Isle of Skye, an inter-generational group meets to have workshops with me, and in that context, I encourage the young ones to teach songs they know to the adults, thereby giving them a certain status with in the group, trying to level it out, so everyone is appreciated for what they can offer.

These groups have emerged since January 2002. Some of them I have initiated, some I have supported in getting started. For each it's early days, but I hope that they'll grow in strength and end up performing as a group, for other people, as well as sharing their songs in the family and with their friends.

Fiona:

What about the climate at large? Is there wider support for your efforts to nurture song in the community?

Christine:

There's growing interest in funding projects of this kind in Scotland because of the links with community development, and tourism. All of the groups I work with will be looking to access funds to broaden their experience, for setting up workshops with a range of leaders, and for resources to aid learning, such as mini disk recorder, a book library and CD library. I'll be brought in to steer the projects, working with the groups and their committees to help them get what they want, and to think big!

Fiona:

t sounds as though you are striking the right chord at the right time.

Christine:

Yes, it's great to see a group of people who don't know each other having fun singing, wanting to know more about Scottish and traditional culture. At the same time they’re organizing social events where they meet up and eat, have walks, go to hear music together in the pub, whatever. They want to know more about the music and songs, they go to the festivals and buy the CDs. It's a new world. I feel privileged to help people re-create their community of interest. We're all having fun!

Contact Christine Kydd about her performances, workshops, masterclasses, and other projects by e-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and find her on the web at www.christinekydd.com.