The thing about the WIs Denman College is that it's not only a good environment (Marcham, Nr Abingdon) in which to learn a few things but it also brings out the best in its pupils. It’s a remarkable place that members can’t wait to revisit.
The course I went on was entitled Countryside and Music which I imagined was one of those sit down and listen courses rather than something that required the students to take an active part. Imagine my surprise when I learned that I was actually required to sing.
I did sing in my younger days, in fact I was a member of the Town Hall choir. In that capacity I took part in a choral concert at the Royal Albert Hall. What an experience that was. Unfortunately, being one of those stupid teenagers that feel it necessary to keep up with the gang, I took up smoking.
Perhaps you can understand the horror I felt when many years later I received the news that I was expected to sing, not just once but every conceivable hour for the duration of the course … a full three days with breaks for meals.
There were about twenty on the course and every time we got together I tried hiding at the back, picking the tallest woman and standing behind her. However, the tutor must have been wise to the wiles of WI members because she always found me.
The ultimate task for each course was to show off what the members had learned, which meant that those on the music course had to give a short concert. We were to sing one song, so naturally it was well rehearsed.
I got through it somehow and oh boy was I glad when it was all over. The applause was encouraging but nobody could have known that I did a lot of mouth movements without sound. Or did they?
By the time I got home the well rehearsed song was firmly etched on my mind, so much so that my Guy began to tire of listening to it. Being the nice man that he is, he refrained from giving his opinion of my renderings. He didn’t need to speak, I could read his mind.
There is a custom in the WI that we always write to the tutors to show our appreciation. This is the one I wrote:
DENMAN WEEKEND COURSE: COUNTRYSIDE
"I've given up trying to convince myself that hubby's scowling countenance has more to do with disapproval of my cooking than my newly discovered dulcet tones, finally accepting that my continual rendering is shattering his nerves.
The blame for the current spate of warbling must be laid squarely at the feet of the Christine, the Denman tutor who had the temerity to credit me with an ability to sing. I said at the outset I had no voice. Somewhat shamefully, I confessed the inability of my vocal chords to shin up the scales or slither down to sonorous notes, but Christine ignored the pleas to be excused and soldiered on with forming her students into a choir. Quietly persuasive, quelling doubts with her delightful giggle, secure in the knowledge that one of her happy grins would make even a dolt like me submit to her instruction. I'm certain she could coax lemonade up a straw with one compelling wave of her elegant hand.
Ever since I returned from Denman, the song we so thoroughly rehearsed has monopolised my senses, its melody suffusing the crevices of my brain so that I am incapable of humming anything else. I am fired with it on waking, even as I fight the apathy of early consciousness, as if the tune had hunted through the night for a means of escape. And at breakfast, every move I make seems to be a signal for words to spring from my mouth without behest, emerging like an explosion of previously repressed melodious intonation. Yet, instead of being irritated by the incursion of lilting phrases, I love it. It's such a genial number, and it's so tempting to fill my lungs and let the lyrics rip.
Skylark, have you anything to say to me ...
Thank you, Christine"
The letter was posted on the blog in 2009 and published in various newsletters hitherto.
Christine responded with a note, saying ….
Just a little note to say thank you for the marvelous testimonial you sent me. I shall keep it always and have already shown it to the new Principal of Denman College. It will go in the Denman archives.