There’s a friend of mine – a fellow lay clerk – who doesn’t touch a drop of alcohol during term time. He finds that the booze affects his voice too much. And on the odd occasion when he’s had a couple of pints on a Sunday night, he’s found that his voice has still been a bit scratchy at evensong on Wednesday. So he tends to stay teetotal all the time now.
But in the choral world, he’s pretty much the exception to the rule. Almost all the singers I know enjoy a drink; often quite a lot of drink. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with sharing a few medicinal pints after a big service, to help wind down and relax the vocal chords. But I know quite a few folk that take it much further than that. Some will drink before singing, and will even try to fit in a quick couple of pints during a 15 minute break before a service or concert.
Not that I’m trying to come across as angelic here. I’ll admit that I’ve sung a couple of dozen services in my time under the influence of alcohol. Indeed, last summer I turned up for one choir practice straight from the pub following a 7-hour drinking session (and sang like a badger’s fart, by all accounts). But I try not to make it a regular thing.
Generally, it’s not the best idea to drink before singing. A small amount of alcohol can sometimes help the voice. But it’s hard to judge where that ‘sweet spot’ is, and more often than not you can end up having too much. And while you may not realise it, your concentration is affected, and you start making mistakes.
Another friend of mine used to be partial to a few drinks for Sunday lunch, but he often didn’t know when to stop. And by the time evensong came around, despite his protestations, he was usually in no fit state to sing. Pieces he knew backwards were okay, because he would just sing them from memory. But his psalm and hymn singing would be all over the place, as he couldn’t focus on the words. The difference in his singing between the eucharist and evensong was shocking – so much so that people started to notice, and he was eventually asked not to attend on an evening.
Other friends have boasted in the past about how pissed they’ve been ahead of important concerts. Their justification for this being that, in the midst of a large choral society, it doesn’t matter if they’re singing badly. Which strikes me as a pretty selfish and inconsiderate attitude.