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.)
Before we talk about your work leading singing groups, tell us about your own earliest memories of singing.
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!
When did you start to pursue music more seriously?
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.
What made you want to expand your work by encouraging others to sing?
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.
So how did you go about bringing song back into the community?
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.
What did you learn from your experiences with folk choirs that you’re now able to apply in your own workshops and singing groups?
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!
What about material and arrangements?
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.
So how do these groups develop over time?
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.
Now tell us more about the groups you’re currently running -- away from the main population centres in Scotland.
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!
What about the climate at large? Is there wider support for your efforts to nurture song in the community?
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!
t sounds as though you are striking the right chord at the right time.
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!