The next stage of my life continued to develop my skills for song writing in a left of field kind of way.I left a curious and old fashioned childhood behind; where I had little connection to modernity. Raised without a tv or even much radio ( you could only get radio 4 in the depths of the dales), and schooled by sweet well meaning nuns in a convent , I otherwise ran wild in the hills, with little notion of the rest of the world. At university I read Comparative literature, Art History and Italian which gave me an overall aesthetic sense and understanding of art and literature. I think this has added to my lyrical and poetic sense of prose and given me a visual history to draw upon which gives my melody and words a richer timbre, colour and depth.
As you can imagine with this childhood, facing the real world was quite a shock. I was bewildered by modernity and above all by the suffering we create or experience. My heartfelt wish to see humanity grow stems from this point and is the raison d’être behind many of my songs. I developed a strong enduring interest in Buddhism; with it’s emphasis on self empowerment, compassion and self development it felt like my personal answer to my existential questions and helped me anchor myself and understand the world a little more. A sense of wider spiritual seeking(regardless of faith) also underpins many of my songs . For me, this is the core of what it means to develop and evolve as human beings no matter what we believe, or where we live.
So, after university whilst training to be a Montessori nursery teacher ( my degree left me ill equipped to do almost any job) I went to live in a buddhist centre and studied and taught meditation and helped run the centre alongside my part time work/training. Here I met my husband, a meditation and buddhist philosophy teacher, who is considerably older than me. At the buddhist centre I was asked to be the chant leader- an Omzai- and I began to sing again. Mantra singing has a lot of chest resonance and is very meditative in quality and I think some of this quality naturally resides in my voice. I had some lovely mystical experiences whilst leading these chants and it gave me back my love of singing in a very heart based unconscious way.
As my husband is much older than me, we decided that it made sense to start a family sooner rather than later and so, I never “worked” in the “ordinary” world till much later. I naively thought it would be easy for him to get an ordinary job (before working in the buddhist centre he had been a graphic artist in Africa for VSO doing their health messages in picture form for the government of Gambia). This theme of” stable work” for him, proved and still proves an ongoing challenge, despite huge endeavour and effort. We had the children very quickly and went back to my beloved yorkshire dales where we rented a tiny cottage on the edge of a moor, in the same hamlet as my mother. I saw the value of raising children without technology from my own childhood; enhanced creativity, self resilience, ability to be resourceful, communicate and relate more and enjoy and be fed by the natural world.
So, with my understanding of children from my holistic nursery training we decided that I should stay at home with them full time and give them the very best start, whilst my husband went back to university to do a community and youth work degree ( he was allowed a place due to his life’s work.) It is in this period that I really began to sing- naturally, organically and joyfully to my children….all the time…making things up constantly in a flow of language and rhyme. A friend told me that my children would not be able to talk, only sing as I sang to them so much!
One time I was visiting my step mother- who is Dame Emma Kirkby. I was busy dressing the boys and singing with them….I didn’t think she could hear me as the door was closed. In she popped and said”Well Abi, my dear, we are not going to hide that light under a bushel any more….you have a beautiful voice and why don’t we develop it? Why don’t you train to be a Kodaly music specialist for young children?( a methodology which is greatly respected in the music world) . ” She went on to add “And, when the children are older I would love to give you and pay for some singing lessons!” And so, some years later I trained as a Kodaly music educator after having some more mainstream teaching training.
This now forms the basis of my daily business and I think working with children in this person centred, joyful creative way encourages me to keep some of the spontaneous creativity necessary for being a creative artist.
Next time, I look at how I started to songwrite and why we ended up living in the wilds of Scotland…..not perhaps the best place for a budding late starting song writer!