Last May in a room full of warm hearted, funny and gregarious women Lesley let a roar from the back of the room about her jump into the world of Jazz....as I was talking about Passion & Purpose. Only the week before I had read a great article on how music is one of the most powerful tools to keep the brain healthy and thriving.
I was intrigued and hooked by her story. As we read earlier on My Second Spring this week, Menopause despite some pesky symptoms at times can be the most creative time in your life. Read all about Lesley's nudge into Jazz below and the 'catch in the voice that tears your heart in two'...listen to Leonard Cohen or Jeff Buckley's Hallelujah and you will know what I mean! That song never fails to move me. Not too sure my dog shares my love of singing this song out loud! She's just hidden under the desk :-)
Catherine is probably more familiar to me as a Mum at the school gates than in her professional guise as Perimenopause expert extraordinaire but I’m very glad I jumped out of my comfort Zone and opened my big mouth in the Radisson at ‘Perimenopause Unplugged’ back in May, which led me to connect with her and share my story of the JAZZ GALS conception.
As an actor I’m comfortable with performance, mainly drama, the odd bit of comedy and tragedy mixed in for good measure. I would have sung songs in plays along the way, but deep inside I’ve always held a torch for the smoky, bluesy heroines of the New York and Chicago Jazz scenes.
I can blame a boyfriend from my college days for that. On my 18th birthday I was presented with a stack of tapes – yes tapes, remember them, cassettes - of Billie Holiday, holding court over various troupes and orchestras – and I never looked back.
Now THIS was music! THAT was a voice unlike any other, a voice that weaved a spell with its casual phrasing and the unmistakable catch in the voice that tears your heart in two.
One dry stretch between acting jobs I happened upon a sign on a shop window advertising a 12-week Jazz Singing course with Edel Meade. It stopped me in my tracks.
And there it was, there was my niggle.
Because don’t we all have that?
The voice in our head speaking from our inner passions that we so frequently ignore?
‘You’ve always wanted to do this’ an excited voice screamed in my head, and I thought, ‘Why not?’
And so, I took a deep breath and signed up.
Jazz haven, JJ Smyth’s (now sadly gone) was the venue. I remember locking my bike outside, wondering what it would be like, a bit like the first day of school. And on that windy Tuesday evening I entered a room of 11 strangers and we all embarked on our 12-week singing adventure. Each week we’d learn a new song. Our homework was to listen to as many versions of the song as we could - which opened my eyes to the freedom of the form. Clicking on the off-beat and teasing each phrasing within the limit of the music bars suited my rebellious heart. And nothing feeds the soul as much as finding your very own version of a standard. I had landed, I found home.
On the cycle back, the people I passed from Aungier street to my front door would be treated to my jazz improvs of the song of the week. God help them!
Some songs I loved, some I hated. If ‘The Look of Love’ comes on the radio now, I leave the room! ‘Good morning heartache’ has a grove worn in my heart – check out Jamie Cullum and Laura Mvula’s version for sheer perfection.
And on the last night we sang for each other and we clapped and bowed and said goodbye. For like all good things, it had come to an end. And just like that it was over.
And now what?
What was going to fill my time between acting jobs? How could I make the dinner without practicing my songs for the week?
So, when the next term swung around I signed up for the higher level. A new group, a new batch of songs - a different venue - the beautiful Unitarian church on Stephen’s Green. If previously I had found my home, now I had found my religion.
You see, this gang of women were different, they were special.
There was a shine off them – I was inexplicably drawn to them and each week filled me with a need. More than the need to sing and be heard but a need to spend time with them and to share our singing journey.
As semi stalwarts of the game, the bar was raised and we were united in our desire to improve as singers. There were highs and lows. When we nailed a song, we celebrated. And on rare occasions we’d miss the mark, the sounds in our head not quite translating, and frustration would raise its head. But when the class was over, in the shelter of the church doorway, we’d be there for each other.
An arm on the shoulder, a silent nod, bolstering each other.
Each week the bonds growing stronger.
And so, it went. Another 12 weeks around the sun. Songs, support, satisfaction - and a surprise announcement from the pulpit (as such) that Edel was leaving Dublin and the classes would be suspended for a year – silence. So off we went to the pub to ‘wake’ the course. We downed wine and swigged gin and promises of ‘ah we’ll have to keep in touch’ were made – yeah, I’ve heard that one before. But this time, it was genuine. For hadn’t we carved our names in each others hearts, wouldn’t it be a sin not to follow through with this?
Once again feeding the niggle, I made a suggestion to keep on going ourselves and to commit to a concert as a deadline.
And thus, the Dublin Jazz Gals were born, all from a tipsy promise to organise a charity Christmas concert for the Because I am a girl campaign (how fitting).
And we did it! Booked the rehearsal room, the venue, the musicians.
And I’d be lying if it was just about the music and the songs. For me it’s about the connection, the patchwork make-up of this new tribe I’ve found.
One particular evening after rehearsal perfectly encapsulates it for me.
Over pizza we talked about our week, how our lives were going and how our dreams were panning out and as each bit became more personal and from the hip, I looked around the table and realised there were ‘delegates’ in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s. What a breadth of experience and knowledge we were for each other. I wish we had podcast it!
And there you have it. But word of warning. Be careful what you wish for! As I write I’m in the midst of preparation for a cabaret night.
And it’s all down to the path I’ve set before myself, starting with that ad in the shop window. The niggle that became the nudge… and I couldn't be happier.
Lesley Conroy is an actor, and communication coach. Check her out on linkedin
Bringing you the latest research and health tips to help you navigate perimenopause and beyond