Decantophobia, Adophobia, Psallophobia or even karaokephobia! Whatever you want to call it, fear of singing in public regularly comes up as humankind's worst nightmare. Why on Earth should this be the case? Singing is one of our most fundamental and ancient activities, surely pre-dating our evolution to Homo Sapiens some 30,000 years ago. Our history used to be handed down orally through folk song and wandering troupes would spread local news and recount heroic fables through song. Were they as afraid of singing as we are now? Did villagers and tribes-people look on with admiration and awe as they were sung to thinking "I could NEVER do that"?
Perhaps as we have developed more anonymous means of communication, news feeds, social media etc. we have forgotten our ancient connection to our own voices. It would certainly help to explain the enormous adrenaline surge and feeling of accomplishment that I have witnessed from singing workshop attendees who have entered the room with the fear in their eyes and then transformed it into zeal. Clearly those who attend choirs and regular singing groups have reconnected to their past? Well often not, single out a member of a choir at random and ask them to make up a couple of lines of a song from a subject and that fear returns with a vengeance.
Our eyes may be the window to our souls but the voice seems to contain a version of ourselves that is raw and vulnerable and that we want to protect from scrutiny. It is this vulnerability that provides such a rich and challenging environment for people when they are allowed to practise and perform singing in front of other people. The applause that comes from those watching is half appreciation and half respect, perhaps with a smattering of relief that it was not them up there. It is the ultimate risk-taking in action without the need for a physical safety net.
Heather Urquhart and Joe Samuel have over 15 years experience performing, teaching and writing about Musical Improv. Based in the UK they have facilitated workshops and graced stages around the world.