‘It took a major operation to act as a wake-up call’

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Kentish Town-based singing coach Hannah Marie Gatt on how she started out – in her own words

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“Singing is a great confidence builder that spills into other areas of life,” says Hannah. Photo: PR

Everyone can learn it. I was a shy child, one who didn’t really sing. I wasn’t very inspired by the stuffy music classes at school, which just seemed dry, dull and intimidating. It wasn’t until I’d been performing in a band, writing lyrics and vocal melodies that it dawned on me I was musical.

It took something quite dramatic though – a major operation on my spine aged 24 – to give me a wake-up call to pursue my passion, and I’ve been loving every moment since. It had never occurred to me that the human voice was an instrument. That’s incredible, because everyone has one and everyone can learn to use it. There’s something very democratic and inspiring about that.

Your voice is unique. We each sound as we do due to a mix of the language we speak, regional accent, upbringing and genetics, not to mention how our musical tastes impact on how we prefer to sing. No two voices are identical, so be proud of yours.

I’m honoured to teach such a wide range of people, which really highlights the diverse community living all around us. I’ve taught taxi drivers, high-flying lawyers, aspiring actors, talented teenagers who can already rap while playing guitar and piano, men who wish to serenade their brides on their wedding day, and young girls who just want to sing along to the Moana soundtrack.

Hannah currently performs with London Contemporary Voices. Photo: PR

Singing is good for you. It’s a great confidence builder and this spills into other areas of life too. Whether it’s learning to speak with authority at work, or mastering abdominal breathing, studying vocal technique can be a very centring, empowering practice. There’s a lot of mindfulness involved too: just in hitting the right note, your attention must be firmly in the present.

Singing is all about communication. You don’t need to sound perfect, but you do need to be truthful. It’s liberating to remember it’s not about you, it’s about the message, the story or pitch. I currently perform with London Contemporary Voices, and I can’t recommend joining a choir enough if you’re looking for something that’s fun and highly social.

It’s an evolutionary miracle. Did you know that your larynx, or voice box, evolved from the gills of a fish? Its primary purpose is as a safety valve to help you out during times of effort, and to stop you choking on your dinner.

The fact that we can override this use to create sound, let alone make music is pretty remarkable. Part of the reason singing can feel so liberating is that it closely mirrors early human speech. As languages developed, more words came into our vocabulary and we shortened our syllables to produce what we now know as the speaking voice.

Hannah at a festival with mates. Photo: own

We live in a neighbourhood that’s full of opportunity. Inspiration is everywhere in north London as there’s such a rich culture of music and arts here, plus so many chances to get involved. I love the Roundhouse, and the programmes they have on offer for young people are incredible.

Venues like Map Studio Café (Grafton Road) also provide people with a chance to show off their musical chops at open mic nights, and for everyone to go and discover amazing live music. I’ve made great connections mingling at the Camden and Kentish Cluster events too – a great way to network for gigs and other opportunities locally.

Interview: Tom Kihl

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