Books about performing arts (along with children’s novels, how-to tomes for teachers, etymology and reference titles but that’s another story) land on, and scuttle across, my desk in an alarmingly continuous stream. Sometimes it’s difficult to keep up. I read most of them, however. Take the tiny (4 by 5½ inches) Sing Your Heart Out by Deborah Hudson with illustrations by Tony Husband. I’m a lifelong amateur choral singer so I pounced on this one.
It actually teaches you how to sing - from getting the right posture, doing simple exercises, listening to others and then what to do with your newly developed rudimentary technique. Quite an achievement in 44 tiny and generously illustrated pages. Basic as it might be, this little book has the potential to be a useful starting point for anyone wanting to sing, or sing better, at amateur or professional level. Hudson, a singing teacher who works with students of all ages and abilities, has a gift for presenting her information with clarity and wit.
The other book I’ve been reading with enjoyment is Virginia McKenna’s memoir, The Life in My Years. Like many of the books I mention occasionally in this blog or on The Stage’s Training pages, it doesn’t set out to be a training book. Yet, The Life in My Years is so thoughtful and intelligent, both about McKenna’s work in theatre and film and about her commitment to animal welfare (and how the two have been linked during her life), that you emerge from it having learned a great deal.
The book is not written as a continuous sequential autobiography. Instead McKenna dips in and out of her career and experience with a string of short, very accessible essays written at different times. Thus there’s an interesting short chapter about playing Anna to Yul Bryner’s King in The King and I, another about making Ring of Bright Water in Scotland with her late husband Bill Travers and one about a stay in Los Angeles when Travers was playing in a remake of Somerset Maugham’s The Painted Veil.
Interspersed with all this are accounts of working with lions, her friendship with George Adamson, The Born Free Foundation, looking after the wildlife in the Surrey wood she owns, memories of her parents and lots of reference to her beloved four children, ten grandchildren and two great grandchildren. The book includes a generous number of photographs and some of McKenna’s own poetry. Joanna Lumley has provided a characteristically upbeat foreword.
Put it on your reading list as ‘background’ if you’re training, would like to learn about, or are simply interested in, approaches to the performing arts and how they can inform other passions.
Sing Your Heart Out by Deborah Hudson, illustrated by Tony Husband. Schott. ISBN 9781847612434 pb £4.99
The Life in My Years by Virginia McKenna, Oberon Books, ISBN 9781849430357 pb £12.99 Readers of The Stage are entitled to an exclusive 10% discount on this title, to claim your discount contact Marston Book Services on tel: 01235 465 577 quoting “ONSTAGE1” or email email@example.com