OPINION: Start the year on a high note by learning a new skill


Supermarket noticeboards are interesting places.

You can find all manner of advertisements: a fridge freezer, good condition $150 ONO, an owner of a cocker spaniel looking for a playmate, a lonely gentleman seeking companionship.

Great reading for anyone interested in bargains and oddities.

I was browsing through the notices at the Remarkables Park New World noticeboard last April when an A4 ad on glossy white paper caught my eye. It was for singing lessons.







My previous singing history has been mainly confined to the shower, as well as my non speaking role as a penguin in a Form Two musical. But, despite my limited background, I thought ‘what the hell?’

I emailed the company, curiously named ‘Leading Edge Mentors’, and said I would like to learn to sing.

A chap called Chaz emailed me back shortly after, and told me I needed to come in for an assessment.

The following week I met Chaz at the QPACT building on Ballarat Street, behind the main bus stop in town.

It was my first trip to QPACT. It’s a draughty, custard-coloured old school building with sash windows, a chalky-green roof and squeaky wooden floors.

Anybody who went to school in New Zealand in the second half of last century would be very familiar with the feel of it.

On subsequent visits I was to find out that QPACT is home to all sorts of groups.

All of them meet regularly and hone their skills in all manner of disciplines.

There’s a class of kids who train in white martial arts uniforms with yellow belts. There are ballerinas and little squads of jazz dancers.

There’s a pipe band with bagpipes and drums, and people who sometimes interrupt singing lessons looking for their equipment.

QPACT is about to have a road through the middle of it.

You can’t fight progress, but it’s important those groups find another home.

Nothing too flash.

The reason it’s so well used is because it’s cheap.

Grand visions of public officials often miss that point.

Anyway, back to my singing lesson.

I found Chaz in the small musty room in the front of the building behind a faded brown door.

Chaz is a diminutive man with a difficult-to-place accent who talks fast and cares a lot about piano and helping people sing.

He teaches people all over the world, including adults and children, and now an early middle-aged lawyer who surprised himself by taking singing lessons.

Chaz started the assessment by pulling out his phone and playing the first couple of bars of Fools Rush In by Elvis Presley.

He then told me to sing it.

I summoned my best singing voice: ‘‘Wise men say, only fools rush in.’’

I’m quite sure a possum caught in a gin trap would make a more pleasant sound than my singing voice.

I had enough musical expertise to know I was fairly ordinary.

Chaz was optimistic.

He told me that I could sing a bit, but even if I couldn’t, he could still make me a singer.

Over the next few months, Chaz taught me there are eight elements of technique, and if I learned to do them all, I could be a good singer.

We went through breathing, mouth-tongue position, articulation, diction, projection, pitch, range, tempo and clarity.

He had me practising all kinds of songs, and singing a lot of do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti.

It’s an odd thing, singing. Somehow we’re hard-wired to hear the pitch of sounds and be able to replicate them.

Some of us are better than others at it, but it’s a muscle that most of us seem to have.

The older I get, the more I realise that becoming good at anything is a matter of knowledge and practice, not talent.

Chaz has loaded me up with plenty of knowledge and has me well drilled.

I think I’m an OK singer now, and he even has me performing later this month.

Still, plenty of room for improvement, I’m sure.

If you want to be good at something, I find the best way to do so is to find someone who has mastered the skills you seek, and ask them to share them with you.

My suggestion to kick off 2022 is to resolve to learn a new skill. Something out of the box.

I’m not really the performing type, but I’ve got a lot out of my singing lessons with Chaz.

Queenstown is filled with all manner of teachers.

If you want to learn how to weld, someone will teach you.

If you always wanted to knit, you’ll find someone who will have you casting on in
no time.

How about public speaking? Easy, come to Toastmasters.

If you can’t find a teacher, try putting up an ad on the noticeboard at your local supermarket.

If you want to learn to sing, go and see Chaz.

Scott Donaldson Scott Donaldson’s deputy chairman of the Queenstown Chamber of Commerce, a commercial lawyer at Mactodd Lawyers, an ACT Party board member, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter, and dog-walker to Winston.