I spent the weekend at a Choir festival in Lincoln. Nine choirs from Church universities and university colleges came together to rehearse and perform Goodall’s Requiem, Eternal Light, as well as individual pieces. We were hosted by Bishop Grosseteste University College and performed in the amazing building that is Lincoln Cathedral. I haven’t sung so much in a long time, and I was also coming down with a cold, but it was the informal singing in the hotel bar afterwards that completely finished me off. Today I have very little voice at all.
The host Chaplain who preached at the smaller festival service on Sunday morning took the theme of opening eyes, lips, minds and hearts. ‘Open Thou Mine Eyes’ was the title of the shorter new Goodall piece we had performed, and the service included sung refrains about opening our lips to praise, our eyes to see, our minds to understand. She included references to The King’s Speech, and lines of dialogue between George VI and his speech therapist, Logue:
King George VI: Listen to me. *Listen to me!*
Lionel Logue: Listen to you? By what right?
King George VI: By divine right if you must, I am your king.
Lionel Logue: No you’re not, you told me so yourself. You didn’t want it. Why should I waste my time listening?
King George VI: Because I have a right to be heard. I have a voice!
Lionel Logue: [pauses] Yes, you do.
Logue was helping the King find his voice, in more ways than one. The film implied that he had lost it following bullying as a child from his father and brother, and that the stammer he developed was mainly psychological. I was delighted that the script-writer, David Seidler (who overcame his own stutter) won the Oscar for best original screenplay, as well as the film picking up perhaps the top three awards of best film, best director and best actor for the excellent Colin Firth. Seidler accepted his Oscar in some way on behalf of all those who stutter, saying “we have a voice, we have been heard”.
I wonder how often people who need to find their voice have a particular moment or reason why they lost it. All sorts of groups of people have been denied the right to speak or have a proper say in matters that concern them throughout history. Repressive governments and prejudices as well as ignorance have all limited the voice of ordinary people, people who are of the ‘wrong’ ethnicity, gender, or sexuality.
One of the courses I am involved in teaching this semester is called ‘Listening to Children’, and has included consideration of agendas of participation, advocacy and children’s rights. This week I am looking at the role of adults, and the need to listen to parents as well – both to facilitate hearing the children and to recognise the voices of parents as sometimes disempowered service-users. For years children have been told to listen to their parents. Now I am telling practitioners to listen to them as well, but it’s not just about listening.
However important it is to have a voice and be heard, it’s another step to be actively included and respected. Professionals may do a great job taking time to listen to children, but unless they act on what they hear, the listening is just
lip ear-service. Sometimes even the staff don’t have the authority to follow things up and bring about change. Sometimes they are not listened to by the powers that be, and a voice that has been heard gets lost again.
Over the weekend I chose to keep singing, croaking and squeaking, struggling to contribute to the merriment, help with a tune or defend my college’s honour in a battle of “Oh you never get to heaven…” with the choir from Winchester. Although I was enjoying myself, I knew I was losing my voice but I kept fighting. It makes me wonder how well I am using my voice now. I used to campaign actively with a number of organisations and projects, sending off emails and postcards and being part of protests. King George VI had a voice, and he used it. Do we?