Interview: Dorothy Haswell, life-long hobby singer, Canada
Red on Red on Blue

Interview: Dorothy Haswell, life-long hobby singer, Canada

As we’ve been producing our singers’ rehearsal tracks over the last few years, we’ve had lots of contact from people all over the world who enjoy singing for pleasure. One such person is Dorothy Haswell.

Dorothy Haswell
Dorothy Haswell

I’m 70 years old – have sung all my life and still study with a teacher – I sing all sorts of music – classical with my teacher, ‘shape note’ with a local group and popular (1st half of 20th century) with a band for whom I also play bass guitar,’ she writes.

She sounded such a lot like our kind of girl, we decided to delve a little deeper, and asked her to share some of her passions with us. So Dorothy, tell us a little more about your lifelong love affair with singing…

How did you get into singing? What’s your earliest recollection of singing?

My mother sang as she moved around the house. I remember singing along with her as I became familiar with the words. I first remember singing in public at a large extended family party when I must have been about six years old.

Singing has always been a pastime for me. I spent my professional career as a doctor, practising family medicine and psychotherapy.

Tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from?

I was born in the north of England into a coal-mining family just before WW11. After attending primary and grammar school, I attended Medical School in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, graduating in 1962.

In 1966, along with my husband and young baby, I immigrated to Canada where I continue to live. Over the years I had another child and worked in my chosen specialty of Family Medicine and later psychotherapy. My two sons are now grown and I have two grandchildren. I’ve been divorced for about 20 years.

I retired several years ago and continue to enjoy life to the full. I recognise the privilege that I have enjoyed – although far from wealthy in my childhood, I was able to follow my dreams. I loved every day that I worked in medicine and I am loving every day of my retirement. So, from a senior, my advice is to do what you love both at work and at play – and work at doing it all well!

What do you like to sing?

Currently I sing in a variety of genres – classical music with my singing teacher, country and popular music with a band called HighWay 6 and lately I’ve been singing ‘shape note’ songs with a local group.

In the past I have been part of different choirs singing oratorio. I’ve worked off and on with teachers down the years but for the past 10 years have worked with one in particular who helped me to retain my pleasure in singing.

Who or what is your biggest musical influence?

Originally, my mother who sang and my father who played piano for me. Then came all the music in school and the choirs that have formed a large part of my leisure activities.

Have you done any performing recently?

I sing with a band, HighWay 6, which performs at many facilities for the elderly and fund-raisers of various sorts. HighWay 6 applied for and was given a grant to choose, record and perform songs and music for folks with memory impairment. We recorded 2 cds of music selected from suggestions made by focus groups of elderly people, some of whom have memory impairment e.g. Alzheimer’s disease.

We know that the number of people afflicted with memory loss is increasing with the ageing of the population. What is less commonly known is that long after there has been significant memory loss, music remains a useful way to connect with the sufferers. Familiar music remains familiar and can be used to influence both mood and behaviour.

The London Music and Memory Coalition was a group consisting of the HighWay 6 band (all seniors), the Council for London Seniors and a number of members of the community. We were successful in obtaining funding from the Government of Canada’s New Horizons for Seniors program to choose, record and perform music for people with Alzheimer’s disease, other memory deficits and seniors who are at risk of developing them.

Early in the project we held focus groups of seniors and folks with early Alzheimer’s disease asking about what music and songs makes them feel happy or calm. They gave us tremendous advice!  After that, HighWay 6 and a number of guest performers chose and recorded the music for 2 cds.

We performed 2 concerts in late January 2009 to ‘launch’ the cds and entertain our very special audience. The cds were provided free of charge and were all ‘snapped up’ within a month!! Both concerts were free and we played to full houses.

Do you have other pastimes or interests apart from singing?

My primary pastimes are music related – as well as singing I play electric bass for the band and folk guitar for my own amusement. However, I also belong to a Red Hat group named Red Sails.

Do you have a top tip for getting the most from your voice?

Work with a teacher / coach, especially as you get older.  Recognise that the pitch and timbre of the voice may change with the years and appropriate repertoire might change.

What do you like about Your Accompanist accompaniment tracks? How do they help you?

I came across Your Accompanist in a Google search and bought some songs as an ‘experiment’.  I have found them to be very useful in the task I set myself for the summer: namely, to learn the basics of a number of songs to work on with my teacher when lessons begin again in September.