The lowest period of the year, when all the kids seem to have colds, and people my ageĀ have been in bed for weeks with a flu that the vaccine-makers hadn’t anticipated. Argh. A young lass in Scotland has died of pneumonia that set in as a result of all these bugs. And guess where I was off to?

Myself and nine other singers from as far afield as Australia (enjoying its annual heatwave, no doubt) and Iceland, plus four dextrous pianists – retreating to this extraordinary place on the west coast, 100 miles from Glasgow. Thank you Kate Lithgow and family for having the vision and the fortitude to set up ‘Crear – Space to Create’ here on their estate, looking out towards the purple paps of Jura. And thank you, the gracious and erudite Malcolm Martineau, for sharing your long experience of Art song here, where there was nothing to disturb us but the call of a gull.

It was such a privilege to be chosen for this course. I knew I would get a huge amount of inspiration and understanding from Malcolm, but hadn’t counted on what it would be like to spend ten days thinking about nothing but Art song! Truly. For someone like me who has clocked up 18 years of full-on parenting, combined with freelance teaching and other shekel-gathering, to have three delicious meals a day provided by someone else, a clean bed to lay my head and no-one else to think of…For nine whole days. Each morning we rose late, after a hearty breakfast and a few stretches on the under-heated wooden floor, it was a rigorous masterclass on french and german song, til lunch (a glorious spread, Scotland’s smoked fishes being my orientation), a rehearsal with my superb accompanist Margaret, a walk downhill to the seashore (yes, the seals performed) or uphill for an even better view…and then an evening masterclass of equal intensity. Each singer had a session with Malcolm each day. I gave myself an easy first day with Vaughan Williams, working up to French chansons (my Berlioz I now know needs more work – much more work) and finally German lieder. All of which have come home not exactly spruced up, but aware of what needs to be done…and the better for it. I have a CD and some MP3 files to download, and much to think about. Only sad that I won’t get to do it again – next year it’ll be a new lucky crew.