Friday, January 29, 2010

All in the Voice

Once long ago, when I was set on becoming a composer and fancied myself as a cross between Gershwin and Brahms, I became hopelessly lost over a failed romance, as is expected of overly romantic adolescents. It was the classic rejection. I was smitten by Amanda, but she was less than enthusiastic about me since she already had a hunk of a guy who was on the football team. Amanda was a stunning redhead, who could play the piano inside out and had legs that were the stuff that make movie stars.

I was so distraught, I wandered the city for days. I didn't eat. I ended up late one night on the roof of a parking garage, looking at the city lights, winking as though in reply to the twinkling stars of an exceptionally bright Texas night. Inexplicably, or perhaps predictably, I collapsed. I awoke in a hospital and for some odd reason the doctors thought I had appendicitis and had removed my appendix. My parents had been summoned and they drove 120 miles to see what their son had been up to. The Chair of my department came to see me and showed genuine concern and understanding. I was in a state of bewilderment at this turn of events from unrequited love.

This culminated the day before Thanksgiving. I could not travel home. The doctors released me to the university infirmary. Infirmaries at that time had notoriously low level security so I left the infirmary and found my way to the practice rooms to see if this adversity conjured any masterpieces for me. It had not, but there were snippets of ideas and I played somewhat feebly because the wrapping around my body securing the stitches was so tight.

A woman that I recognized as an alto from the choir came into my practice room.

"What are you doing here? It's Thanksgiving..." Dorothy seemed puzzled, but sympathetic.

"I just had my appendix out, and I can't travel home."

She insisted that I spend Thanksgiving with her family. She was married and had a small daughter. I tried to protest, but she was insistent.

So I went along and was well taken care of and quickly came to adore her daughter, who it turned out was struggling with remarkable courage and cheerfulness although disabled with cerebral palsy.

Days later Dorothy was asked to sing a solo in the choir. When I heard her sing, I was blown away. I had never heard a voice such as this, so resonant and rich that it seemed to emerge from and fill the room. That voice was the inspiration for many songs including one about her daughter, "Always Be My Sweet Little Girl."

I never heard a voice like that again for years until recently I heard someone singing a foreign folksong and the resonance filled the space with a radiance of sheer sound that overwhelmed my senses, much the way a fine liqueur permeates the tongue with intense taste. I was actually stunned to hear such a voice again, as I thought I never would.

The true source of identity is through the voice. The voice begins from the breath in the center of body and is released to the air in a moment of definition. Drawn inward, released outward to the world. Our word "personality" comes from the Latin "per sonare" meaning to speak through. The reason the Greeks wore masks in their dramas, is that they believed the true essence of the character came through the voice, hence the characters in the play were known as dramatis personae.

Somehow in hearing this voice I felt touched by the presencing of identity embodied in the sonority of singing so profound that its essence seems etched immutably in the inward chambers of my permanent awareness.

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