Someone’s calling, maybe me. C. C sharp? D? My scalp tightens, which makes me wonder where I am, and who, too.
I’ve had this reaction before when I’ve been offered rare sounds from the past, oddly recorded. An incinerated Pompeii on TV in which fictional lava held screams of the dying. The first recorded song, “Au clair de la lune,” using soot, in French.
I’ve written about these in 2008. Some would have every reason to think that whatever of my own voice I may have recorded, tremulous and needy, would be a sonic fossil, too.
But this voice today is a shell’s, of a conch (pronounced “conk,” at least now) from a Pyrenees cave, assigned as Paleolithic, 17,000 years old. It’s one of those enticing discovery stories, but not quite as sexy as tales of loving Neanderthals mating with the likes of way-early Ancestry.com humans.
Seems the shell, thought ordinary and placed in some little-seen vitrine, had been gouged to be made an instrument. At least, that’s the analysis, and then, I mean then now, a fella with the musical name Jean-Michel Court blew into it.
You can hear three hearkening sounds if you click the last link above and find the recording.
Small, humanoid cries? A child’s try, maybe, for attention, pleasure.
Once in my life, someone said I had a voice worth hearing. His name, my high-school music teacher’s, was Mr. Rosa. He married a classmate of mine, clarinetist Marilyn, just after we graduated. Congratulations! He said I was “a soprano,” and I must have blushed; I also lisped and stuttered. Couldn’t read music and still can’t, though I listened to Schubert songs on my RCA Victor phonograph. Countertenor was a word I hadn’t heard.
My only other, earlier music teacher, disheveled from Brooklyn College, told my disinterested father, who paid him with my grandma’s money, that I was the worst student he ever had. I must have overheard that, or maybe the thin, brusque guy also said that offhand to me, as my one-ton pearlescent accordion bent my shoulders and collapsed my chicken chest.
“You’re the least talented student I’ve ever had.”
Dad sold the accordion and probably put the money on a horse with a musical name.
Turns out I have a reasonable voice, often on pitch. My boyfriend, who knows music the way infants know milk, tends to agree. When he plays singers on Spotify or CD, I chime in, showerwise, or even harmonize. I pretend to know lyrics, because I like the lying aspect of it and also because I may have heard them before, and it’s not hard to be a millisecond behind. It just occurred to me that I occasionally and naturally twist myself into the person who could write them. I’m sort of in a moderate heaven when that happens.
Sure, it “happens.” I have no control.
As a writer and editor in my 70s, I wonder about what I haven’t sung and haven’t done and have predictable regrets. Yes, I should have agreed to join that chorus in college when I was asked. They must have considered me a bit nuts because I went to almost every campus rehearsal of Beethoven’s Mass in C major, sitting as far back as possible. Said boyfriend just reminded me that any writing life is always new.
What I can do with my voice is mimic. Give me an animal, especially one I may cook.
I have learned to cook, but that’s another story.
Sitting in the car, driving to nowhere: moooo, baaaahh. Me, an owl at heart, because of who, I can do most all creature screeches.
And I feign theatrical, typecast voices, albeit much less well. Vaudeville is dead, lucky for that.
In the early ’70s, I sang on stage — quotes around “sang.” Cosseting friend Peter Gordon somehow knew my wavery top-notes and asked me to squeal and shout Motown album-jacket notes, while his avant group (it’s been “Love of Life Orchestra” for a while) played in some San Diego black-light club. We did this twice, maybe three times.
Applause confused me, my first and only public bow.
Oh, I was fucking a tall, once-sweet guy in that cohort who became a composer of art songs. After many cryptic woo notes and months, he kicked me out of bed one sunny morning, saying he was bored.
Even though my hands are bent five decades later and I’m fearful of slipping on snow, my high, faggy voice, the one I hated to hear recorded, seems to have escaped time. Because of an acute partner and the open spaces of age, my listening has gone haywire. The yowl remains.