Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sound Your Barbaric Yawp

Spent all day today at the rehearsal for the World Music Festival. This is the fourth year I’ve been involved in the Festival with my colleagues and select kids from the school and each one has been astounding. This one is called “The Opera Project” and today I got to hear the guest artists from abroad representing Korean, Chinese, Tibetan and Azerbaijan Opera. Though each style was unique, they all had one thing in common— singers going to the extreme edge of human vocal production. And of course, this is exactly the case in Western Opera as well.

Whitman, who proclaimed in his Leaves of Grass: “I sound my barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world,” would have loved today’s rehearsal, as each of the magnified voices proclaimed the energy of nature’s grand displays— the volcanic explosion, howling hurricane wind, booming thunder or roaring waterfall. In fact, the Korean artist lived for eight years next to a large waterfall to learn how to outsing it. Life as high drama, as anguish far beyond the petty expression of mere words, of exultation not captured in polite sentences. The first sounds from the Korean singer today were more like a primal scream than a pretty musical phrase and damn if we don’t need that sometimes.

I had a lovely week at school with the kids, but fell back into the high drama of school politics. Instead of trying to sort it out with logical arguments, I could have used some of that singer’s voice. In fact, I’m thinking that I should hire him out to come with me to the next meeting. I’m picturing something like this:

“This issue has been referred to our sub-committee, who is checking it out with our insurance broker, who is recommending we create a new administrative position…”


“Well, as I was saying…”


“Yes, thank you for sharing that. I believe we’ll adjourn the meeting now.”

“All I have is my voice to undo the folded lie” said W.H. Auden and I always felt he was talking about truth-telling. But he also could have been making a bid for operatic (pick your culture) singing, where the intensity proclaims, “Life is unbearable! We suffer so much, we lose so much, we hurt so much. Our enemies hate us, our friends betray us, our lovers leave us, our children move away—or move back in. Bad people get away with murder, good people have bad things happen to them, raving lunatics run for president and sometimes get elected.  Not too mention hurricanes, floods, tornados, earthquakes tsunamis!!! It’s a terror to be alive!!! “ And we go around inside brightly-lit malls telling each other to have a nice day when we should be screaming in the streets!

And then the joys that also don’t fit into “how was your day, dear?” They also deserve some yelps of delight and cries of exultation and coyote howls of euphoria. Life is opera and we can pay money to hear the singers show us or unleash those voices ourselves.

Of course, such histrionics are hard to maintain 24/7 and would quickly become the new norm even if we could. Sometimes we need to outsing waterfalls and sometimes we just need to lie down by a quiet stream and be silent.

In two days, though, it’s opera all the way. I’m practicing all the styles— Italian, Korean, Tibetan, etc.—to rise to the occasion. May it be a joyous song!

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