Monday, December 01, 2008

What voice

Occasionally I play harp for church services -- this is from the most recent at Unity of Delaware. M, the singer I accompanied, did a fantastic job of capturing a great angle and wonderful light.

In another photo, purposely not posted here as a favor to you, he caught me semi-snickering at my own playing and looking impossibly uncomfortable in the outfit specifically chosen for comfort's sake.

We did a fine job of creating a seamless backdrop of music for the congregation despite our not having worked together before. This setup was more successful than when I accompanied myself on harp a time or two before, where my strange decision to use a small thin voice was born out of the shock that yes I can sing and play simultaneously and the expectation that any moment the congregation would enthusiastically join in. Turns out a strong male voice may better encourage group participation than a weak female one -- or were they just being kind then and not wanting to disturb my obvious effort?!

It's not that I don't know how to sing -- in my chaotic catastrophe that was college, my myriad of scheduling conflicts mandated I take individual voice lessons instead of group voice for non-majors. Taking lessons meant performing in front of the voice faculty at the end of the quarter for a grade based on the delivery of the German and English and some other language piece accompanied by the major instrument that for once this soprano wasn't playing, while fighting the inner scream about what a fantastic waste of time this was for all involved including the opposite wall through which a hole was bored in embarrassed concentration to hit the high notes.

But I am starting to wonder if the human voice would better capture some of what I want to convey through my own music. Rawness, hunger, pain, elation -- what voice?

Of course this would be the moment to go to the harp and find this out, but the harp isn't here. The positive spin on this is that it will come back better than ever but the other side is that I never want to be without my instrument this long again. Early in the morning I drive north again retrieve the harp from very capable but probably very frustrated hands and in them place a piece of paper on which will be scrawled "$" followed by a heart-stoppingly long little row of numbers. And I will come home and put it in its place and teach and play and again wonder -- what voice?

The other night I was listening to Ani DiFranco's bold story-telling and gut-wrenching lyrics and suddenly between the songs she spoke to me:

Detroit Annie, hitchhiking
Judy Grahn

Her words pour out as if her throat were a broken
artery and her mind were cut-glass, carelessly handled.
You imagine her in a huge velvet hat with great
dangling black feathers,
but she shaves her head instead
and goes for three-day midnight walks.
Sometimes she goes down to the dock and dances
off the end of it, simply to prove her belief
that people who cannot walk on water
are phonies, or dead.
When she is cruel, she is very, very
cool and when she is kind she is lavish.
Fisherman think perhaps she's a fish, but they're all
fools. She figured out that the only way
to keep from being frozen was to
stay in motion, and long ago converted
most of her flesh into liquid. Now when she
smells danger, she spills herself all over,
like gasoline, and lights it.
She leaves the taste of salt and iron
under your tongue, but you don't mind.
The common woman is as common
as the reddest wine


  1. *Beautiful* photo!

  2. I love the photo and your thoughts about "voice". Love you!

  3. Anonymous5:32 PM

    'A beautiful video of Judy’s poem

    “Detroit Annie, hitchhiking,” read by Ani Di Franco'