Those of us who write — for work, for play, for all the bits in between — think and talk to a great degree about voice. But so rarely in all that talk is there discussion of what the damn words actually sound like — the timbre, resonance, rhythm, cadence. What do our words sound like in the world? Spoken by others we may never meet? Or, for that matter, what is the sound of our voices as we dare to say the words we so boldly write, as we so baldly claim our voice.
And then, thoughts of voice — of timbre, resonance, rhythm, and cadence — took me to these voices, and I was soothed, intoxicated, transported.
It amazes me what people can do with their voices, what they choose to do, what they think to do. Alexi Murdoch is a recent discovery. The live rendition of “All my days” has been on a loop for the past hour and half. Can ears be transfixed? Mine are. (It only underscores the abject lack of quality of my own voice as I have participated in a few renditions of “happy birthday” in recent weeks…)
Near the end of a conversation (included below) between John Berger and Michael Ondaatje, all of which I love and highly recommend that everyone give a good listen to, they each reveal what path they might have pursued if they were not writers.
The question is proffered by Berger to his friend and interlocutor at around the 39:50 mark. He says, with his inimitable and somewhat rounded style of articulation, “If you could swap your talents you for another of any kind, do you know you’d choose?”
Ondaatje responds with an eager “Oh yeah…” even before the question completes its exit from Berger’s mouth.
“I would want to be a piano player.” And, having said this, Ondaatje smiles momentarily, as if to take in his own response — one that he has clearly pondered many times before this one.
Ondaatje: “Well, what would you do?”
Berger — smiling, perhaps self-consciously or in a self-congratulatory manner, and nodding, his tan head prominent against his white shirt whose sleeves are messily rolled up — responds: “I would want to be a singer.”
Ondaatje: “And what kind of singing?”
Berger: “Doesn’t matter [shaking his head]… just … it–it doens’t matter…uhh… the devil or the fairy decide.”
Ondaatje: “Well we’ll meet in the next life and join up.” [laughing, and joined by Berger’s enthusiastic laughter at this proposition]
The guitar fantasy — the one about being able to create altogether new worlds with a simple wooden object, strings, and fingers in concert with voice — still lingers… Maybe in another life, indeed…
For now, in honor of the Nick Drake kind of week I’ve been having, thank you to my friend who first brought his music into the realm of my consciousness all those many, many years ago. A classic (albeit somewhat overused classic at this point):