Vocal Medicine 1

O friend
when my heart is in pieces
and I hear your voice
those waves
enter in where
I am splintered
and all my feelings
flood out in tears.
Just the trusted voice
vibrating in the air
becomes a temple
where I am safe to fall apart.
You have held me there
maybe without knowing
that this weeping
this freedom
is because
of your love.

At Althea

Unshaped Musics Hovering at the Edges of Songs


A concert. This singer whose thing is profound prayerful words and ethereal melodies layered over subtle and complex looped harmonies laid down by herself – why are these people not shutting up and listening? I feel annoyed. The talking is preventing me from hearing the vocal nuances that my ears are straining towards. I project: is she frustrated with this unlistening crowd, is she efforting to get their attention? Does the container feel strong to her, does she feel embraced and safe to express her living soul? I try to pull my hearing back to the wide range. I’m looking out over a field of bobbing heads, a sea of human sounds, swelling, cresting, receding, growing again. Never still, but not, taken as a whole, jarring. I imagine the singer at the end of a long dock, casting her voice onto the waves, throwing it into the wind, so that it comes to the listener translated, transmuted, laden with other sounds from the seen and unseen realms. Maybe that is how she prefers it. I relax into the ocean and begin to float. 


A jazz trio – where the drummer is the leader. His coolness fills the room, then his controlled strokes to the shimmering cymbals cause the sun to rise. The concert is about the rhythm he hears, he feels, his heartbeat and the pulse of the cosmos. Between official notes, a competing beat emerges. I’m sitting in the back near the kitchen door and I can hear pots being dropped into a metal sink, rinsed plates slapped into steaming stacks and rattling as the dishwasher slides them down the line. I wonder if dishwashers in jazz clubs are so tuned to the sounds out in the room that their work becomes a form of groove and their motions consciously or unconsciously modulate to fit in with what’s being played onstage. It doesn’t bother me; I kind of like it. For backing vocals, a drunk woman at the next table unable to keep up with the Polite Hush dance that the rest of us are trying to do. I’m unaware until afterwards that dirty looks had been thrown. I’m absorbed in the polyrhythm of real world blues played against jazz, life and art at odds yet inseparable, as always. 


Modern dance with classical accompaniment, a highbrow performance in a fancy downtown theater. This time the disturbance is inside me. I’m late to the venue and have to wait outside for the first ten minutes. I react crabbily and promptly fill with shame. When the usher lets me in I skulk to my seat, imagining everyone’s judging eyes on me. Taking off my coat I think a skinny person, a more graceful person, would make this gesture less disruptively. My breath is shallow and my pulse is not regular and I’m sure everyone in the vicinity wishes I hadn’t come. As I shift in my seat, the squeaks it makes sound like yells. I notice my knee is pressing the back of the chair in front of me and I hope I haven’t irritated that person, too. I feel like I’m clashing with everything. But I am here, and there’s no leaving now. I try to breathe in the notes coming from the grand piano – far away down there, but the most powerful energetic presence in the place. I force my attention out of my self-critical mind and into my ears. Gradually, I begin to calm down. The music itself twists the tuning pegs inside me until the waves I’m making fall into quiet harmony with my environment. 

… i keep trying to hear how it all goes together … sometimes it’s clear and sometimes it’s not … but i remain convinced that all of these sounds are here for a reason …