Tuesday, June 26, 2007


I heard a great choral director once make the case for live music (as contrasted with records, tapes, CD's, peapods and similar reproductions) by saying, "Live music can actually change the molecules in the room."

Then last Friday, my voice teacher (how classy does that sound? "My voice teacher." Oh, brave new world, here I come!) testified that singing in fact changes the very cells in one's body.

That evening, Nancy and I went to a concert in which my teacher and six of her most stunning students performed. When I staggered out of the hall after the rousing finale (of which more anon), every single cell I possessed had been overhauled, upended, turned inside out, and rewired.

I emphasize that we're talking about much more than just having a buzz on because the adrenalin is up and running, although I acknowledge that a few well-honed high C's seem to out-do plain old caffeine by quite a few BP points. And as soon as I know just a tiny bit more about singing than the minus total I know now, I'd love to theorize about how making music in our bodies realigns those bodies.

But for now, let's talk about the adrenalin effect. The last number on the program called for all of the singers to join in a lusty rendition of "Oklahoma!" Of course this is OK's state song, currently being sung somewhere in the state about every thirty minutes, since this is Oklahoma's centennial year. You're likely to hear the anthem at the opening of laundromats and the closing of the daycare day, at the lowering of a new length of drainage pipe or the unearthing of the buried '57 Plymouth Belvedere in Tulsa. Any and all occasions are appropriate for belting out the great Rodgers and Hammerstein show-stopper. And on the occasion of last Friday's concert, every member of the audience apparently got at least a minimal shot of booster-juice, because we were all on our feet, joining the performers in affirming that "You're doin' fine, Oklahoma!" Yip-I-O-E-Ay!

And on the way home, all revved up (as the poor '57 Belvedere is, alas, never going to be), I got to thinking, "Does Oklahoma really have the very best state song in the Union?"

So, I Googled around a bit this week. Every state has at least one state song--except for that Charlie Brown of states, New Jersey. Massachusetts has seven--all unofficial. New Hampshire has two official and eight honorary. Pretty chauvinistic for such a minimalist state, I'd say. Virginia has only an "emeritus song." I love that way of saying that while they honor "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny," they don't want officially to endorse its lyrics in the 21st century.

There are some surprises: I expected "California, Here I Come" to head the hit parade for the golden state, but no, their choice is something called "I Love You, California." (Ever heard it?)
And what about "Deep in the Heart of You-Know-Where"? Surely that's the state song? No, it's a thumping march called "Texas, Our Texas." (No hand-clapping that I could discern.) Never heard New York's state song either, but who can resist the marvelous Ebb-Kander salute to the Big Apple, "New York, New York"?

"Way Down Upon the Swannee River" is the signature song for--? Well, you probably knew, but I'd have never guessed Florida. On the other hand, Georgia (the other state graced by the Suwannee River) has a gorgeous song that feels just right: "Georgia On My Mind." Words by Stuart Gorrell, music by, yes, you've got it: Hoagy Carmichael. And finally, there are two state songs that I would guess most Americans have sung over and over throughout our lives, around campfires and on long road trips, in countries far from the U.S. or while looking into the eyes of our beloveds, without ever thinking of either Kansas or Louisiana: "Home on the Range," and "You Are My Sunshine." Anybody have a ukelele? An harmonica? I'll just whistle then.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Recital, Part I

Nancy's been taking voice lessons for a couple of months (to extend the range of her already fine voice), and three weeks ago, her voice teacher invited her to a recital. Would I like to go along? Well, sure, why not? The Sunday recital was to be held in a charming old Catholic church downtown, sandwiched in between an all-day schedule of masses. How long could it be?

More singers than expected, actually, but each piece shorter than feared. On a scale of 1 to 10, the voices ranged--from 1 to 10. And they were scheduled just that way.

The first couple of singers were teen-aged girls, their tiny voices inaudible beyond the second row. One sang "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," and that's where her voice must have been, because it surely wasn't anywhere around us. Later, in the parking lot, I heard her call her little brother: "Ralph, get over here NOW!" Every Ralph anywhere in the county looked up from what he was doing.

Each singer was a little farther from ground zero than the preceding one. Vocal skill varied hugely, but courage was consistent and heroic. Halfway along, a woman stood before us who must have been ten years older than I. (That would put her in her eighties.) Her glasses were almost comically thick. She held the music an inch beyond her nose. Before singing, she beamed at us, smiling enagingly and summarizing the flirtatious little French aria she was about to sing. As the piece went along, she swayed coquettishly, periodically lowering her music to beam once more, then putting her nose back in the score. Her old voice wavered and quavered, mostly hitting the note, occasionally missing. And she captured exactly the spirit of the joyous song.

A little later, a tall, sturdy young man gave us "Be My Love" with a force that had to be heard to be believed. Forget "baritone" or "bass": this fellow was in a category by himself : he was unmistakably a BELLOW. When he finished, Nancy turned and said something to me, but my ears were still ringing. "WHAT?" I asked. Two women behind me snorted in agreement.

By the time we heard the last three singers, my life had turned a corner.

For more than fifty years, I have loved vocal music and grieved that I "couldn't sing." Who knows where that idea came from? Certainly I had not learned to sing. So what? Here in front of me were ten or fifteen people who wanted to sing and were learning. Why not me? Forget the last three splendid singers, who were surely born with the gift of music and were making the most of it. I don't need a Cadillac. I just need an inspired mechanic to help me get this old machine running.

Blessings on every participant in that recital. May their vocal studies bring them much joy. As for me, I signed up for lessons with their teacher the next day.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007


I wrote this small poem a few months ago. It seems especially apt on this lovely June day. (If it's of interest, please use it as you like.)


Always, always in our day
those who run into Eternity unexpectedly,
bump into it, an accident on their busy road to
Somewhere Else,
always, they see the same revelation.

I hear no accounts of balls of fire swirling over Santa Fe,
No reports of angelic wings whirring over Wichita,
No chariots swingin' low above Charleston.

The favored ones, the veils of the blinding familiar
lifted from their eyes,
the ho-hum of, say, 15,000 yesterdays electrified
into the ecstatic WOW of today, of NOW, eternal NOW--
They speak of the sheen and splendor
of the round friendly acorn,
The impromptu music of the least lark spilling down the tree,
The mystery of slow satin waves glimmering in a fitness pool
full of ancient mariners.

Go where you want,
Stay where you will,
Run as fast as your made-in-China shoes will go;
Sway in your hammock lazy as a coddled cat.
Eternity swirls about you still,
And the glories of the living moment are yours
for the seeing,
Never waiting There,
only offered Here.
Never available Then,
only open Now.

--Elouise Bell, 2006