I don’t know if I’m fully in tune with mortality. I know, I’m old enough, I’ve had it up close & personal, I should be—husband killed, brother-in-law follows—but, what I really think only bears repeating once and maybe not at all if you don’t get it the first time: singing will kill you. I don’t know why, but I trust that.
I’ve gotten into training myself with little mini-outings to see what it’s like to be alone again in a restaurant with a book, although I was never alone without my late husband, I had three kiddies—so technically, I mean ‘alone’ as in ‘by myself ’. My partner spends a couple of days a week in the City doing his thing, so that’s when I can play ‘home alone’ and see if I can envision that as my existence. Surprisingly, it helps. It seems to build strength. But I’m going off on a tangent. You want to know what the hell she meant by that first bit.
We just saw the documentary on a troupe of oldsters who form the Young at Heart Chorus—hamming it up in the concert halls of US and Europe and Scandinavia, belting out the sounds of Youth like Sting & Rolling Stones (did I say ‘Youth’? oh well)—and we know going in that some of them are not going to make it to the end of the film, just like we know that Mick Jagger will clutch his chest one day, but we don’t want to go there.
By circling back around, I see that what I meant is entirely internal, which is why you either get it or you don’t. Example: I just saw my old buddy Jon in a production of School for Scandal and he seemed to be having fun with it—had the best part for that purpose, which is good for him and says a lot about the casting decisions—but that didn’t keep the play afloat, unfortunately. Again, I digress. The point is that he admits that he’s tired, but can’t stop cause if he does, he won’t perform again. Maybe he will, maybe he won’t, maybe he’ll do like the guy in the film who comes back for a ‘farewell’ bit with his friends in the show, complete with portable oxygen tank.
Another example: a couple of singing buddies have been in touch to let me know that they’re giving my long time voice coach some help keeping the schedule going; she’s getting along in years, a bit forgetful and that’s fine, that’s understandable, but what they’re saying is ‘this is your chance to see her again while she still has all her marbles’. Singing & playing the piano was her life since she’s four years old, so that’s only 81 years. First the hands went, so no more piano, and her range is limited, but the voice is still there—she can still demonstrate what singing is and what it isn’t. Michael says we don’t want even to think about her not being among us anymore. Gina takes charge.
My aunt just lost her husband after 60 some odd years; her children are still having children, but some are so far flung from Paris—the youngest in New Caledonia—that she bemoans the realization that the newest baby “will not even recognize my voice”. My grandson laughs when I sing to him; he tries to sing along: ‘eh-oo-heu-ga-uah!’ and then either drifts away eyelids drooping or lets me know in no uncertain terms that a tune don’t fill the tummy.
I wonder about crouching in a cave a million years ago and hearing the sound of yourself bounce off the walls: humming (did that once with a group inside a tunnel—spooky), changing the shape of your mouth—Ahhh, Ohhh, Eeee—and feeling power welling up inside you, and then using language with that power. And then knowing that when you stop, the sound stops.
If I’m really honest with myself, I have to say that my voice decides when it wants to come out & I have very little say about it. Somewhere in there, I believe it has decided that it wants to die first.