My window has been open for days now, and there is a canopy of life above my bed: spiders, midges, moths, beetles. I’m at my desk drinking a finger of Green Spot whiskey from my thermos lid, listening to David Whyte and practising calligraphy with a swan quill pen.
It’s Thursday evening: the moment of relieved exhalation after another intense three-day-week is completed. Tomorrow there is the washing to be done. And a rehearsal for a service in the concert hall we’ve been asked to sing at to remember all those of the UL community who have died during its 40 years, celebrated this year. And four of “we five” will meet for tea in the Pavilion cafe to debrief, laugh, vent and write our list of things that need to be done for next week.
This afternoon we continued learning a Georgian song “Lazhghvash” from Sydney, a twenty-six year old doctoral student here with a glorious and shining love of Georgian music and people. She’s blind and has the most beautiful smile: a smile that doesn’t know what it looks like. Smile as a pure, simple expression of the inside. She tells us random details of village life in Svaneti. Did you know that the “Greek” legend of Jason and the golden fleece actually originates from here in the Caucus mountains, where they used to use fleeces to ‘pan’ for gold in the rivers? She has us pronounce the ‘v’ like half-way between a [v] and a [w] and try to make the glottal stop like a sound Gollum would make. As you can see from the song title, Georgian (well, actually, ‘Svan’ – a related language) is no stranger to stringing consonants together. Their three-part polyphony is really something. To Western ears it is threaded with ear-crunching dissonance but the amazing thing is that once it’s in your ears it becomes the most natural, effortless, sustaining, robust braid of harmony. It is such a joy to sing, the middle line an unapologetic second below the top for the first run of notes, and the men an open fifth below the sopranos. The sound sits forward right on the outside of your face, vibrating in your nose, while your throat is relaxed. Sydney’s face is a lamp, rippling with expression. You can tell she’s hearing every voice in the ensemble. Afterwards she and I walk back together to Thomond our student village, her hand resting in the crook of my elbow. It’s such welcome touch and human contact. For all the friendly interactions of my days, nothing can ever replace the warmth of bodies touching, and the nourishment of that kind of easy togetherness.
Today I did a presentation on resonance for our vocal pedagogy class. People. I had no idea of the utter miracle it is that we can speak and sing at all and I bow to the intelligence by whom we are created for we are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made. Of all the musical instruments that exist our own humble voice stands alone in that we can consciously control not just the power behind the sound (our breath) and the source of the sound (the vocal folds), but also the resonating chambers within our bodies that shape, filter and channel the sound. The sound of our voice doesn’t simply travel from the vocal folds up the throat and out the mouth. There is an incredibly complex play of echoes and sound reflections which amplify and enrich the sound as it passes through the vocal tract, without which our voice could never be heard at all, let alone above an orchestra in a thousand-seat concert hall (I’m not quite there yet).
The world is an amazing place.
“Though your destination is not yet clear You can trust the promise of this opening; Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning That is at one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure; Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk; Soon you will be home in a new rhythm For your soul senses the world that awaits you.”
From John O’Donohue ‘For a New Beginning’