Thursday, 20 December 2007

O Holy Night

I may not sing or play an instrument, but nothing moves me like music. If I need to feel after being numb for too long, work through problems or be brought closer to God, nothing does it like music. From Thomas Tallis to Def Leppard, from Bach to Bollywood to Shania Twain's "Man, I feel like a woman" (and yes, I dance around the house to that), if those closest to me can't reach me, music will. Music can reach places the spoken word can't, and the story that lyrics tell allows us to face our stories at one remove.

Thank God for the Welsh. (Calm down, Robert G.) With an accent that turns their speech into song, it's no surprise that they produce world class singers the way Bollywood produces films. I've often suspected Welsh babies could hold a tune from the moment they were born - I'm sure many a Welsh paternity suit has begun with:

"That's not my baby. You've been sleeping with an Englishman."
"Baby can't be 100% Welsh - he cries flat."

Well, the X Factor's Rhydian Roberts is no exception - a baritone who soars into the tenor range as easily (and as often) as I pick up chocolate, he has wowed the judges week in and week out with his vocal ability and both OTT camp and understated performances. To quote judge Simon Cowell (known for his scathing comments): "If we're going to award the prize to the person who has been consistently, actually, brilliant throughout, we'd have to give it to you, Rhydian."

Many people have argued that his training has eliminated any emotional tenor (pun intended) from his performances, but my sense is that they feel that way because what they call 'emotional' is actually histrionics. Genuine emotion is most often understated - you sense it rather than see it. What Rhydian's training has done is modulate his expression of emotion and given it a greater range by increasing the shadings. No one listening to this rendition of 'O Holy Night' can argue that he sings without emotion or passion. He just doesn't need fireworks to show it.

People's complaints show how frighteningly incapable we are of reading or understanding the infinite expressions of emotion - most people only recognise or acknowledge emotion when it is extreme.

Back to music. "O holy night" is one of my favourite carols - for its intensity; for lyrics like 'a thrill of hope: a weary world rejoices'; for ranging from hushed awe to opera.

And, most of all, for that penultimate "O night divine..."

Ah, you think, yeah, the dramatic, spectacular bit. What was that about understated?

No. That's not what it's about for me. It's about having a voice and being able to let go. When you grow up not having a voice, or moderating your voice so others don't get hurt or upset, or remaining silent so others don't get angry, having a voice - a *true* voice - seems a million miles away. You either keep quiet, censor, or when you have to, defend. You rarely make a strong statement from the heart.

Making that statement from the heart and singing that penultimate 'O night divine' require that you let go. You cannot speak from the heart if you are controlling or holding back. Likewise, that penultimate 'O night divine' requires that you surrender to the music and trust your voice. If you hold back, you become physically incapable of singing it.

So many people think that because I pipe up and disagree or fight my corner, a true voice is the least of my problems. That's a defence, a barrier. What and whom I love, my dreams, joys, hopes, fears, sorrows, darkness, my beliefs (the real ones, not the censored ones I offer so you're not offended) - *that* is my true voice. Few of you have heard it, even in passing. Those very few of you who make it safe enough for me to speak it consistently, thank you from the heart.

The last four weeks, the universe has been teaching me to set boundaries. From a friend who has yet to explain and really apologise for brushing me off when I'd travelled 70 miles to a friend who felt that accusing me without really listening to or engaging with me constituted a fair discussion, my life has been about saying, "I will not be treated like that. I will not be abused or taken for granted."

So I haven't really had a chance to speak out with my real voice recently.

Which is why, when I first heard Rhydian sing that penultimate 'O night divine', I wept. Hitting that note with a rare clarity and sureness, he held it, loud, long, true.


As all our real voices should be.


Ari said...

Thank you, she'enedra.

What you say about emotion in voice rings very true. Genuine emotion is understated, and that's one way to tell it's real. We're so used to these mass-produced gushy cards - those aren't really emotional. And I'd rather listen to a gorgeous understated voice like Rhydian's than Celine Dion histrionics any day.

You know I agree with you about what happens when your voice is silenced. Thank you for being one of the few people with whom I can use mine.


Anonymous said...

And I hope you NEVER get silenced. Heaven alone knows how valuable and useful you/your voice has been and will continue to be...

Fan xxx