The listening glossolalian

January 11, 2008

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When I compose large vocal works (e.g “Hidden Legacies,” “Letters to the Future,” “Flashpoint/Stonewall,” “Rosarium,” “The Crocodile’s Christmas Ball,” and now “Home in Cyberspace,” friends who come to dinner are often corralled into my studio and made to listen to me sing whatever I’m working on. This is invaluable to me as I can see what works and what doesn’t. If someone falls asleep, I have to ask myself whether I need to cut those 24 measures or the person is just tired.

People love being sung to. It’s like being told a story, something all of us are hardwired into taking in. Some people fall asleep in a concert hall because it is the first time they’ve been able to stop all week. They hear this great music, it calms them, sets their mind in motion, they sit back, the alpha brain waves kick in, the eyelids become heavy and WHIPLASH. OOPS~ No, I really wasn’t nodding off, I was just checking something on the floor.

A common response I see when I sing to people is that the listener become a child — the eyes widen and all “mature” affectations and defense mechanisms disappear.

One friend, a folk musician with a terrific ear, has a hard time not joining in, even though he had never heard the music before. (This drove me nuts.) He would pick up and start playing a guitar, or an accordion, or a tin whistle, or just start singing. That can work for some songs, but not all.

The other day, I sang some of HOMER to Susan, Rob and Mitchell. Susan grabbed the music and we sang it together (she sightread perfectly), and that was great fun.

Twice in my life a response popped up that I can only describe as a kind of contented glossolalia that is likely related to the coos of a happy baby. These two people were not on any drugs stronger than a couple of glasses of red wine. I started singing, and after a few songs in, I noticed moaning going on. One of my listeners had his eyes have open, singing along (not in tune whatsoever) in a kind of nonsense babble in utter ecstasy. He would symmetrically tap the tips of his fingers together like silent claps, not in rhythm to the music, but just a kind of tail-wagging activity.

A similar reaction occurred when a friend, who is a musician, seemed to be taken in by the music, so he starts talking. Not to anyone, just to the experience. And it is almost like rap in that it’s words, but it is a glossolalian counterpoint that he couldn’t resist providing. If he had an instrument, he would have started jamming, but he didn’t so he jabbered instead.

I have an irresistable need to respond to music. I have gotten over the O-you-can’t-move-to-music edict common to much classical music venues. I have to move. Sing along, without disturbing those around me. My hands move. My breathing dances along with music. I can’t help it. I realize that as odd as it was to have these people moaning or jabbering along while I’m singing, that is their response.

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