My earliest memory is of myself singing. I was 4, accompanying my aunt and grandmother on a doctor’s visit. No doubt to amuse me, the nurse handed me a lollipop, and I made up a song about it. It took me a few minutes to realize that I wasn’t just singing the song in my head. Slowly, I gazed around at a full waiting room that was (let’s go with mesmerized here, shall we? Probably more like horrified.)
“No, no,” the nurse said. “Continue.”
My first audience. Little did she know what she had unleashed. Flush from appearances in the finest waiting rooms in Westchester, I quickly moved on to mimicking my aunt and uncle’s recordings of Renata Tebaldi and Anna Moffo. I sang it all – classical, church music, folk, Broadway – accompanying and accompanied by my sisters on piano and guitar in salons in our home. I studied violin, which turned out to be first-rate preparation for the voice lessons that followed, sang opera in college and served as a cantor in local churches.
Apart from writing, singing was the one thing I was good at. (To a certain extent. “Stick to Mozart,” my aunt admonished whenever I strayed into torch songs like “The Man I Love.”) Singing helped define my writing as language has always been in part about rhythm for me. And it is certainly the soundtrack of my myriad moods. Many was the evening that I would return home from the journalistic salt mines, fling open the door and announce dramatically to my aunt, “It’s a ‘Tosca’ night.”
For all you would-be Floria Toscas out there – and you know who you are – this is an issue for you. Herein we consider the voice – the one that runs through your head and spills out into the world, that makes you who you are, for no two voices are alike. Here you’ll meet singers/songwriters/instrumentalists like Byram’s Vinny Nobile and lyric coloraturas who also give voice lessons like the Music Conservatory of Westchester’s Jeanai La Vita.
But you’ll also encounter folks who use their voices in unusual ways, including in service to others, like cover guy Eli Manning. We know just what you’re thinking: He’s having one helluva year in the worst possible way. But he’s one of the loveliest young men you’re likely to meet, whose quiet, steady voice pierced through the din of two improbable Super Bowl runs and takes on a compassionate tone in his work for the Guiding Eyes for the Blind in Yorktown Heights. And if that voice should break today, well, he’s entitled, isn’t he?
There are other Elis here – people willing to serve as a voice for others, like Westport Library’s Maxine Bleiweis, Cold Spring fused-glass artist Barbara Galazzo and Ardsley/Thornwood teacher Elena Olivieri. They are in turn helping readers, artists and children, respectively, find their voices.
Sometimes voices turn menacing, as you’ll see in our discussion of schizophrenia with Wilton psychiatrist and novelist Mark Rubinstein.
Yet throughout history, there’s been a fine line between madness and mysticism. We include here a look at Joan of Arc, who heeded the voices in her head that told her to save France from the British and willingly died for them.
There is a power in the voice that wells within us and project itself out into the world where it unites with others. When I think of the voice, I think of that memorable scene in the 1942 movie “Casablanca.” A group of German soldiers are singing “Die Wacht am Rhein” at Rick’s Café Américain. But Paul Henreid’s freedom fighter Victor Laszlo will have none of it. He orders the band, with the approval of Humphrey Bogart’s Rick, to strike up “La Marseillaise,” the French national anthem – symbol of all that has been lost and still remains. Soon everyone else in the café takes it up, drowning out the sounds of tyranny.
That’s what one voice, harmonizing with others, can do.