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Antje Duvekot

Reflections on Voice

“Reflections on Voice”

My singing voice was my first bridge to people. Way before I could make conversation. I was so shy I would pretend to be asleep at summer camp while everyone socialized in the cabin. But she carved a place for me. I could sing. It’s how people found me. She was my address. It took me decades to explore her mysterious terrain. I became a pro but to this day I still delight in this ongoing reconnaissance of her entire palette of colors. You think you know all the flavors of a voice and then you discover a new one. A voice is like a wild horse. Voice has her own life. When you are performing on stage she’s your dance partner but you do not own her. It is organic and complex like a relationship. Some nights are sublime but you mainly receive these. Hold any illusions of control (or intentional repeat performances!) and you’ll be disappointed. If you're nervous you may have that involuntary quiver, if you're tired you may get that charming loose sloppy feel, if you are angry maybe there’s a constricted tunnel kind of timbre (and people will tell you “you were on fire”). You can direct her by familiarity and steadily get closer to being able to mix, match and harness her incarnations….. but there’s always the remaining last leg of surprise and so you, the singer, stay exploratory like any artist does. That’s the joy. It’s what makes singing so much like play. The way a comedian plays a town or a cellist plays his instrument. Play is not control. It’s throwing your skill against the canvas of time and place.

From early on voice was my playmate and protector. An entity purely good, loyal, sweet and there for me. I would spend hours as a kid singing harmony along to myself into a tape recorder, well and safe from the turbulent forces around me. The tape recorder was optional. I had my comfort built-in and nothing could take that away. And just then as now I can sing myself into strength. To have a voice is symbolic of course. It’s to have a you and assert yourself. My singing voice always led the charge for my “voice-voice” to follow suit. I could go to bat for singing voice braver than in real life. Follow career opportunities, get up in front of people, make friends, collect colleagues, build a community, make a name for myself. Get paid! Profession, livelihood, identity, passion, joy, access. A ticket! She’s always been my ally. On the heels of a tough start. Now….? I could get by without her, yeah, but I would really hate to. I’ve grown to love her so.

So I hit my closet and I sang a cover record with my weird pre-surgery days, and just like my voice shepherded me through darkness as a child it did it again only this time in defense of itself…. I thought of the endless gifts it has brought me, the deep friendships. When you sing together with others a space is born that silences the world and strips and joins something profound right at the essence. I daresay on the borderlands of eros? When humans meld voices it is sort of like mingling physicalities without touching. At any rate it is very intimate and leaves a bond. It works in any language. I've sang with people I am in conflict with and it softened us, I've sang with people I am in love with and it felt like a celebration. Music has done so much for peace, never war. To me singing is spiritual because of its primal physicalness, its instant fleeting and its defiant superfluity. Writing doesn’t hold a candle. I was a singer long before I was a writer. I only became a songwriter so I could keep being a singer.

I am reading Lidia Yuknavitch’s “The Chronology of Water” and was struck by this phrase “there was no word left to belong to”. Isn’t this so true. We all arrange ourselves under a smattering of WORDS. I am not “mother” nor “wife” and I haven’t been “daughter” in a very long time. I am not a member of something organized (unless you count triple AAA). I am “sister” and I am “aunt”. I am “soul friend”. After that I am “artist” and I am fiercely “singer”. I am traveler and romantic. Then the list dwindles to mere satellite wordlets. As humans apparently we need stories as much as we need oxygen. But in our blind devotion to identity-markers we forget how vulnerable they are. On any given day, a simple congenital cyst can blow your “I am” right off the roster. Just. Like. That. And it would make you want to practice detachment. But that is not a human forte. And yet singing voice was already halfway there. Singing has always been about the moment. For most of history there were no recording devices and the only way those voices were passed along was in all of their genes and the shape of my sinuses. And as I sit here in my closet, headphones on, counting the passing moments, inhaling the transient vulnerability of it all and making an attempt to capture what might be the last incarnations of *this* voice I almost feel a bit exploitational about making her work like this, trying to stuff her in a static bottle. Like I should just be with her instead. But I'm trying to do both. So I sang. Like my life depended on it. The “green tea takes” gave way to the “red wine takes”. Sometimes I broke down into a sobbing globule on the floor. I sang right up til midnight the night before surgery. I only quit once I wasn’t allowed to drink water anymore. And still it didn’t feel like enough time.

Maybe it’s vanity. In fact it most assuredly is. Nobler beings would not define themselves by what they can do. But I glow like a five year old with pride whenever a recording engineer remarks that my pitch is so solid there is no need to employ the autotune software like with other singers. I jump out of my skin with immodest pleasure when I am asked “what key is good” for me on a harmony assignment and I reply “any!!” (because I got range!). And, I’ll just say it, holding the attention of a room full of people with the mere sound waves arising from ones diaphragm is like being an airline pilot or a princess or some-such lottery winner; it’s a beautiful way to make a living. I promise it is not that I am full of myself. It is that I am so not. I mostly feel like a walking-foot-in-mouth but in singing I have an oasis, a temporary visit to a realm of grace before returning to the profusion of awkwardness that follows me around in daily life :) . I was born with singing infrastructure but the other half I came by honestly. Like that whole 10,000 hours of practice thing of Malcom Gladwell’s I worked hard honing my vocal abilities night after night after night. The effort is also what’s made me attached. And now they are telling me just a little incision of the scalpel - SNAP! “work deleted”. My friends’ house in California burned down as I was getting news of the cyst; and their town too. Why are we never prepared for this. And who will we be when we’re laid bare. It occurred to me that not everyone comes back better and stronger. We always hear from the TED talkers about how they overcame adversity. But there are no TED talks from the folks who experienced a great quality-of-life-diminishing loss and do absolutely nothing with it. I have been thinking a lot about that question. Who would I be? How dynamic would I be if my livelihood was pulled out from under me. Nobody knows the answer to this question until they are faced with “the event”.

But I did decide that if I release my wine-infused closet album I want to call it “Silver Lining”…… as a resolution more than anything... to find it.
As far as I know, it is always there if you look hard enough.

Oh drat! It looks like Bonnie Raitt already released an album by that name. Oh well

updated: 1 week ago