Just before the last song, I thanked everyone for coming to the recital in my hometown. I told them we had cookies afterward and that I was happy to have so many familiar faces. I quipped “I’ve sung a lot of places, but there’s no place like home!” and as the laughter died down I launched into John Duke’s moderately schmaltzy, totally gorgeous setting of ee cummings’ “i carry your heart”.
Munching on snacks at the reception I caught up with family friends, teachers, neighbors, all sorts of people I haven’t seen in years. One of them asked me with a wink “that last love song…is there someone special you were singing that to?” I dodged the question with a typically wry response: “I was singing to the wall.”
Most of my memories of today’s lovely homecomeing will be of the brilliant blue walls of the historical society with the grand piano on the banks of the Connecticut River. Most singers spend most of their time singing to the wall, into the distance (sometimes referred to as sopranoland). While everyone is looking at us, expecting us to create a whole world, we are avoiding eye contact, focused over their heads, looking at the wall.
A lot happens in the space between the wall and me.
If I have a prayer of singing well, of communicating anything worth saying, I have to sort through the things I carry in my heart and recreate them somewhere in my field of vision, be it figurative or literal. I must have at the ready every memory and feeling I own. I use my voice to project it on the back wall, and hope the audience is touched by its shadows and light.
Today I sang of barns, wands of lilacs, joy, evening, fingernails, and I found a meaning and purpose for each of those things. I churned up all my history and plucked from it what matters. I don’t know if it was easier or harder to do this in the setting of my youth. During Knoxville: Summer of 1915, when I called down blessings on “my uncle, my aunt, my mother, my good father” I didn’t need to imagine them. They were right in front of me in old plastic chairs. But at the same time they were sounding from the half-open piano. They were on the back wall. They were inside of me.
So few things in life are within my control. Today the wall was near to me and blue. A few weeks ago it was far off, made of stone. Sometimes it is ugly, sometimes it is invisible in the dark. So I carry with me what I need: a heart full of memories and love. No matter where I am, or who is in the audience, whether I am hated or loved, in small parlors or grand halls, I carry my world and my people with me, and in my heart there is more than enough.
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in my heart)i am never without it(anywhere i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done by only me is your doing,my darling) i fear no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true) and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant and whatever a sun will always sing is you here is the deepest secret nobody knows (here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows higher than soul can hope or mind can hide) and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
[I hope to have audio and video of the program on my website in the next few weeks]