Monday, November 17, 2014

Voices Stilled Too Soon

Tenors, When the Music Stops

     Presently I am in the process of attempting to finish my third novel, You Are My Song. At this point I am aiming for an early January release, but there’s “no opening night,” a time constraint I’ve grown accustomed to after some thirty years of directing musical theater productions. One of my very astute readers pointed that fact out to me with my first novel, How I Grew Up, when I seemed to be at the computer day and night and finished the book in less than five months, which I have learned is – at least for me – breakneck speed. My second novel, Eli’s Heart, took about nine months. There is also “no closing night” with a book. It’s there for any person who chooses to read it and become a member of the audience for each story I tell.
     Back to the nineteen-fifties, the era I continue to “live” and write in: My character Jamie Logan is a young, good-looking singer from East Tennessee who decides to pursue an opera career when in his early twenties. He’d been the star of the music department in high school, but when he married his high school sweetheart the music stopped. Sarah wasn’t supportive of Jamie the singer, and he wanted to please her. However, nothing he did satisfied her, and the marriage failed.
     Jamie is a tenor. There is something about the intensity of the tenor sound which many people respond to differently; something visceral, a sense that the human voice isn’t intended to soar in this manner and with this intensity. A good tenor, a really good tenor who can provide that ringing high note at the end of an aria performed with passion and skill, gives the listener more than the satisfaction of hearing something extraordinarily beautiful. It becomes an experience; an “ah” moment.
     There’s a bit of a sense of danger having been circumvented, similar to watching a high wire artist take the final step to safety, or the circus flier working without a net catching the trapeze cleanly.
     While writing this book I’ve listened to a lot of opera. I’ve listened to a lot of tenors. I’ve read about a lot of tenors whose lives were touched by tragedy … the potentially great Mario Lanza, who died at thirty-eight. Lanza had so much promise and such a huge gift, and seemed to be destined for a long career as an opera singer. Instead, Hollywood beckoned, and who knows what his accepting that lure may have cost him.
     Jerry Hadley was another fine American tenor who also died far too young. Hadley had an immensely successful career for many years and seemed to have the world of opera at his feet … and yet when his marriage ended, his singing stopped. He was overwhelmed by severe depression for years. It appeared he was ready to begin a comeback when he ended his own life.
     During the Metropolitan Opera’s 2002-2003 season I heard yet another outstanding American tenor make his first Met appearance in the title role in Gounod’s Faust. Marcus Haddock had a beautiful voice and he was already an established international artist. It was a thrill to be a member of the audience for this auspicious debut.
     Some six years later, this very successful tenor suffered two massive strokes in the course of twenty-four hours. He survived but was left severely debilitated. The trauma included damage to his vocal mechanism. He’s begun to do some modest performing but his website does not show any engagements beyond March of 2014.
     From what I’ve read, Haddock is spending a lot of time these days teaching in his home in upstate New York. To have the kind of career he had and have it taken from him so abruptly is difficult to imagine, but he seems to be a man of great courage.
     My character Jamie Logan has other challenges to deal with. While I was writing my first draft I was not aware of Marcus Haddock’s struggle, and learned of it through Internet searches when I recalled hearing that Faust performance which had so impressed me over ten years ago. Ironically, Jamie does have some vocal difficulty and is unable to sing for a period of time.

     Singing again was what Jamie had needed. It was hard to explain to anyone, but he felt a sense of joy when he sang, a sense of being connected to everything good and beautiful in the world … no, in the universe. He knew he was able to produce sounds people liked to hear, and those sounds made him aware he could share the joy that sometimes was almost overwhelming to him, the joy that had to find this expression, this love, this beauty.
     Meredith had been concerned when Jamie seemed depressed, and it made her wonder what he would do if for some reason he could not sing at all … if some terrible illness or accident took his voice from him. Life is so fragile, she thought. We like to think we have control over our lives, but we don’t.

     Jamie doesn’t have to face what Marcus Haddock has heroically been dealing with for some five years at this point. He has other trials to face, and in Jamie’s case, his music … his singing … is what provides him with the means to deal with those events. And while there is no way I can know this, I have to think Mr. Haddock’s music has been his source of sustenance as well. He is still connected to everything good and beautiful in the universe; music is in his soul. It will never leave him.
     I salute you, Marcus Haddock. You are a courageous man and an inspiration.