A pleasing piano melody, an electrifying guitar solo, a thunderous drum beat, a heavy bassline: all musical ingredients in common in making an excellent song. Whether or not a song contains any of these elements does not make or break it, but when used correctly any of these ingredients can elevate a song to new heights. While all of these instrumental flavorings have their merits and value there is one element of music that reaches into our souls better than any other can. Likely the original producer of what we might consider music, far greater at communicating emotion than any instrument, and the most deeply human aspect of any vocal song I am referring, of course, to the human voice.
Something about the music that the human body is capable of creating is so powerful in a way that nothing else can quite replicate. Yes, lyrics are capable with vocals unlike with other instruments, but vocals in foreign languages or sometimes without even any lyrics can contain such beauty even if they, literally speaking, escape our understanding. I think of the The Marriage of Figaro as it is used in The Shawshank Redemption. As Andy, in a triumphant moment of revolution and empowerment locks himself in the warden’s office and plays The Marriage of Figaro on a record player over the PA for the whole prison to hear, Morgan Freeman’s character Red says “I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don’t want to know. I like to think they were singing about something so beautiful it can’t be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it.” While there is an undeniable power and beauty to be found produced by pianos, a string section, or any variety of wind instruments, none of these things can replicate that feeling that Red gets from these moments of vocals. It’s why Kanye’s greatest moment in his greatest song, “Runaway” puts the spotlight on his own voice, without lyrics, simply humming and vocalizing to devastating emotional effect. It’s why Pink Floyd puts Clare Torrey’s stunning sans-lyric vocals centerstage on “The Great Gig in the Sky” to represent the passage from this life to the afterlife. Whether it be communicating deepest love, fiery fury, levelling depression, or any emotion in-between, the human voice is just in a class it’s own.
If you’ve followed the Musical Training Plan at all in the past you will recognize my formula that will follow this introductory blog: 7 days and 7 blogs sticking to this theme. This month will mark 12 Musical Training Plans, a full year of my doing this and I’ve decided that it’s time to shake things up. Themes have become harder to pick and, as a result, it has become harder to put out the kinds of blogs that I’ve wanted. From here on out there will be no themes, instead, each week will feature one album and one blog without any theme. It’ll be more like Benny’s Weekly Album but the heart behind it is the same: exploring music from all genres to improve myself as a listener. I’m excited to get into this one last collection of albums and try to cap off the Musical Training Plan as we’ve known it with a bang.
In the spirit of not dragging on, I hope that you’re all as excited as I am to appreciate 7 albums worth of our greatest instrument.
The Human voice.