On Tuesday morning, my Canadian friend Tommy and I braved the threat of showers and climbed up to Montmartre to check out the Sabater collection at the Dalí museum. I’m not really a museum person, as you might remember, but I did like this a lot, since first of all, it was almost more about the relationship between Dalí and Sabater (a journalist who was pretty much Dalí’s companion for twelve years–apart from Dalí’s wife, Gala) than it was about any particular work of art, although there were definitely some classics lurking around.
Giant thumb. Representing God. Obviously. (Tommy tells me that near the arch at La Défense, there is a 30-foot thumb sculpture. This I may have to see.)
Mae West’s lips. I found this one really interesting because usually Dalí’s approach was to take an object and animate it, or give it human/animal characteristics (like the piano with legs and the lobster phone, and the melting clocks). But here, he took something that was already animate, already alive, a pair of very famous human lips, and made it into an inanimate object. This may be the most famous sofa in the world.
On the train ride back to the Cité, Tommy asked me how singers know what note start singing on. Which sounds like an easy question, but as they say on Blackadder, cover me with eggs and flour and bake me for fourteen minutes if I had any idea how to answer.
This might be a bit of a gimmicky way to tie this whole post together, but honestly, being asked a question like that was…well, surreal. Because the truth is, it’s very mysterious, how we singers know how to make sounds and pitches. On a saxophone or a piano or a violin, pressing the right combination of keys or frets or strings will always yield the same note. But for me, there is no process, no magic combination. Well, actually, there is, I just don’t know how it works–the music goes from the page to my eyes to my brain, and assuming I know what key we’re in and I’ve already heard the piano or orchestra start to play, I breathe and open my mouth and the pitch comes out.
And then what about the times when I just know the pitch, without hearing the piano? How do I make that happen? It’s astonishing to me that my instrument, two little flaps inside my throat, doesn’t need to be told what to do. They just do. It’s like the Think System.
(Regrettably, a brief Youtube search does not yield the “nobody had to teach you had to whistle” scene from The Music Man, so here’s one of my favorite moments, both to listen to and perform.)
I don’t know…maybe I should look into more of the neurological pathway stuff involved in the production of the voice. Or maybe I’ll just sing. Yeah. I think that would be good.