The Glory of the Human Voice

1 06 2007

Last week I saw a play about Florence Foster Jenkins.  There are numerous recordings of her singing out there, and it’s spectacularly bad.  She has little to no sense of pitch, and an even looser concept of rhythm and tempo, slowing down the tricky parts to whatever pace she wanted, evening out complicated rhythms, changing keys with reckless abandon to move the notes to where she could, well, make them.  However, with all of that, she still managed to play Carnegie Hall, in a solo concert.  Now, when I first heard these recordings, I thought she was just a nut, that she was totally and completely delusional, with little connection to the real world, at least as far as her singing went.  But thinking about it more, I wonder if it wasn’t something deeper, and a bit sweeter. Perhaps it wasn’t that she was just insane, or deaf, but that she had faith that one who appreciated music as much as she did (and she did appreciate and care about music deeply, as she often criticised her accompanist, or other musicians, and appears to have a good sense of music when anyone but her was playing it), how could one who cared that much about music be anything but gifted at singing?  And she just went forward on that perfect faith that the world could not be so unfair as to grant one who cared so much no talent.  Clearly she was a gifted singer; she loved singing! That almost childlike faith got her into Carnegie hall, despite an obvious lack of musical performance ability.  She believed so strongly that she was talented, that she heard something entirely different from what the rest of the world heard.   There’s something to be said for that sort of utter confidence, to be so sure of yourself that nothing can convince you that you are anything but a success.  It is, perhaps, better to throw yourself out there, and take the risk, utterly convinced that you will succeed (even if the rest of the world thinks you’re a joke), than to hide in the shadows, unwilling to try. 

“People may say I can’t sing, but no one can ever say I didn’t sing.”

-Florence Foster Jenkins