Notebook

What’s in a Voice

In his five-part contribution to the BBC’s programme The Essay, Peter Brathwaite reflects on the power of the human voice. But that is not all: he also exposes, with due discretion and elegance, the political potential of art, its capacity to subvert and liberate. He speaks of Marian Anderson’s performance at the Lincoln Memorial before an audience of 75,000 people on Easter Sunday 1939, after she had been barred, on account of the colour of her skin, from singing at Constitution Hall. He indicates, to my mind credibly, the different dimensions of tension and expectancy that found expression in Robert McFerrin’s Rigoletto at the Met in 1956. Deeply moving is his account of Vera Hall’s ‘songs sprung from necessity’.

‘The human voice holds so much’, says Brathwaite, ‘but needs a listener to enrich and complete, to really hear it.’ He challenges us to listen differently; and to begin to find our own, true voice.