That's a baaaad title, blame Bookhound because when I said I need a post title for a book about hairy people and hairy singers that's what he came up with. So a couple more of the interesting books that have been arriving and how about this, The Marvelous Hairy Girls by Merry Wiesner-Hanks.
Now recognised as a case of hypertrichosis universalis, the hirsute Gonzalez sisters plus father and brother all suffered from this rare genetic condition which left them completely covered with hair. Far from being shunned as sixteenth-century oddities they were taken under the wing of the upper echelons of European society, cherished and educated as courtiers and playthings, fashionable curios and of course examined as medical aberrations. It's all bringing out the very greedy reader in me and this book described as 'speaking to our deep discomforts and compulsions towards the abnormal' and revealing much of ourselves in the process.
How true that is about reading and how astutely a book can force us to strip away all those surface and seemingly virtuous values because I'll admit it, I'm just agog to read this one.
Did I say no mens' lives arriving?
Well not quite, here come the Marvelous Hairy Men, Tenor, History of a Voice by John Potter.
This sorts the gender-balance of this week's postal arrivals nicely because there are hundreds of men in this book all finding their tessitura and giving it some Verdi.
Now if there's a bigger black hole of ignorance than my shameful Eleanor of Aquitaine one, it could well be my voluntary operatic one, you all know by now that opera offends my philistine sensibilities and my ears greatly. However I think this book may well be yet another about to try and debunk some of the elitism that lies at the heart of my doubtless misplaced prejudice, because it also seeks to precede the days of the highly cultured sound of the trained tenor voice we are familiar with today and searches for the antecedents.
Possibly those that sat behind me in the church choir forty years ago, who knows.
The tenor voice used to sound like speech apparently, clarity of text ruled over beauty of sound and whilst nowadays individuality is apparently sacrificed by modern training to produce that voice, meaning we may recognise the voice rather than the person, it was not ever thus.
When is a tenor not a tenor?
Well very careful albeit limited parallels can be drawn with the modern rock singer, text matters apparently and that can be a way of imagining the difference between pre and post-romantic singing.
See how much I've learned from the introducton already?
How much I've confused you all?
Don't worry, I'll sort it eventually I hope.
The book offers appraisal of not only the famous tenors of the establishment familiar to us now (well as familiar to me as Classic FM can manage before I leap up and retune) but also examines the rise of the media-friendly tenor, those who purists may argue are not fit to let rip a cabaletta at the feet of the mighty and yet need to be considered in terms of their overwhelming public approval ratings. John Potter makes many a very valid point about their existence, their rise to fame and their popularity and also about accessibility; it's far cheaper for a greater number of people to hear these singers at a stadium than the 'vastly inflated prices to be paid for seats in an opera theatre.'
So quite a different book for me but the non-partisan writing style, one that offers both sides of the argument feels like a laudable achievement for a very knowledgeable writer who is also a tenor performer and recording artist. I've already dipped in and out of this far more than I might have expected to and I feel that John Potter is doing a grand job of breaking down the barriers with this book.
We were talking about this at Endsleigh last Tuesday evening. Sometimes it can be good to pick up and run with a book on a subject you know absolutely nothing about, think you don't really want to know much more and then end up being very pleasantly surprised. Our themed evenings often make this happen and none more so than next month,more on that soon.
On the subject of voice, I'm hoping to get back into some choir singing again later this year, and for this vocal reincarnation I'm opting for Ladies-Popular rather than Choral-Secular. I always think singing and sight-reading (poor to basic, we're talking up or down not pitch perfect) uses a bit of my brain that nothing else does and this is the longest non-choir stretch that I've had. Sadly plans to get to a 'Sing Carl Jenkins The Armed Man a Mass for Peace From Scratch' day in early May have been thwarted, but I'll let you know if I'm converted into a Pavarotti-lyte by the end of this book and of course I'll keep you posted with the repertoire when I rejoin the warbling ranks.