HOW CAN WE KEEP FROM SINGING? by Joan Oliver Goldsmith


Music and the Passionate Life
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And why, pray tell, should we? Goldsmith (who sings in a number of chorales and orchestras) offers a paean to the creative spirit—particularly to raising one’s voice in joyful (or lowering it in mournful) song.

Amateurs are the folks Goldsmith is talking about, those who are not professionals but simply in love: “The passionate, committed, talented, frequently unpaid or underpaid workers who make possible the great things in life.” No money, no limelight, a vicious learning curve, but still they play that invisible instrument of the spirit—for Goldsmith it is singing, for others it might be tuning a car to perfection or vinifying a peerless white wine—so that their soul does not wither but becomes the instrument of something higher, taken on a sacred assignment. Here, the author collects a memoir of sorts, snippets from her singing life that grope toward an understanding of her compulsion beyond the simple facts that it feels good and natural to sing. Most resonant is tessitura—wherein a singer finds a home in a particular range—but Goldsmith extends beyond soprano and alto to enfold the very act of singing. Nor is it small potatoes that to sing is her saving grace. “What gets me through the dark days is not Schubert lieder, but the songs of slaves,” this after the slapping, if elliptical, no-joke comment: “So. Not today. I walk back, look up ‘suicide’ in the phone book, and dial the crisis center number.” Goldsmith also includes episodes in her singing career and minor aphorism she has gathered along the way, such as the fertility to be found in the compost of wrong notes, the love-hate (and everything between, though mostly love) experience of forming a quartet, and the why of practice.

Not an inspirational tract, but a fervid prodding to sing, sing on.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-393-02024-X
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2001