Today’s Smile is about…Verdi

Singing. Where to start on such a huge topic as this?

Do you play a musical instrument? Maybe you do – but maybe your instant reply was ‘no’. And yet we have all sung at some stage in our lives, even if not professionally.

So you do, in fact, play an instrument; and not only that, you possess the most versatile and wide-ranging of all, in your human voice. So when many of us bemoan the fact that we don’t play one, we often forget that we may be more talented than we think, by having access to an instrument we can take anywhere, and without the need for an extra seat – as in the case of the double bass player, for example! As well as being portable, the voice has a vast range, which I look forward to demonstrating in future posts.

Happily there is no shortage of pieces to share in this particular field. Whether solo, duets, or in greater numbers, music which includes the human voice does have an extra dimension. I was a very late convert to the extraordinary qualities and beauty of classical singing: I vividly recall giggling as a child at warbling noises from bellicose performers, quite unable to take it seriously. It just sounded silly to me. And then my parents took me to my first, and one of Verdi’s most popular operas, Aida, at Covent Garden. Within minutes of the curtain rising, Verdi gives Radames this testing little aria, in which he sings of his adoration of Aida. I was astonished. It helped that the part was sung, as it is here, by Placido Domingo, one of the very greatest tenors of all time. Don’t take too much notice of his strange attire (the opera is set in Egypt), just feast your ears on the sound. And imagine  having to come out and sing this almost straightaway, having done barely anything before: for the singer, its success is crucial for holding his audience for the rest of the evening. A brief, triumphant opening with some trumpets, and then straight into this gorgeous tune.

Sometimes I just want to be sung to. What a choice there is! I could not think where to start on this one, so my personal experience seemed an obvious introduction: the wonders of the human voice are limitless. There will be no obvious chronology in what I choose, simply a deep-rooted love of the piece, which I hope you will also enjoy.


Everyone knows Beethoven’s Fifth


The opening chords of Beethoven’s fifth symphony are perhaps the most recognisable in all music, seeming to spread doom. Its minor key adds to the despair.

But hold on a moment. It is sometimes easy to gloss over one of the most uplifting few minutes ever scored. Go to this link attached .

These are the  third and fourth movements. After four and a half minutes, you will encounter the genius transition of dark to light. I wonder where it will take you when you listen to it. Whenever I hear it, I see myself tucked up in a dark room, as my mother comes in to wake me up. She tiptoes towards the curtains, and for a split second pauses before opening them vigorously to let in a blaze of morning sunshine. It is a moment of joy and glory.