Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with shades of deeper meaning

By Anna Marie Clerkin. Anna Marie is a 42 year old Freelance English Teacher in Italy. She lives in Ceriano Laghetto, Italy. *Shortlisted for the NUHA Adult Blogging Prize 2014*

I agree with Maya Angelou’s assertion that “Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with shades of deeper meaning.” I will manifest my accordance by referring an actor and singer who I believe use their voice to permeate “shades of deeper meaning” into words.

At secondary school I studied Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, and on reading John Proctor’s lines on why he cannot sign his name to the confession he has just made about his (false) part in witchcraft, his torment was tangible to me. Proctor breaks down, declaring:

“Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul;leave me my name!”

Proctor can’t sign his statement because this would be morally wrong to him. He feels “comfortable” making a verbal confession but signing such a confession is irreprehensible to him. His signature would make it a legally binding document with moral consequences.Proctor insists “No, it is not the same! What others say and what I sign to is not the same!”

Here we have an example of words meaning less than what is set down on paper, the opposite to Maya Angelou’s statement but at the same time Daniel Day-Lewis’ acting portrays shades of meaning which the written word lacks. Here the words come alive through an acting portrayal. Day-Lewis conveys the affliction and misery of his character in a spell-binding way. He roars the words and we, the viewer, comprehend and absorb his pain. Reading the play evoked Proctor’s turmoil, and seeing Day-Lewis express this distress in a film accentuated the character’s anguish.

Day-Lewis first impressed me in the title role of a theatre performance of Hamlet when I was seventeen years old. I had read the play before and had perceived Hamlet’s disgust at his recently widowed mother marrying her brother-in-law through the following lines:

“She married. O, most wicked speed, to post With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!”

The way Day-Lewis spat out these words on stage was bewitching, his voice conveying revulsion and despondency at the same time. The taboo subject of incest was alluded to with loathing by Day-Lewis. It was quite spectacular, and a scene I remember clearly more than twenty-five years later.

Up to this point I have shown that talented actors, like Day-Lewis, have the ability to make words take on a life of their own through their vocal interpretation. Now I will illustrate how some singers have the same power.

I believe that Bono, lead singer of U2, has one of the most expressive voices in pop/rock to date. On reading the text to the song Running to Stand Still from The Joshua Tree album, I understood that it was about a heroin addict:

“She will suffer the needle chill.”

What hit me was the way Bono interprets the song. At the beginning his voice is soft and gentle, like a lullaby – indeed, he even sings “la la la de day”, which accentuates the bedtime-story feel. I imagine that this represents the drug-induced high of the addict depicted in the song. Her blurred existence is underlined by the juxtaposition of contradictory words:

“Cry without weeping; Talk without speaking; Scream without raising your voice.”

The impossibility of these actions – how can you scream without raising your voice? – helps us to understand the hazy life the drug addict is leading. On singing these words, Bono works up to a crescendo that I believe illustrates his frustration with the rampant drug problem in his hometown, but also compassion for the addict.

U2 fans are well aware of the versatility of Bono’s voice. The song With or Without You is an excellent example of this talent. Bono explained that the song refers to his struggle to reconcile his life as a married man with his life as a musician. His voice conveys the hopelessness that engulfs him with the words:

“Nothing to win, nothing left to lose.”

Bono starts the song in a low range, maybe a baritone. His voice is soft and subtle, the volume low. Gradually he builds up to a crescendo, singing in a higher octave, and finally explodes in falsetto with “Ooh ooh”, which can be interpreted as a passionate crying out for guidance.

I hope I have succeeded in illustrating that “It takes the human voice to infuse them (words) with shades of deeper meaning”. Daniel Day-Lewis and Bono use their voices to make words jump off the page and bite you. Their intonation can conjure up all kinds of emotions. I have focused on the darker emotions that I believe are harder to project and consequently further showcase their talent. Through howling and imploring, they convert words into beacons of angst and turmoil.

To conclude, if you, the reader, are stimulated to turn to YouTube to watch a clip of Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance in The Crucible or listen to Bono’s rendition of these songs from TheJoshua Tree album, I am convinced that you will appreciate their majesty in attributing deeper meaning to the written word through their voices

16 comments on “Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with shades of deeper meaning

  1. Mary Smith Cass on

    As an aspiring actress myself I fully agree that voice projection is essential to render a performance credible. After reading your article I watched the Daniel Day Lewis mentioned clips and was reminded of how talented he is. Well done, I enjoyed reading this article.

  2. Cristina Barbieri on

    Interesting and enjoyable article on the meaning of words and the power of the human voice. Bono and D.Day Lewis are a perfect example and convey believable emotions to the audience. Well done!

  3. Oliver Cassidy on

    Have always been a U2 fan and enjoyed reading your interpretations of Bono’s songs. Well done, really enjoyed this article.

  4. Ivan Ginepri on

    I really Appreciate your opinions and your fresh style.
    I like the way you write.
    “…… use their voices to jump off the page and bite you…”.

  5. Denny Giubbani on

    Well written! Enjoyable piece on how the human voice can give powerful meaning to words through acting and singing. Long live U2!

  6. Silvia Barbano on

    Well done! An interesting article and original. Actors and singers can interpret words in various ways, I enjoyed reading how you explained this.

  7. Phil Clerkin on

    Excellent work Annie, it reads and flows well. There are some words in there that I haven’t heard in probably 18 years (since GCSE’s and A-levels) but the personalities and examples you refer to are powerful and are relevant to the point you’re making.

  8. Lucila Marquez on

    Excellent article…. thanks! you conveyed what you think so clearly, and with 2 great examples! as as amateur singer, I really appreciate what you say. Thanks!

  9. Celeste on

    Enjoyed reading this and reliving memories of my favourite actor as well as an amazing singer. Intonation is a powerful tool. Well done!

  10. Eleanora on

    Infinite examples could be made, actors and singers are the most important voices but as I’m turning to youtube to see a Da-Lewis performance, please watch the movie “In a word”, maybe you’ll be able to see another interesting shade 😉

  11. Gino Ilardi on

    An article really interesting and well write.
    There are so many good ideas an useful remarks
    Have you heard Daniel & Bono opinions’ ?
    I’m sure they like it too!

  12. salvatore trombino on

    i have just read a beautiful article. It was pleasant and easy to understand. I agree with what you wrote.The voice is a emotion when you have skill to make it and can be worth more than a written words. These examples are a well chosen. I enjoyed your article.
    well done!

  13. Beata Matuscinova on

    Very good article, the words can express your feelings, can give you a consolation as give you a sadness. They are stronger than any othe wepons.

  14. John C on

    Thought provoking piece Annie. I can appreciate from my own line of work the sense of ownership committing something to writing bestows on the signatory.


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