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