On the Varieties of Vocalization


So last night, Abbey and I accompanied my best friend J. to the 2015 Euro-Pinoy Jazz Concert held at Tiendesitas. I had initially declined her invitation for perfectly valid reasonsthen finally assented in a decision motivated by the impulse to overcome the tyranny of perfectly valid reasons.

The first ten minutes of our arrival did nothing but confirm the correctness of my tyrannical but perfectly valid reasons. The venue was utterly deplorable (the choice of situating a progressive jazz concert in a Filipino food court, of all places, was so imbecilic that I believed it had to be intentional); the smokers were annoyingly ubiquitous; and the music, as I expected, was so sophisticated as to be inscrutable.

And of course, there was nothing that we could really eat or drink. (They didn’t have the buko juice I wanted and the green mango shake Abbey ordered arrived as the ripe mango variety. J. eschewed the yoga tribe trappings and had a beer.)

What saved the evening was the vocalist of the ensemble: German jazz singer, songwriter and professor Michael Schiefel. As Herr Schiefel also happened to be an acquaintance of J.’s, we managed to engage him in a few minutes of delightful and eccentric conversation before and after the first set (he took the entire venue debacle with exceedingly good grace).

How he was onstage was similar to how he was offstage: quirky, whimsical, and in J.s own words, “fearless.” For several minutes, I kept waiting for him to “sing,” until it dawned on me that he was singingonly non-linguistically. (I only found out much later that what he was doing was scat singinga species of vocal music I’d only heard about but never actually heard.) I sat entranced for several long minutes, simply fascinated by the fact that the human voice could be used so deliberately as a musical instrument rather than as a linguistic medium.

(Because, yes, as a writer, I’ve always thought of the human voice as a mere conveyor of thought, and by extension, I’ve always thought of vocal music as the merely melodious conveying of thought. Although I’d encountered non-lyrical vocalizations before, primarily in the form of beatboxing, words still tended to feature predominantly in the music.)

So yes, in the middle of drunken revelries, noxious fumes and horrendous acoustics, it was still, as J. wanted and expected it to be, a night of discovery.

Thank goodness for defiance in the face of tyrannical even if perfectly valid reasons.


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