Revoicing

18 Nov

The chorus of a hundred and fifty men and women watched as their conductor stepped energetically to the podium. He wore a formal suit of charcoal black. The hands he raised to start the first number of the concert were spidery and trembled with emotion. Many of the musicians realized that he was in a troubled mood, but were ignorant of the reason for his uneasiness. The audience in the Salzburg Music Hall waited expectantly for the start of the work of Mozart that had been written for full orchestra but was now to be performed for the first time by a special chorus of singers.

Violins, trumpets, flutes, trombones, bass violas, and french horns sounded, yet no one played an actual, physical instrument anywhere in the hall. What was novel and startling was the source of the orchestral music that arose. The audience listened spellbound to what human beings were producing from transformed vocal organs. This was the precise reproduction of instrumental sounds but without the use of the traditional sources of notes. The music possessed proper pitch and vibration. It was the exact duplicate of the original score, but lacked the historical devices of musical performance. The tools of the art were now forever changed, because all the labor now fell to singers whose talents had been forever transformed. There was no longer any need for the material objects of old. Mozart would never be the same.

When the piece was finished, the audience broke out in a frenzy of joy. Throughout the music hall, people embraced each other. On the performance stage, the vocal instrumentals did likewise. One individual failed to share the general state of euphoria. That was the conductor, the musical pioneer who was the inventor of the surgery that created instrumentalized voices.

Maestro Kurt Kerbing was worried about a meeting he had scheduled for late that evening with the person closest to him, the soprano named Mira whose singing career had lost its way.

The date was set for the tavern high above Salzburg, next to the famous old castle overlooking the lights of the city of Mozart. Kurt had reserved an outdoor table by the Schlossberg for himself and Mira. Years of study and experimentation in Berlin, Vienna, and Amsterdam had brought him to this final Salzburg victory. Yet there remained one personal factor preventing his celebration of success. It rested in the hands of the singer he was to see that evening.

He gave her a sad smile when she arrived and congratulated him on his triumph at the music hall.  When she sat down across from him he studied her porcelain face. The conductor who had created the new form of instrumental music asked her the question eating at his inner self every moment.

“Have you decided to go forward with the instrumentalizing of your vocal cords, Mira?”

Her dark eyes, more Bavarian than Austrian, lit up like church candles. “My mind is falling in that direction, Kurt. Otherwise, I see no future in music for me. My vocal training has gone as far as it was possible for me to take it. There is no alternative to the transforming of my voice. It is recommended that I make myself into a violin sound.”

“It is a complex operation, Mira,” he countered with emotion. “There can be no reversal or going back to the previous voice. It will be for all time.”

“I know and accept that,” she softly murmured to him.

“Then why do you persist in pursuing this outlet for your musical goals and ideals?” he asked her with the fire of anger in his voice. “Why are you denying your promise as a vocal soloist or singer of operatic roles, Mira? There is some contrary strain of stubbornness inside you, I believe.”

As he looked at her with anger and fury, a waiter appeared and took their orders for schnitzel and black beer. After the man left their table, Mira waited several moments before giving Kurt Kerbing an argumentative reply to what he had last said to her.

“I have for some time realized that I shall never reach the top stratum of fame or stardom. My voice is a mediocre, an average one. I do not possess the gift of individual uniqueness necessary for the highest vocal success. But now there is shelter for those like me, and you are the genius who created it for us, Kurt. Your discovery allows the singers at my medium level to convert themselves into replicas of orchestral instruments. So, I can become a human violin, thereby achieving much more than I ever could have done with my original, natural tonal capacities.”

“You would be selling yourself short, dear Mira,” said the conductor with evident sincerity. “You can never recover the tone and timber you were born with. The wafer that I designed will be implanted into the larynx, completely changing the structure of the making of sound in the throat. There can be no going back after that is done.”

The waiter arrived with their orders, placing the tray of plates and beer mugs on their table. For the next several minutes, neither of the musicians said anything while absorbed with food and drink. Only when they were nearly finished did Mira formulate her decisive choice.

“You cannot convince me to change the course that I have set myself, Kurt. You are wasting your time if you continue to try.”

He looked at her with pleading eyes. “I cannot express how sad you will make me, so I shall stop attempting to do that.”

He said no more about her imminent revoicing, since he was unable to prevent it from happening.

After her surgery, Mina stayed indoors in recovery at her downtown Salzburg apartment. She had not seen Kurt Kerbing, who was away on a concert tour in Great Britain, since their evening at the Schlossberg. Neither one of them had written anything to the other.

A loud knock occurred at her door one autumn evening. She found a stranger in a dark suit standing there.

“You are Miss Mina Herbrich, the piano teacher?” he asked her. As soon as she identified herself to him the tall young man explained why he was looking for her.

“Excuse me, please. I have just arrived from London and have some very sad news to bring to you. My good friend, Maestro Kurt Kerbing is dead. There are things that he requested that I tell only to you. That was before anyone suspected what was going to happen to him. You see, poor Kurt took his own life. I feel very bad having to convey such news to you. May I come in and give you more detailed and exact information, Miss?”

Her head spinning with the effect of what she had heard, Mina stepped out of the way so that he could make his way in. She closed the door, then asked him to take a chair. When both of them were seated, she asked him what was foremost in her mind at the moment.

“Do you or anyone else have any idea why he would have done that? Did he leave behind any message, any explanation at all?” She said this in a harsh, rasping voice on the verge of hysteric incoherence.

“There were hints and clues as to what was about to happen, although neither I nor anyone else was capable of interpreting these signs in time to take measures of prevention.

“At my last conversation with him, he expressed his deep disappointment with his invention of instrumental revoicing. What was most troubling to him was the deterioration in the everyday speaking voice of those undergoing the surgery and the implanting of the new voice wafer into the larynx. Only now has the extent of that loss been measured and made known to the world of music.” He fell silent, gazing directly at Mina with a face full of compassion. In a little while, the stranger continued in a quiet, subdued tone.

“Kurt told me that if I should in the future happen to visit Salzburg, to see you and convey his deep regret over the aftereffects of instrumentation that you will have suffered after your own revoicing. He was most depressed by his failure to convince you, years ago, to desist from the course that you chose to take.

“Kurt was sorry for and regretted all the vocal consequences that he said he had not been able to foresee back then, when he devised the methods of making the human voice an orchestra instrument.

“He was unable to go on with the horrendous weight of guilt on his conscience, so he had to end it all. That was what I understand he meant to imply in our final talk together,”

“How was it that he took his life?” she asked him in a voice unlike any that had ever come from her before.

The unnamed visitor looked downward at the rug on the floor. “He cut his own vocal cords while going at his throat with a barber’s knife.” His voice ended by gliding into a high register.

The two looked away from each other as if avoiding some thought that no one would ever be able to bear without ultimate despair. Finally, the stranger who knew Kurt Kerbing rose to his feet as if ready to depart. He made his last statement to Mina in a voice tone that identified him as another revoiced person to her.

“Kurt once told me that he thought the voice was the most definitely human attribute of mankind. That it is something impossible to share with any other creature. I believe now that he accused himself of having tampered with an essential element of the definition of being human. It was a wrong he was unable to forgive himself for. There was no inner mercy for what he had done to the voice of our species.”

Only after the stranger was gone did Mina permit herself to weep tears of sorrow.

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