Monday, September 30, 2019

Jessye Norman

I don't do obituary posts for the same reason Garrison Keillor refused to do them: If you do one, then pretty soon you're doing them every day, and you don't have room for anything else. But this woman always meant a lot to me -- ever since I first heard her sing the soprano part in Mahler's Third. (See below.)

Technical mastery and purity of tone are astonishing things. But the finest singers offer something more, though I'm not sure what the right word for that "something more" might be.


Maybe that's the right word. Or maybe there is no word.

I think of that something else as the musician's Gift, but I don't call it that because it's truly ineffable. With musical gifts like theirs, I can't imagine why anyone would need Jesus.
In the course of my travels, I had occasion to visit the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. It's a small but fascinating place. In about 1912, Clark Griffith, owner of the Washington Senators, was going to sign two Cuban players. There is a newspaper in the museum that I read that said something like, "Griffith has to make sure these players are not Negroes because just as Negroes can sing in minstrel shows but not in opera, so they can barnstorm but certainly not play in the major leagues." It is astonishing how the microcosm of baseball and opera reflect society as a whole.
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