“‘So far so good,’ said she, when I had ended my story, ‘and now pay attention to what I am about to tell you – heaven itself, indeed, will recall it to your recollection. First you will come to the Sirens who enchant all who come near them. If any one unwarily draws in too close and hears the singing of the Sirens, his wife and children will never welcome him home again, for they sit in a green field and warble him to death with the sweetness of their song. There is a great heap of dead men’s bones lying all around, with the flesh still rotting off them. Therefore pass these Sirens by, and stop your men’s ears with wax that none of them may hear; but if you like you can listen yourself, for you may get the men to bind you as you stand upright on a cross-piece half way up the mast, and they must lash the rope’s ends to the mast itself, that you may have the pleasure of listening. If you beg and pray the men to unloose you, then they must bind you faster.
Homer. The Odyssey. Book XII
Homer’s writing on the Sirens calls to mind something that many of us have lost in the search for vocal attainment in classical singing.
The power of vocal enchantment.
The modern singing voice has lost its power to enchant, beguile, and charm. Today’s aesthetic in classical singing bends toward the overt, the aggressive, and the bombastic. Singing is another form of magic after all: we create something from out of the thin air, and turn it into sheer beauty.
In recalling why I started to love classical singing in the first place, artists with charm in spades come to my mind: Amelita Galli-Curci, Rosa Ponselle, Kitty Carlisle Hart, Tito Schipa, Jeanette MacDonald, Grace Moore, Beverly Sills, Lawrence Tibbett, Eleanor Steber. These singers sang with charm for days, and like the sailors in our story all I wanted to do was listen to their songs forever.
Vocal charm is as close as the ‘Once upon a time’ narration we heard as children. Those magical words instantly prepared us for something wondrous. Singers need to find more of the qualities of ‘Once Upon a Time” in their singing. Yes, you have a huge voice – but where is your vocal charm? All voices should have this capability to charm and beguile.
The singing of the Sirens led the sailors to their deaths through sheer beauty and enchantment. They didn’t swim up to the boat and drown them outright by screaming their heads off like banshees.