When I was a little boy I was very affected by the film The Black Stallion. Growing up on a farm, my mother and father had a deep love for horses and much of my young life was spent at horse shows throughout the midwest. One of the fanciest shows we attended was the American Royal. We were steeped in horses at our family farm of Stonegait Farm and Nursery in Peculiar, Missouri.
Coming back to The Black Stallion, I can recall the haunting theme of this film, which would always break my little 5 year old heart – so strong were the feelings of nostalgia that the music evoked. (It would take another twenty years for me to realize the theme is largely a take on Satie’s Gymnopedie, but to my young musical sensibilities, the song elicited a powerful feeling in me.)
To those unfamiliar, The Black Stallion is a story about a little boy who becomes shipwrecked on a deserted island with a magnificent eponymous black stallion. The horse can be close to no one but the little boy – who earns the horse’s trust and friendship. Through their days on the island, the boy finally comes to tame the animal, earning the privilege of riding on the horse’s back, as they both soar through the sand and surf together in a moment of sheer exhilaration.
After a time, boy and horse are rescued off the island, and it is only a matter of time before the adults surrounding the pair realize that this is no ordinary stallion, this is an incredible race horse. And so, they set about training the horse to become a great race horse. Of course, the steed will only allow the little boy as its rider, based on their special bond and relationship.
After a time, the horse finally manages to win the race, becoming one of the most celebrated horses of all time. The crowds cheer, and the film reaches its climax.
However, at the end of the film comes what is perhaps the most affecting moment of the entire movie: a flashback scene where we are taken back to the island to see that idyllic life that occurred on this island, between this little boy and his horse.
What does any of this have to do with SINGING?
The relationship between the little boy and his horse is parallel to the relationship between the singer and his voice.
For many of us, we begin our vocal lives in a quasi-Eden, where we learn about our voices and what they can do. For my grandmother, she would wander into the woods and sing the music of Deanna Durbin and other singers of the 1930s. For myself, I would sit on buckets we used for planting behind the barn and sing out into the night the country songs that I had learned as a child.
As we mature, if we decide to ‘make something’ of our singing voices, or if the adults around us notice that we have a ‘winning voice/horse’ they will encourage us to enter races, to win awards, accolades, prizes. If we are brave, perhaps we will go on to achieve those signs of worldly success. Others will praise us, fête us, and collectively ooh and aah over our voice/horse and it’s seemingly magical abilities.
But the longed for moment through all of the worldly need to have the horse be successful – to ‘make something of itself’ – is still that pure, transcendent moment between boy and horse – on the island – only the two of them – together.
The Black Stallion can be seen as an allegory of a person’s relationship to themselves, in the guise of a wild animal, which must be tamed. But as the boy learns, that process must be done slowly, gradually, and with much patience. Once the joy of singing/riding is found, the little boy may go on to win races or prizes – but he must never forget those sunny days on the beach – when it was just the two of them together – enjoying each other as if the rest of the world never existed.