“Where words fail, music speaks.”
Hans Christian Andersen
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have a gift for being able to “just make it up.” When asked a question, I may not know the whole answer, but I can come up with something that sounds reasonable and fits into my particular frame of reference. Most people will call this the gift of gab (or the ability to BS). Either way, words and my ability to use them have served me well for a long time. That is, until words failed me.
During the summer of 2003 I had the great fortune to travel to Italy, Germany, Austria and France with the Ball State University Chamber Choir. As happens on all cross-Atlantic trips, there were times of trial, sleep deprivation and miscommunication due to the language barrier. Despite this, the trip really stands out because of the musical experiences I got to share with my friends and colleagues; I’d like to share one of those moments with you today.
As the choir prepared for trip, one of our goals was to sing at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. We had to provide proof of our ability through recordings from current and previous years. After a long process, we were accepted and permitted to be the choir for the service the Sunday we were in France. We selected the Franz Biebl Ave Maria as our introit and movements from the Poulenc Mass in G Major for the service.
I was fortunate enough to sing a solo in the Ave Maria and hear my own voice ringing the glorious space - one of the most famous Cathedrals in the world. It was an experience that still plays in my head to this day. While that sound was unreal and as close to an out-of-body experience as I’ve ever had, the real moment was sharing this with the people around me, with whom I had worked so hard to make the trip possible.
I was so moved by the entire experience that for about an hour after the performance, I could not speak. A person who has spent his whole life being able to find the words to answer the question or at least make up something reasonable could not form coherent sounds. It was like my voice had been removed from my throat. There were no words to describe the plethora of emotions coursing through my mind and body. It was as if the words I might choose couldn’t come close to actually purveying my feelings so my mind was unwilling to try. My mind had decided to save the aural image and not allow me to ascribe verbal vocabulary to it.
Words failed me that day. That is the power and influence of music. To this day, I work and live in music to recreate that type of experience. Without a doubt, music and singing have changed my life.
- Eric Miller, General Manager and Bass Heartland Vocal Artist