by Kathryn J Allwine Bacasmot
Listening to Glenn Gould’s albums of Bach’s keyboard music, you will hear a noise in the background: the sound of someone humming. As a child I gravitated toward the Gould recording on the shelf that held my parents’ collection of LPs, everything ranging from the Bee Gees to Schumann, covers worn on the edges. Carefully placing it on the turntable, I dropped the needle on the vinyl, and then dropped myself to the floor where I would press my ear into the soft brown cover of the large speakers that were half my height, hold my breath, and listen as Gould’s voice periodically accompanied the Preludes and Fugues.
Interpreting music is a creative process conducted through the medium of the body. It is a strange, mysterious sensation to intellectually conceive the idea of a sound, generate it through the mechanics of muscles and bones, hear it played back through metal and wood, and respond emotionally to the actualized audio of the imagination. Sometimes, when all the factors cohere, a current, a kind of irresistible force, materializes; the humors align, synergy electrifies corporeal property. Humming can be the invisible thread, binding and weaving—but it is not restricted to the audible variety. A “hum” can manifest silently, present deep within the physical core where a resonance is struck, and internal tissues deep within react. In these moments, the ancient question of mind and body renders obsolete. In the truest sense of the word, the sensation is wonderful: astonishing, and mysterious.
Adulthood bestows many privileges, but its responsibilities can also work to rob the days of small wonders. When we were children the whole world was the Magic Kingdom with no entrance fee. Presently, sitting at the piano, getting lost in the sounds, I gain re-entry to more innocent days. I’m back on the floor, mesmerized by the simple act of humming.
Kathryn J Allwine Bacasmot is a pianist, harpsichordist, musicologist, critic, and freelance writer. She received her Masters in Musicology at New England Conservatory with her thesis on Björk Guðmundsdóttir and aspects of the female experience in her fifth studio album, Medúlla.