Every 5th or 6th voice class with Fides Krucker calls for some serious head-voice excavation, a.k.a. screaming. You’re moving up the scale. You pass the comfy notes, pass the think-I-can-manage notes, pass the here-goes-nothing notes. You reach the end of your nice-girl range. Fides plays the next chord, and you get no sound except a couple of flutey squeaks. You think you’re done, right?
But then Fides models a nasty, witch-like screech, splaying her fingers like guns beside her ears. Dutifully, you copy her, and–welcome to Scream Country. Fides will keep you living there for five minutes straight.
Screaming is scary. When I scream I break into a sweat. My ears ring, my neck vertebrae seem to be coming apart and my eyes feel like they’ll pop out of their sockets. Worse, I am certain I’m doing damage. A window will break. The piano will fall out of tune. My classmates will cry, or go home and tell their friends how psycho I am.
But by golly, screaming feels good! There is no soreness in my throat afterwards–just warmth and space. And it feels good to learn that a scream isn’t simply animal alarm. It can mean something in a performance setting.
Listen to the inimitable Diamanda Galás performing her Plague Mass, composed after her brother died of AIDS. “But to all cowards and voyeurs: there are no more tickets to the funeral!” Galas’s screams here convey grief and rage, driving home her indictment of 1980s’ head-in-the-sand bureaucrats, homophobic policies and unfeeling “general public.” The screaming begins at 1 minute:
A scream is essentially wordless, like a moan or a sob. But harnessing scream to words–especially familiar ones–can blast through all our preconceptions. When someone does Swing Low, Sweet Chariot like this, it’s anything but comforting or redemptive. As Clive Barker has said of Galás (and he’s one to talk!), “There is something medieval about Diamanda’s worldview”:
You need a really good reason to scream like this in public. You’d be picked up pretty quickly if you did it, say, on the subway; even at a Justin Bieber concert the tweenies would stare. Lucky for me there’s Fides’s studio (and, occasionally, my car)!