If you are a literary sort or if you took a post secondary English literature course or two, you will know that the title of this blog post is a direct theft from the epigraph of E.M. Forster’s novel, Howard’s End. Published in 1910, it’s a lovely Edwardian novel about class, love and marriage – with a hint of the terribly sad World War I innocence, of a life and a time that was about to be irrecovably shattered. The words “only connect” refer to the novel’s message of human connection in terms of class, emotion, intellect and sexuality. The only time that the phrase “only connect” appears other than the epigraph is when the heroine, Margaret Shlegel is trying in vain to convince her prudish, older fiancé, Mr. Wilcox, to connect his conventional personality with his erotic desire for his soon to be bride. I’m ashamed to admit that Howard’s End is the only E.M. Forster novel that I’ve read but I think that I might reread it. I’ve titled this blog “only connect” because it ties into the vital importance of the desire for human beings to connect with one another, how literature and art can facilitate the connection, and to my last blog entry about the interconnectedness of things. I’ve been giving connectedness a great deal of thought lately and I remembered that E.M. Forster wrote about it much better over a hundred years ago. Even so, I’ll give it a shot: here goes.
I teach vocal technique and vocal repertoire to individuals and to group classes. Occasionally, I am reminded, especially in the group classes, that people come to singing classes for a chance to connect, sometimes more for that than for vocal technique. Why leave the house otherwise since you can get any number of vocal lessons on YouTube if you wish without having to interact with anyone, not even a live human being? In Singing for Adults at the Shadbolt Centre in Burnaby, two participants who didn’t know each other before, have bonded, celebrate their birthdays together and have become life long friends. They keep coming back to the course and they often bring their friends and family. I am well aware that when people come to me for private voice lessons, they are often coming for therapy as much as for vocal technique. Someone or something has beaten them down in some way and they need to find their voice again, a way of communicating, a way of connecting. I never address this directly to my students but I don’t need to because I think that the students and I understand this fundamental need for connection without being directly told during a lesson. The connections are already being made.
I sing many Christmas carols in the Caminando Carolers, Laudate Singers, Angelus and other groups during the Christmas season. During a lunch break at a Laudate dress rehearsal about a month ago, one of my colleagues asked me what my favourite Christmas carols were. Without hesitating, I rattled off “In The Bleak Mid-Winter”, “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus”, “Est Ist Ein Rose Entsprungen”, “In Dulci Jubilo” and “The Christ Child’s Lullaby”. All of these carols are slow, contemplative and sacred with many references to Christianity. My very quick answer surprised me and probably my colleague, given that I am not a Christian nor do I follow any particular religion. I am not hostile to religion; I believe in the interconnectedness of things (see previous blog entry). As I gave my choice of Christmas carols some thought, I began to see why I like those particular songs so much and why I haven’t tired of singing them for nearly twenty years. The music in all of those carols is lovely, lilting, mournful and plaintive – all good reasons to love the songs; however, the lyrics in all five carols seem to have connection to life and the renewal of life, of birth contained therein. All five are about human connection in some way and what it means to be human.
We are social creatures, even the introverts. I am very much an introvert who seems to be attracted to extroverted things like performing and teaching. I can turn that extroverted side of myself on when I need to do what is required for my work. When I get home though, I am content to simply be with my family. I’m very happy to spend a Saturday night cross stitching and watching Netflix. But my introverted nature does not mean exclude me from my desire for human interaction and companionship. On the contrary; I need my family and my students because it’s through interaction that I gain exposure to experiences such as different music, art and literature. How often has someone recommended that you read a book that would ultimately change the way you thought, change what you believed? I discovered the brillant writer Jeanette Winterson based on a recommendation from a friend. I discovered jazz from the same friend (thank you, Leonard Aruliah). Listening to jazz and attempting to sing it changed my musical sensibilities and probably the course of my career. Being an introvert does not and should not mean lack of desire for human connection and experience.
We need to be around other people and our world is increasingly disconnected from human connectedness, especially Canadians. Maybe its our inheritance from Britain, maybe we’re polite to a fault – I don’t know. I do know that it’s time to only connect. Maybe that can be my New Year’s resolution. Only connect.