Radio Times/1924/12/26/The Songs I Like to Sing
The Songs I Like to Sing.
By John Coates, the Famous Tenor.
I think it is one of our English poets who points out that when a greet experience has been passed through, the impression is left upon the subconsciousness that it has always been, that t here never was a time when this experience was not part of life. Some people account for this mystical soul-memory in terms of pre-existence, but I must be content to learn what is a very real psychological phenomenon to the philosophers. I am only a singer, and the artist's imagination carries his thoughts along strange byways.
And so, I experienced that weird feeling, when first I broadcast my voice—that I had done this thing before. Perhaps I had dreamt about it, only, and the actual event broke my dream, as we say. Yet—who can say?—that feeling may have a deeper root. Broadcasting is "as new as paint," to you and me—but it is "from everlasting to everlasting," and our voices must have vibrated to the spheres all our lives, and the voices of the Patriarchs may be echoing among the stars still.
My Mother and a Miracle.
But if I may come down from the simply sublime to the sublimely simple, the thing that gave me the deepest and sincerest pleasure after my first broadcasting experience was a letter from my mother up in Yorkshire. I had quite a budget of nice letters, full of appreciation, from all parts of the country—and there is no use denying that one sometimes aches for a little praise—but this one stood out from the rest as the moon at full stands out from the stars. She had—all unknown to me—listened at a friend's house not half a mile from Haworth Road, and in the very country where Charlotte Brontë wrote "Jane Eyre" with its startling wireless cry of "Jane! Jane! Jane!" To her it wars unquestionably a greater experience than it was to me, for I did not know I was singing to her.
Here is a provincial mother who, all her life, has lived simply, and to whom in her declining years comes this marvel of broadcasting, this almost unbelievable miracle, by means of which she can hear her son, singing in London, while she knits in Yorkshire!
Human and Superhuman.
You see, to her it was a veritable marvel. She could have picked that voice out of ten thousand. It was the biy, whose first cry she had heard, singing in London; and she was so carried away that she hummed the song with me, two hundred miles away, and more. And what do you think the song was? "There is a divinity which shapes our ends," for I had never given my mother a thought in connection with the special selection—it was "Since first I saw your face," that fine old Elizabethan song.
Well, that is the sort of thing which makes broadcasting so human. although it is by way of being superhuman. In many cases, my voice reached quite a number of people gathered together, an audience, in fact, and some of these people wrote to tell me that there was loud applause.
We shall have to have some arrangement—I commend it to the B.B.C.—for reciprocal listening. Why should these audiences in different parts of the country hear my song, and I be denied the satisfaction of hearing their applause? Well—bless them !—it was very nice of them to applaud an unseen singer, and, in my humble opinion, it is a greater tribute than when the singer can be seen, just as I think applause at a cinema is more likely to be genuine than when the actors are present in the flesh.
Generally, I feel that broadcasting is bringing me into closer touch with numbers of people who have known me and my work for years. When one is a unit in a great audience, one has rather a lost feeling, but when one is sitting in one's own dining-room, among one's own familiar furniture, perhaps alone, and an already familiar voice, singing an old familiar song, comes intimately to ones ears, there is a greater sense of personal communion than can ever be felt in a crowd which is both visible and tangible.
A Captivating Theme.
Then, of course, broadcasting has introduced me to tens of thousands who probably had hitherto never heard my name, much less my voice. That is one of the big imaginative assets, imaginative without being imaginary, of broadcasting—the wide audience, the unnumbered numbers, the infinitude of circumstance and position and environment and education, either musical or otherwise. It is a captivating theme for thought, and one which exercises a strong stimulus upon my spirit.
I am presently doing a series for the radio, and am looking forward to it with great eagerness. I shall welcome "requests," but they should be sent in as early as possible, as programme arrangements have to be made no far ahead.