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Ellie Tesher: What songs do you treasure most? Let me tell you about mine

Shakespeare got it right when he famously said, “If music be the food of love, play on. Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting, the appetite may sicken and so die.” (From “Twelfth Night,” Act 1, Scene 1.
Advice columnist Ellie Tesher.

Shakespeare got it right when he famously said, “If music be the food of love, play on. Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting, the appetite may sicken and so die.” (From “Twelfth Night,” Act 1, Scene 1.)

There’s a lot more that Shakespeare wrote about being in a state of love, but for me, music’s connection to the very “food of love” is a marriage, blending together the passion of beautiful music with songs sung from the heart.

Having grown up with a father who had a beautiful baritone singing voice, every family excursions by car was elevated to a performance if a radio was present, or if my dad and I simply took over with the words and melody.

Years later, my husband recognized that I was entirely truthful when I confidently told him, “I know all the words to every song I ever loved.”

And the result has long been the gift of listening to and recognizing gorgeous hours of outstanding musical talent.

Barbra Streisand is still a leader in the vocal skills of those who can sing to the angels, performing to wild applause since she was still under age 18. I’m reading her 900-page book … slowly … and while it’s long and filled with excessive detail, the result of all that she’s already achieved, plus her continued excellence as a performer, is mind-blowing!

In the house I share with my husband, music can always be heard. And fortunately, my husband shares my love for the beautiful instrument of a skilled and practiced vocalist.

Since one singer’s voice and tone may differ greatly from another, comparing the two is often a matter of the love you feel within, from just hearing each of them.

The renowned Italian operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti can steal my heart with his powerful high note in “Nessun Dorma,” an aria from the final act of Puccini’s opera “Turandot.”

Yet there are so many different voices, singing styles, musical instruments and forms of presentation, that we can all enjoy the gift of what Shakespeare still classified as a form of “love.”

Just consider a few more of the world-famous voices and some of their vastly different styles and sounds: The gifted American gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, who can bring the roof down with her rendering of “In the Upper Room.” Last Christmas morning, my husband and I roared aloud while dancing to it.

There’s Kathleen Battle, who could send her voice soaring to the rafters of an opera house when she sang an a cappella version of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” And Paul Robeson, with his deep baritone that could turn “Old Man River” with its repeated “he must know something, but don’t say nothing” into thoughtful commentary.

There are countless more singers of great merit, some noted as much for their originality as for their naturally gifted voices. Whitney Houston was one of the greats, gone far too soon, for all the wrong reasons. Elvis, too, was an extraordinary original. I saw him in person many years ago — when he was still pure showmanship and the audience was deafening the hall with screaming — before the pressures of demands on his time and talent took too tough a toll on his health.

And there are still more musical greats from so many different styles of songs and presentations: The Beatles, incredibly successful when they exploded onto the music scene, then dealt the tragic loss of John Lennon, murdered yet still remembered for his genius. And American country singer, guitarist and songwriter Willie Nelson, at 91 still “On the Road Again.”

Also, Bob Marley, a true original who brought his own intensity along with rousing Jamaican music about love to the world and carried on determinedly through the illness that would eventually kill him.

I got married in the Caribbean, some years after Marley had died, but my husband and I never forgot the upbeat vibe that Marley had brought to world music, and the love that so many people mourning his loss had for him.

There are undoubtedly many more great vocalists and singing stylists yet to be noted, and many others previously brought to music-lovers’ attention and revered.

I’d be truly interested to hear back from some of you reading this, with responses about who are, or have been, your own favourite vocalists and songwriters.

Email me ([email protected]) about how a particular song/singer has moved your heart and I will print a selection of them.

Ellie Tesher is an advice columnist for the Star and based in Toronto.