A friend and I recently drove to Missouri to witness the total solar eclipse. Our story was a common one in many ways. We changed routes and plans based on cloud cover and missed much of the totality to a passing cloud. Even so, the falling of darkness so suddenly in the middle of the day – and eventual return of the light – was a profound thing to witness.
The thing that I struck me the most about the experience was the sound. At the moment of totality, when the darkness suddenly enveloped the landscape, a cry went up from the crowds clustered nearby. I could hear the open-throated holler from people arrayed up and down the dusty road and gathered on the banks of the nearby Missouri River. It was a wild sound full of wonder, awe, delight and maybe a whisper of fear.
I was making the sound myself. It rose up out of my throat – pulled upward with my gaze toward the disappearing sun and the chasing gray clouds. I just couldn’t help myself.
Last week I was surprised to hear the same sound on one of my favorite podcasts. RadioLab, which is hosted by the brilliant Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, released an episode called “Where the Sun Don’t Shine.” They opened the podcast with a variety of recordings listeners made while watching the eclipse. There were boisterous exclamations: “Wow! Look at that! Beautiful!”– as well as giddy laughter and awestruck tears. But in the background of every one of those recordings from all around the United States, I heard the exact same sound that echoed in my throat and ears among the corn fields of Missouri: that calling out to the sky, that wild joy.
I began to wonder if this is a fundamentally human sound. There are others – like the sound of raw grief or untrammeled laughter, like the sounds babies make when nursing, crying or cooing. Perhaps what I heard is the sound humans make when the sun goes away in the middle of the day and then reappears in a kind of second dawn.
In my work as a voice coach, I have spent 25 years inviting my clients into their own fundamental human sounds. We go beyond the socially sanctioned conventions of speech and song into the wilder territories of sound. My teaching studio echoes with growls and howls, screeches and sighs, shouts and whimpers. It’s all beautiful music to me – deeply human and liberating.
After all of the human sounds I’ve heard – and made myself – it was a joy to hear a completely new one. As the shadow slowly crept across the middle of the continent, a song rose up in its path – a human song of awe and unity that I will long remember.