When we moved to New Hampshire, we tossed our joint collection of CDs into a bunch of boxes. After our move, they languished in the garage for a good long while before I got around to sorting through them and ripping worthy stuff into iTunes.
One of the CDs I found in the wife’s half of the collection was the soundtrack to the Disney movie Pocahontas. Being an open-minded fellow and a sucker for movie soundtracks, I checked the whole thing out from start to finish several times. Half the tracks are instrumental, and the other half are the vocal tracks of the musical performances. The CD is really good from an artistic and technical perspective–both the instrumental and the vocal portions–but the stuff that really stood out to me was the parts featuring Judy Kuhn.
I’m fiercely attracted to talent, and even though I don’t have a finger on the pulse of the musical or classical music scene, I know that Judy Kuhn was–and is–a major talent. She performed all the singing parts of Pocahontas in the movie. The eye-opening contrast was the song “Colors of the Wind”, particularly the two versions on the CD. You see, the commercially known version is performed by Vanessa Williams, and that’s the one that took off in the ’90s and won a shit-ton of awards. The movie version is performed by Judy Kuhn, and it didn’t have the commercial exposure of the Vanessa Williams version. As a piece of vocal performance, however, it’s the far superior musical accomplishment. Vanessa Williams has a lovely voice, to be sure, but her version of “Colors of the Wind” is a very un-subtle 1990s ballad that hasn’t aged very well, especially when contrasted with Judy Kuhn’s no-frills performance of the same song. Kuhn’s classically trained soprano just blows Williams’ version away in its power and simplicity. No orchestral bombast, no tricks, just a strong voice and a clear, powerful tune. I just love raw displays of talent like that, and it makes me wish I could carry a tune.
Anyway, that’s what art is about, isn’t it? It makes us stand in awe and want to emulate it, makes us strive to transcend the caffeine-dependent lumps of inertia we are, at least for a little while. I don’t call myself a spiritual person, but if there is such a thing as spirituality, it’s what I feel when I listen to Judy Kuhn’s soprano belt out a beautiful song. Art may not generate stuff to eat or structures to shelter us, but it’s as essential to our species as grain cultivation. It makes the whole survival business worthwhile.