It’s time to add something new. After 33 years as a professional singer, and a decade of also teaching master classes and workshops, I have rather a lot to say about music and the art of creating and interpreting song, about my mentors and ancestors in the field, about the music business, and about the world at large – what comic Lord Buckley called “this sweet swingin’ sphere”. I want to share my thoughts with you who have supported my journey for so long and with you who are new acquaintances. And – I want to hear what you have to say, too. I have always thought of singing as a conversation (even though I am the one, usually, with the mic), and that is part of what I love about it. I hope to share my thoughts and ideas, and not only hear about yours, but get your opinions and suggestions about some projects I am dreaming up.
Here in the Hudson River valley, after two days of violent winds, the air is still and the sun is brightly shining in a clear blue sky. Though it is bitter cold, the light speaks of spring; unstoppable, irresistible spring. I have begged the trees not to bud, to ignore the lengthening light and wait for the truly warm weather, but I suspect they are not listening. I suspect they are rushing, as I am, to meet the light.
“It’s always the light that gets them” wrote Lawrence Durrell, and he was right. We humans love the light. We ooh and ahh over candlelight at the dinner table, over Christmas lights in a tree, over fireworks in the night sky, over Vegas and Broadway, over the full moon reflected on a river. Impressionist painters caught light on canvas, Mozart encircled it with sound. Even those of us who proudly label ourselves nightowls are not necessarily sitting in the dark. No. We lean toward the light. Artistic endeavors are attempts to create more light so as to see more clearly, feel more deeply, and then speak more glowingly of what we have found to share.
Once upon a time I was camping at the rim of the Grand Canyon. I had arrived at dusk and set up a tent; it was dark too early to see the great gorge, so I resolved to rise early the next morning. Before dawn I was awakened by an unfamiliar silence and I made my way to a viewing platform. There was only one other person there, an Asian woman sitting on a rock in a meditation posture, with her eyes closed. The sun rose. Its light descended into the canyon, and I suddenly heard a great rushing sound of voices. Layers and layers of voices, a huge chorus singing a densely dissonnant and excruciatingly beautiful chord, intensely packed, very loud. Not pretty. Beautiful (they are not the same). The meditating woman did not open her eyes. I could not close mine.
I knew that the sound was in the light, of the light. The sound was the light. There is no other way to describe it, even now, almost twenty years and endless attempts later.
I heard loud light once more, in the cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City on an Easter Sunday. During the liturgy, the great doors were opened like the gates of a dam, and a flood of light roared down the center aisle and smashed against the altar and the back wall. It was enormous.
Lately I think I hear it again now and then, but more quietly, and so I can’t be quite sure. But I have to keep listening.
90% of singing is listening. If you do that well, the rest is almost incidental…except for constant practice, and 30 years of voice training, and memorizing lyrics and learning theory and and and and and. Still, all those “ands” add up to only 10%. The listening is The Thing. And it takes tremendous energy. But there’s a lot of that available, since everything is made of energy. Energy is vibration. Light is vibration within a particular range of frequencies, and I have a theory that sound, which we know to be vibrations within a lower range of frequencies – is slow light. So I think of myself as working in the field of audible light, praying to be in concord with the great voices in the canyon, and hoping for enough brightness to raise a few oohs and ahhs. This blog is part of the prayer, the hope, and the effort.
I want to bid you welcome, Dear Reader. Bienvenue.
And welcome, spring.