Something beautiful happened yesterday between the brilliant pianist James Lent and myself while I was participating with the Napa Music Festival. James is one of those pianists that I wish I could stick into my pocket and carry around with me everywhere I go. His ability to follow my every nuance allows me to play with and manipulate the text and melodic lines like no one else I have worked with. With him, I feel the true give-and-take collaboration that every singer dreams of. There is nothing better for a singer than knowing that her pianist has her back but will also give her room for artistic interpretation and expression. He is a true treasure. After working with me last year on my life-changing Julia Child piece, which can be viewed in its entirety here: Bon Appetit, James began to recognize a quality in my voice that veered away from the traditional classical “legit” voice and into the darker, richer belt tones. After a year of continued physical, mental, and technical vocal work on my end, we met again today to rehearse for the upcoming cabaret; but, what James offered me was something greater than a simple rehearsal. What started as a standard question of “what is your musical background?” turned into a bearing of my soul as I expressed a yearn to return to my roots as a jazz and musical theatre singer.
As a child, whenever someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would instantly burst out “a singer on Broadway.” Whether belting out show tunes in my backyard or singing in the back room of my mom’s flower shop, I always envisioned myself as the star of a musical rather than an operatic diva. Truth be told, I didn’t even know that opera existed (other than through Bugs Bunny parodies or scenes from Pretty Woman) until college. The voices coursing through my head were of the Chenoweth rather than the Callas variety. And yet, when told my freshman year at USC that I had an operatic voice rather than a Broadway sound, I agreed without blinking an eye. I spent the next 6 years playing constant catch up, spending hours at the library watching opera after opera, familiarizing myself with the recordings of the greats, and adjusting my technique and sound to create a pleasing operatic tone. Unfortunately, in my struggle to fit into the operatic world, I lost that little Broadway baby who found an emotional outlet in a well-produced dramatic belt sound. I was so sure that what my teachers were offering me was the “one true gospel” of singing that I negated my natural ability in the lower register and favored a rounder, breather sound. This led me through 6 years of a vocal identity crisis throughout my college days as I grappled with my disparate voices.
Today, those voices began to find a common ground. James gave me permission to sing belt… Rather, he gave me the opportunity to give myself permission. At once freeing and frightening, it was like greeting an old friend who had been missing in my life for over a decade. I began to see glimmers of that child singer: bright-eyed and carefree, not worried about technique, but singing simply because she had a song to sing. While I’m still far from comfortable in this region and my brain is fighting and trying to force me back into my “legit” voice with every note created, just to know that voice is still in there waiting to be freed from its cage is such a gift. It’s only day two of the program and I already feel such a weight lifted from my shoulders. I found my joy in singing once again. And that is something that I can carry into any of my pieces–be it an operatic aria, or a Barbara Streisand classic. Sometimes we get so caught up in the details of being what everyone else wants us to be that we forget to follow our own path of inspiration. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the artistic world needs are people who have come alive. Thank you James for bringing me back to life.
#yogagivesbackchallenge day 14: marichiandrasana. “Most things will be ok eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room.” -Cheryl Strayed