Power of Human Voice – Eddi Reader and the Scottish Parliament

Eddi Reader is one of my absolute favorite pop singers. Born and raised in Scotland, she was a member of the band Fairground Attraction before striking out on a solo career. One of the high points of her album output was 2003’s Sings the Songs of Robert Burns. Reader sets some of Scots poet Robert Burns’ poetry to music, including such old charms as “My Love is Like a Red Red Rose,” complete with her usually well hidden Scottish brogue.

The final track on the original release is the New Years chestnut “Auld Lang Syne.” But she sings it with a different melody than we in the States are used to hearing. Pardon the quality of the recording, but here is Eddi Reader performing “Auld Lang Syne” for the Scottish Parliament in 2004, where Burns is considered a national treasure.

And to all of my friends and colleagues, Happy New Year to you and yours!

The full lyrics to “Auld Lang Syne”

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and days of auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne

We twa hae run aboot the braes
And pou’d the gowans fine;
we’ve wander’d mony a weary foot
Sin’ auld lang syne

We two hae paidled i’ the burn,
Frae mornin’ sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
Sin’ auld lang syne

And here’s a hand, my trusty friend,
And gie’s a hand o’ thine;
We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and days of auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne

Christmas Eve Music

My wife Katherine and I were asked to sing at St. Mark’s ELCA Church here in Charlotte for Christmas Eve, and since we have not gotten many opportunities to sing in the same room recently (we have to work on this!), we gladly accepted. I am waiting for the videographer to post her stunning rendition of “Gesu Bambino” by Pietro Yon, but I will share my “O Holy Night” and “Some Children See Him.”

My own beliefs have changed over the years, but Christmas music still holds a special place in my heart. Hope you enjoy them, and I will definitely post her video as soon as I have it! Thank you to Les Ackerman for inviting us to join the wonderful men and women of the choir to sing with them on a special night.

Power of Human Voice – Bobby McFerrin

I tend to think that “Don’t Worry Be Happy” was one of the worst things that could have happened to Bobby McFerrin.

I had the album that the ubiquitous song appeared on for a full year before it came out as a heavy rotation single in 1988. By the time it became overpoweringly popular, it was old hat for me and my friends. It made a lot of money, you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing it.

But what it obscured was McFerrin as one of the most flexible and incredible artists we have seen in this generation.

He is not just a gimmick song singer. He has won 10 Grammy awards, been a guest conductor at the Cleveland, London, Chicago and London Symphonies, and worked with giants of the jazz, classical, and folk music worlds like Chick Corea, Bela Fleck, Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, and Mark O’Connor. Because he can so easily flip into his falsetto and use it so quickly and subtly, there is simply no one like him.

This video is a great example of how he works with some of those greats. Ma, Meyer, and O’Connor have done multiple albums together, including one of my favorites, Appalachian Journey. Together, the perform “Hush Little Baby.”

Power of Human Voice – Chanticleer

I think I’m going to add this as a semi regular feature of this blog: The Power of the Human Voice. I tried it out with the previous post on the death of Henryk Górecki, and I like it some much, I’m going back to it, hopefully on a weekly basis. It won’t all be about music, but this one is too good to pass up.

Chanticleer is a musical group that has sung together since 1978, specializing in a capella (unaccompanied) vocals of classical works. Over the years, they have commissioned a number of works by contemporary composers as well. But this is a step out even for them: a music video for an “indie pop” song.

“Cells Planets” is by Erika Lloyd, and the video was shot by the group on the road with cameraphones and webcams, and is an outstanding showcase for the lead countertenor. If you are unfamiliar with the term, a countertenor is a male voice whose range ranges well into the mezzo, or lower woman’s range.  It is a haunting, lovely rendition, so please click and have a listen. Thanks to Kevin Turner for sharing this video.

A great musical loss and the power of the human voice

You may not know who Henryk Górecki was. A Polish composer, he passed away today at the age of 76.

Most people may have never known who he was if it were not for the issuance of his Symphony Number 3, Symphony of Sorrowful Songs. It was composed in 1977, and it sort of languished until it was recorded and released in 1992, with the soprano performed by the incomparable Dawn Upshaw. It sold over a million copies, a figure unheard of for a 20th century composer.

I remember hearing this for the first time, and being so moved by the utter sadness of the piece.  From the Wikipedia entry:

The libretto for the first movement is taken from a 15th century lament, while second movement uses the words of a teenage girl, Helena Błażusiak, which she wrote on the wall of a Gestapo prison cell in Zakopane to invoke the protection of the Virgin Mary.[35]
The third uses the text of a Silesian folk song which describes the pain of a mother searching for a son killed in the Silesian uprisings.[36] The dominant themes of the symphony are motherhood and separation through war. While the first and third movements are written from the perspective of a parent who has lost a child, the second movement is from that of a child separated from a parent.

If you have an opportunity, I strongly suggest you listen to this piece. Górecki was for a portion of his career a minimalist, so many figures are repeated for long stretches in each movement. But I think that minimalism is what lends weight to the despair of the piece. Here’s the third movement, “Lento e largo.”

No, this isn’t strictly voiceover related. But this music speaks both to the power of music and the power of the human voice. It doesn’t matter that you cannot understand the words: you can feel it. So go have a listen. And remember that spoken or sung, our voices can move people, when put in the hands of transcendent talent.

Thank you Maestro Górecki for all of your work, especially this soul shaking piece.

Handling rejection with grace – up close and personal

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=anger&iid=279991″ src=”http://view2.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/279991/young-man-frowning/young-man-frowning.jpg?size=500&imageId=279991″ width=”500″ height=”332″ /]

I posted this little story on the VO-BB, but I thought I would share it here as well.

Early in October, I auditioned to sing the National Anthem at a Charlotte Bobcats game. Not a money gig, but exposure, fun, something I’m good at, and tickets to an NBA game. Hard to lose in that situation in my opinion.

Well, until I got the email the following week that I didn’t make the cut. I still find it very very difficult to believe they could find 40 or so people better than me at singing the anthem. It sounds very self absorbed, but I know what I can do.

I let it go. Until last week, when I received an all hands email, looking for chorus members to sing at the Bobcats opener on Friday. I was steamed when I saw it. But still….let it go. It was just an audition like any of the ones we do.

Then, Wednesday. The Opera Carolina office calls me and asks me to do the anthem, since they couldn’t pull enough choristers together on such short notice. An email was sent to the Bobcats with my contact information, and I was ready to go. Woot!

I try to contact the team to make sure I can get tickets for the family. No answer. Call again. No response. We get to Friday. 4 calls, no response. I have to assume that no one is going to get back to me, so I get dressed, and head down to the stadium.

After sitting in the season ticket holders’ entrance for 45 minutes. I am finally whisked to court level, and handed off to the person running production. She goes off to speak to someone, and comes back.

“We’re so sorry. There was a mix up. We don’t need you to sing tonight. We can offer you two tickets?”

Anger. Embarrassment. Humiliation.

I love NBA basketball. I have been a supporter of this team since they came to Charlotte in 2004. And I am still livid. I don’t think I have ever been put in such a position as a performer.

And honestly, it took all I had not to blow up at the production lead. But I took a moment to think that it clearly was not her doing. It wasn’t her fault the communication dropped. But I was seething with anger anyway, and I left the building without pausing, and drove home. Not my finest moment.

This is a slightly different kind of “rejection” than that we face on a daily basis as a voice artist, but still, the lesson is the same: maybe not this time, but possibly next time. It isn’t always your call. You have a right to be disappointed and angry. But you can’t live on that.

There is still a little knot of anger and frustration with the situation. But I am striving to find another success, another positive to fill the gap that momentary lapse of reason left me with. It’s coming, don’t you worry.

Thank you to all of the VO-BB.com denizens who offered me kind words and support. You guys are the best. Again, if you are a voice artist or aspire to be one, you should go there right now, sign up, and see what these helpful, insightful people have to say.

Random Acts of Culture – A Good Cause and My Turn

KnightArts - Witnessing the Transformational Power of the Arts

If you listen to NPR, you have probably heard of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, if only in the underwriting acknowledgements that are delivered in the dulcet tones of Frank Tavares. One of the programs of the Knight Foundation is KnightArts. From the website:

Knight Foundation invests in artistic excellence, funding arts projects that engage the Knight resident communities in collective cultural experiences. We look for innovative, high-quality ideas. Our grantees represent both emerging artists and organizations and the oldest and most venerable institutions. The projects all have one thing in common: they enrich and engage the communities that produce them.

The program is in its first year, and emerging areas of interest include digitization of museum collections, development of arts incubator spaces, arts contests in which all community members are eligible for funding and a Random Acts of Culture program that brings fine art to the population and breaks down barriers that prevent consistent engagement in the arts.

Charlotte, NC is one of the eight resident Knight communities that receive funding for these efforts. And multiple arts organizations in the city, under the umbrella of the Arts and Science Council, have been involved in executing the goal of Random Acts of Culture, including Opera Carolina, the Charlotte Symphony, and North Carolina Dance Theatre.

I have been singing with Opera Carolina since 1998, both in the chorus and in roles in productions like Macbeth, Amahl & the Night Visitors, Susannah, and Tosca (check out those costumes). And the chorus has contributed to the Random Acts this year, though I was not able to participate. This past weekend, it was my turn.

On Saturday, Melinda Whittington, John Kaneklides and I were asked to go to SouthPark Mall, and give a Random Act in the Belk department store. Melinda performed “O mio babbino” from La boheme by Puccini, John sang “Una furtiva lagrima” from The Elixir of Love by Donizetti, and I sang “Votre toast” from Carmen by Bizet. I don’t know why none of Melinda’s performance did not make the video (it should have), but here are John and I.

This was not as easy to do as you would think: singing with a recording is tough enough since it will not adjust to your tempos, but it’s even harder when you can’t always hear the music. Still, it was a fun time, I think we entertained, and I was especially glad that my daughters were there to see it (you see both of them as the camera pans by them a couple of times).

Random Acts of Culture is a good program, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. I hope you all get a chance to experience one sometime.