Stories for Japan


I know you all have been transfixed by what has been going on in Japan. The sight of the devastation of the earthquake and tsunami, as well the fears of the nuclear problems at Fukushima–Daiichi have gripped us all.

My friend Neil Gardner, owner of in Surrey, England, asked a number of voice actors to contribute to a wonderful project – Japanese Fairy World: Stories from the Wonder World of Japan. Neil, my friends Fran McLellan, Justin Barrett and Natalie Cooper, myself, and many others have recorded 25 short stores from Japanese fairy tales, and Neil has compiled them and made them available on the Spoken World website here.

All 25 stories (3.5 hours of tales!) are available for £10 ($16.28), or individual tracks for £0.79 ($1.28). Proceeds from the sales will go to the British Red Cross Japan Tsunami Appeal (for more information, go to the Red Cross UK website). Neil is taking NO overhead from this, and none of the voice artists are being paid for their work.

Please feel free to donate as much or as little as you can. And please pass it on: we want to get these in the virtual “hands” of everyone we can. Thank you!

Power of Human Voice – A return

Surgical Instrumentsphoto © 2007 Amazon CARES Amazon Community Animal Rescue, Education and Safety | more info (via: Wylio)This post sat for a while, and even though I know many people have already hear the story, I think it bears repeating.

Driving home from a session one evening, I was listening to NPR and this story caught my attention:

A surgical team in California on Thursday announced they had done something spectacular: They replaced the larynx of a 52-year-old woman who hadn’t been able to speak or breathe on her own for more than a decade.


Brenda Jensen, 52, damaged her own larynx so severely when heavily sedated back in 1999, that she had to use a voice synthesizer to speak. Her granddaughter had never heard her natural voice.

Read on:

During an 18-hour surgery last October at the University of California, Davis, Medical Center, doctors removed Jensen’s voice box, her thyroid gland and her trachea. Then, they put a donated organ — from an anonymous accident victim — back into her throat, reconnecting the intricate nerves and muscles needed to bring Jensen’s voice back to life.

This is absolutely astounding. A medical miracle. To have lost something as fundamental as one’s voice, then have it returned to you by the gift of an organ donor, is beyond incredible. Considering the complexity of our vocal instrument (pointed out in Pamela Vanderway’s post from a few weeks ago) and how little we know about how it works, I am overjoyed at the good fortune of Ms. Jensen.

I strongly encourage you to read or listen to the entire piece. Then consider being an organ donor, because it really can save a life. Or a voice.

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

Power of Human Voice – Your Gifts

The last few weeks I have posted a “Power of the Human Voice” post, spotlighting some vocalists and performers that I thought I wanted to to share. This week, I’m going to take a slightly different tack.

One of the many things I see suggested to beginning voice talent is that they volunteer to read for the blind. Organizations like RFB&D help create and distribute content to those who cannot read or struggle to do so through no fault of their own. For the voice artist, it give you the chance to work on your chops, your characterization and your endurance, as well as giving you a chance to give back to the greater community.

I have not done this, but I wanted to let people know that what you do can have an enormous impact on people you don’t even know. This came to mind after an event I have been involved in the last few years. Here in the Charlotte area, The Havens, an Alzheimer’s and dementia home for the elderly, has asked me to come in and sing Christmas songs for the residents for the past 4 or 5 years. If you haven’t experienced what being around Alzheimer’s patients is like, it can be heartbreaking. Many times they move around in their own haze, or not at all. Even with the caring staff around them, they can be unresponsive. Those who are responsive often struggle to make sense of things around them, and comments can come out of the blue. One year I sang there, a little lady very earnestly discussed her little dog with me for 3 minutes, and abruptly turned away to speak on some new topic with a neighbor.

However off-putting it may seem to be, I try to make sure to do it every year. Because for those few minutes  that I sing for them, I can see the impact for many almost immediately. Some sing along lustily, some merely murmur the words. And some just cry.

When I sing for them, I have learned that the most important choices I make for music are the ones that bring them memories. No unique Christmas tunes here: “White Christmas” never fails for the good people in the Havens. “Winter Wonderland,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” and more of the all time favorites are the way to go. And I hear it from the families who come year after year that they appreciate having Mom or Dad hear those old songs at this time of year.

This is the impact you and your voice can have on those who need it the most. As a voice artist, you are already used to not having people leap to their feet in applause after your finest performance. Keep in mind that sometimes what you do with your voice affects people in very small, but still very important ways. Reading for those who cannot, singing for those who need it most, using your gift in the finest way possible. Especially this time of year.

So go ahead and start doing some reading or singing. For you, because it is always good for your soul. And for the people who need your gifts. Even those who cannot tell you they need it.

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.