Today’s post is dedicated to my Mom and Dad, who always made me appreciate all the good, beautiful, and fun things in life, and paid for all the music lessons with time and money that made me the artist and singer I am today.
This blog is focused largely on the world of the Old Masters of singing, and how their work remains relevant in the 21st despite our advances in scientific knowledge.
But today, I’m digressing into a discussion of musical influences. Specifically the effect of the singing of country singer Patsy Cline.
I grew up in rural Peculiar, Missouri on a farm of 60 acres, about 30 minutes south of Kansas City. This rural upbringing was always connected to music: my grandmother was a public music teacher for 30 years, and my mother had a beautiful alto voice. Singing was always part of my life, even before I could talk I’m sure I was singing. I can still remember setting up daily practice sessions in our North Room, which was empty and had fantastic acoustics. Here I was setting up daily vocalization routines without even knowing it! I had to sing every day – or it was a wasted day.
No music was ever looked ‘down upon’ in our home. All styles were equally worthy of consideration and discovery. As a young child, I would memorize all the songs on the radio and sing them from my car seat. (In this age of babies singing on YouTube, I only WISH I had a video of myself!) To this day, my Dad can’t tell the story of me singing The Gatlin Brothers 1979 hit, “All the Gold in Califonia,” without tearing up from nostalgia.
My musical diet consisted of the best music from the 50s and 60s. Many people are shocked with the knowledge of this era’s music (especially 60-70 year olds) when I know the words. The Shirelles, the Drifters, the Supremes, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke: these were all artists of my youth, and had a profound influence on me. Other artists that I listened to and loved were Juice Newton and Crystal Gayle. Gayle was a particularly strong influence on me from the age of 4 to about 9 or so.
But the greatest singing influence of my youth was undoubtedly Patsy Cline. In the years before my voice changed, Patsy’s music was perfect for my voice, and I loved singing the music – it was rich in story! Heartbreak, loss, acceptance, and bitterness were so dramatic and the sobs and inflections of the music appealed to my emotional sensitivity as well. I loved the steel guitar, the emotive string sections, the percussion, and the Jordanaires (Elvis’s backup singers!).
When I went to college to study music seriously, one of the things that I learned (to my chagrin) was that I needed to look down on any other music that wasn’t ‘serious’ music. Country-Western, Pop, and other musical forms were viewed as ‘less-than.’
Because that mindset is so prevalent even today – especially in academia – we lose out on learning from other artists regardless of genre. I can’t forget the quote of Maria Callas, when asked why she stayed at the conservatory in Athens all day long:
Even the least talented pupil can teach you something that you, the most talented, may not be able to do.
Great singing artists of the past listened to singers of all stripes to learn how to be better singers. Many of them remarked in their diaries and autobiographies how popular and folk singers had a tremendous impact on their artistry and expression of classical and operatic music.
If I had one wish, I would wish that the classical world would stop their preening moralistic belief that ‘only classical music matters.’ or is ‘good enough.’ As classical musicians and artists we stand to gain a great deal from artists like Patsy Cline; artists that sing with sincerity, heart, and soul. This sound and way of singing goes right to the heart of why we sing: to connect and to share.
Patsy can still teach me phrasing, emotional connection to the text, and understanding of story, and investing every song with authenticity. Why wouldn’t I take advantage of learning from her and others?
Who are your ‘non-classical’ musical influences?
I am here to tell you THEY ARE VALID and it’s OKAY to like them. Don’t let anyone tell you any different. It’s part of what makes you a unique artist: inspiration comes from ALL places if you’re open to receiving it.
Honor your influences; they mean more than you know.