I once had a 10 minute conversation with Tony Bennett. Little did I know that, years later, it would become the jumping off point for a musical journey, and an album.
It was a very unusual and star-studded gathering. There were politicians, movie stars, and musicians. We both wound up in a corner near the fire exit, both of us a little overwhelmed.
"I"m not very comfortable at gatherings like this," I said.
"Me neither", he replied. (I found this to be hilarious, since he was only one of many public figures there I had been familiar with all my life.)
I realized I had Tony Bennett all to myself. I decided to take a risk. Me: "Can I ask you a question?"
Me: "I heard you sing tonight---and I know how old you are. (pause) How'd you do it?"***
***(We thought he was "old" then. He was in his mid-70's. A few weeks before I started this record, I saw him sing again. He had just turned 90. His voice, and his command of it, blew my mind.)
He was very gracious in that moment. His gaze drifted down towards the floor. He smiled slowly, took a few seconds, and he looked me in the eye.
"Well, my voice isn't what it once was. But it's a lot better than it was a couple years ago. I found a teacher and started working again. It's made a huge difference."
Some part of me filed that conversation away in the back of my mind. And years later, I have come back to it at a moment when I was at a complete loss.
There was a time a couple years ago when my voice started changing. This was an instrument I stewarded very carefully, starting with a voice teacher when I was 19. I tried to take good care of it. My teacher Phoebe became like my second mom. When I felt the change I immediately thought of calling her, but her health had started to decline in recent years, and I didn't feel like I could dig in and explore this bump in the road while she was struggling with ongoing illnesses. So, after 35 years, I had to find someone new to work with.
I got lucky. Chance threw me into a situation with the perfect teacher to pick up where Phoebe left off. Her name is Judi Vinar. She has been the perfect combination of tender and fierce: exactly what the Doctor ordered.
So, I steeled myself, rolled up my sleeves, and jumped in.
It was brutal. I found that I couldn't just sing the old way with my "new" voice. I had to UNLEARN many of my old habits, and stand in the disorientation long enough to either find my way back to a voice I could use, or find that it was time to walk away. It was an emotional journey.
These are the songs that led me through that process, and ultimately back to singing---the songs that helped me reclaim my voice, and my joy in using it. My old friend Tim O'Brien agreed to produce this album, and he created a very laid-back and familiar space to make a record, a place to be curious about everything, especially the unknown.
Some of these songs I initially chose because they were different from anything I have sung before. Some spoke to me lyrically. As I delved deeper into the process, they all came to do both for me.
I would work with Judi, and then sit with Bill Cooley, my longtime guitarist/arranger and collaborator, once a week. And we just worked through the process. To his credit, Bill walked beside me through that fire. The fear that my voice was gone forever was with me always, and produced some roller coaster days. There was deep grief when I couldn't express what I wanted to, and ecstatic joy when I discovered my way into something that landed in a new and wondrous way. Mostly, it was a mixture of these two extremes. Like riding a dragon. Bill was my rock.
It took a while, but I slowly found something opening up in my voice. And these songs laid the path.
Bill was massaging arrangements during this time, and they began to take shape. That was our jumping off point in the studio, our 2-person approach to the heart of every song.
Over the months, I had to learn to get out of my own way, and to befriend the grief and fear I experienced during this process. I had to stop trying so hard, and find a way to open and just let it flow. This has become my theme these days, a metaphor for the biggest lesson of this particular season of life.
I learned to embrace what I thought of as the imperfection in my voice, and to sit in the open-ended question of whether or not that could be used to convey a song.
And as I found my way, I discovered something surprising: the pristine voice of my youth is gone. But, something else has slowly come into focus. There's something beautiful in the voice I have NOW. There's a depth there, and a way of approaching music, that can ONLY come with time and life experience. It is a much richer and deeper experience to sing from this place. It's been an unexpected joy.
There have also been moments when my voice suddenly splats out, like legs collapsing underneath me, onstage. But, slowly, I've learned to stay grounded when that happens. And because of that, I've discovered something: my audience doesn't care. Sometimes they don't even notice! They don't want perfection. They want something REAL. And when I can sing from this place, it has nothing to do with beauty or youth, or vocal acrobatics. It rests in something that shines through despite surfing the arc of midlife, with my changing body and graying hair. And as I embrace this process more and more, I'm finding that the essence of my voice has more opportunity to shine through these days, ironically.
And that is something to celebrate, the shining of this light, the uncovering and stripping away of what seemed necessary but ultimately, wasn't. So freeing! I believe it's what we're here for--- the stuff of life. Rich, messy, fulfilling.
We have created this Kickstarter campaign to help fund the marketing for "Pretty Bird". There are multiple items and packages listed on the right side of your screen, they are pictured below.
Risks and challenges
This is the second record Kathy is putting out on her very own label, Captain Potato Records, via 30 Tigers Distribution and Marketing. When you put out a record this way the biggest challenge is marketing and getting the record heard. We want to make more videos, hire publicity and try to get the songs on the radio. That's where this campaign comes in. The money we raise here will go toward marketing and getting the music out to the people.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (39 days)