Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Recording Project Update

There's a guy who can fix that

I haven't written about the recording project in a while, but I have been working on it fairly steadily. It's been a twisty road, though. Recording yourself is a great learning tool, as long as what you want to learn is how far you are from where you want to be.

I've spent the last several months practicing harp, fiddle and voice intensely. My initial vocal recordings were shaky at best, which was a blow to my confidence. I did a lot of singing in college, but haven't done much since and my old skills were very rusty. I was not making much progress, and I was starting to wonder if I should give up on the effort and make a straight-forward harp recording, leaving the rest of my creative work behind.

Then something wonderful happened.

I taught at the Big Sky Folk Harp Festival, and while I was there I attended a workshop by a Blues / Jazz harp player called Deborah Henson-Conant. Blues and Jazz aren't my thing, but I was interested in learning more about this woman who had risen to such prominence in the harp world. I was expecting her to be witty and entertaining, but what I got went much deeper.

She told the story of her own journey of singing with the harp, which she didn't do at the start of her career. When she decided to, however, she was discouraged by friends, audience members and critics. She was told that she should not sing; that her voice was terrible and that she was holding her career back by insisting on doing it anyway.

At this point I was on the edge of my seat because what she was describing was my own inner dialogue on the subject.

She then shared a story about something that had happened to her years earlier. She was teaching at the Edinburgh Harp Festival and met the members of Síleas, Patsy Seddon and Mary Macmaster. Patsy and Mary are a singing harp duo, and Deborah asked Patsy why they sang on their CD, since in her opinion, the singing wasn't as strong as the harping. Patsy answered "It's what we do."

Punch in the gut. Tears. It's what I do too.

Side note
I've always enjoyed Patsy and Mary's singing, but I do agree that it has gotten stronger over time.
Deborah went on to say that Patsy and Mary's singing got better and better over time and now rivals their excellent harping. The theme that Deborah came back to several times was "There's a guy who can fix that", referring to getting help when you need to do something better than you are currently able.

Message received.

As if to confirm that receipt, a few hours later at dinner, I was sitting at a table with another harp presenter (the fabulous Verlene Schermer) and several other friends and the subject of playing the fiddle came up. I remarked that as a self-taught fiddler, I wished that a friendly violinist would put together a program of just the parts of classical violin technique that fiddlers need. Verlene turned to me and said, "I don't usually teach violin, but maybe I can help you with that."

Verlene spent an hour with me correcting the worst problems in my technique and the results were astounding. Intonation problems vanished. My tone warmed up. Fast bowing passages that had always sounded sloppy started to resolve like an image on a web page slowly going from a blur to clarity. I had found the 'guy' that could fix that.

That evening it was Deborah's turn to entertain. Again, I'm not into Jazz or Blues music, but the woman is a jaw-dropping performer. And the voice. The voice on her! That was the part I couldn't believe. This was the person that was told not to sing? Madness!

And so, in a couple days I'm starting voice lessons for the first time since college. I have to sing on my CD. It's what I do.

Thank you, Deborah.


Lingoman said...

That's so exciting! *cheer hug smooch*

MaineCelt said...

'S e an seinneadair a th'annad, gu dearbh!

Hippy Goodwife said...

I have loved your singing voice since the first time I heard it lo these many years ago. I am sure the lessons will only make it more entrancing.

queltica said...

This is really, really good stuff, a'Sheumais. You're going to continue to deeply inspire people (me!), just like Patsy and Mary and inspired Deborah, and she and Verlene inspired you. Creating music is so much more than notes on a page. Thank you for the gift.

mollificent said...

"Recording yourself is a great learning tool, as long as what you want to learn is how far you are from where you want to be."

Whew! Ain't THAT the truth!

Wonderful post, Seumas.

Noah Brenner said...

It was wonderful to read this; That particular quote has stayed with me as well. Big Sky was life-changing all around. I look forward to hearing your CD and seeing you and Doug again whenever that may happen.

Lulu said...

I'm inspired by your sharing of thoughts about getting help with your fiddle and now, voice, as well as your bold and triumphant sewing of Halloween costumes in a later entry. I notice you haven't written anything lately, but I hope that you get back to it. Who you are and your sharing of yourself through writing is a gift to your readers.