The Calling…and The Doing
Written by Stephanie Renee on July 19, 2015
I finally got back in the studio this past weekend, and it felt mighty good. Necessary, even.
When I was on vacation in New Orleans a few months ago, I made my regular hajj down to the Mississippi River to have a few moments to myself and listen to the inner voice that often gets drowned out in the everyday busy-ness of life. And one thing the voice said, loudly and clearly, was that I needed to get on the microphone and work again. Not the way I work at WURD, of course, but an extension of that voice. A different kind of dialogue, written in my primary language of music.
I have learned quite a bit about about my singing voice over the years, and not just the version that comes out when I perform on stage or record my material. I can admit, without lots of excuses or equivocations, that I do not possess a superstar instrument. There is a reason that artists like Beyoncé and Chaka Khan exist, and even thrive, on arena stages across the globe. And why people like Lalah Hathaway and Jazmine Sullivan consistently set and raise the bar for vocal mastery. Them, I am not. That is not my echelon of gift. What I do have is a strong talent for turn of phrase and an excellent ear. This means that I can write and arrange the stew out of a song when I set my mind to it. Can do an able job of singing it on my own, but could probably prosper much more financially and famously if I handed the tunes off to someone else with that extra “something” to record them.
However, fame and fortune aren’t always the point. Seldom are, in fact, at least for me. The reward in music, from the very beginning, has been in the crafting of the work, not the commercial success of the output. Those eight years of clarinet study, school bands through DC Youth Orchestra, weren’t preparing me for a professional career in the symphony. But they sure as hell taught me to read music, understand tonal relationships and rhythms, and commit myself to contributing to a deeply vital cultural lineage.
During my latest recording session, I was half-mumbling to myself off-mic–contemplating a set of harmonies for a background vocal passage–and looked up to see my producer staring at me, wide-eyed. When I asked him what was the matter, he laughed and said, “How the hell do you HEAR all that?” I’m not sure I will ever have a satisfactory answer to that question. How can you articulate the way that your ears and brain work when they are swirling inside a musical concept? Theoretical physicists probably can’t explain how they allow imagination and calculus to lead them to understand the basics of how the Universe works either. In the end, the articulation isn’t as useful as the end result. It’s not the SAT exam. You don’t have to show your work for extra points.
Once you heed the call of your higher self, the reward is in the doing.