This morning I heard an interview with Jessye Norman on NPR’s Weekend Edition. Now anything concerning Jessye Norman captures my attention, and not just for her velvety voice! A number of years ago I bought an album, Spirituals in Concert, featuring Norman and Kathleen Battle singing spirituals, and I was struck by the sense of humanity, sincerity, authenticity, soul—not in the Motown sense—that she brought to these wonderful pieces. There was a connection with the music and its meaning that went beyond the ordinary diva performance.
She grew up in a musical family, began singing as soon as she could talk: church music, spirituals, children’s songs, they were her musical language from a very early age, and that may be part of the reason her performance on the spirituals album was extraordinary. But in this morning’s show the interviewer quoted something she wrote in her recent book, Stand Up Straight and Sing! that taps into her magic on a deeper level.
“Singing for me is actually life itself. It’s communication, person to person and soul to soul, physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual expression carried by the breath.”
This absolutely and utterly resonates in my own soul. It’s what drives me as a conductor, and it’s what drives the chorus I conduct, Master Chorus Eastside. It’s captured in our mission statement: Master Chorus Eastside, through the very best in choral music, feeds people’s souls. Without that communication the music can still be beautiful, but beautifully empty.
We tend to respond to the word “soul” intuitively rather than intellectually. Some dismiss it altogether. It’s described in several dictionaries as that thing that encompasses consciousness, thought, feeling, life, action, morality, spiritual or emotional depth, something separate from our physical bodies. However you define it, or perhaps dismiss it, do what Jessye Norman suggested in this morning’s piece: sing, even if you don’t think you can! All that oxygen you breathe in in order to expel it in song is good for the body, makes you feel good, and makes the person listening to you feel good too. Go to a Christmas Eve or Christmas day service if you are so inclined, gather with family and friends and sing carols, sing in your car, sing in the shower. Communicate, soul to soul!
Here is the complete interview if you would like to hear it:http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/11/25/364758676/guest-dj-jessye-norman-from-augusta-to-valhalla
And here is Ms. Norman herself—soulfully!
Dr. Linda Gingrich
Artistic director and conductor
Master Chorus Eastside