Somatic VoiceWork™ Teacher Jamie Leonhart talks about her upcoming performance and more!
You must be getting very excited for your upcoming performance of Estuary at Feinstein’s 54 Below (Tuesday, September 26th at 9:30 PM). What inspired you to write this story?
I’m so happy to talk with you. And yes, I amreally excited to perform ESTUARY at Feinstein’s 54 Below.
In a way, I backed into writing ESTUARY. Soon after my son Milo was born I started feeling “different” about performing; I was having a hard time focusing as an artist, even while songwriting, and it was very upsetting – as if my equilibrium was off and I couldn’t figure out how to rebalance. I was functionally working as a singer, but not moving forward with my own music, and honestly, I was losing the sense of joy in performance that I’d had for so long.
I’d been singing back-up for a one-woman show about Laura Nyro, and the woman who was directing it, Gretchen Cryer, also led a writing workshop in which people develop solo shows. My intention wasn’t necessarily to do that – it was just to start writing. As a matter of fact, when I started, I told myself that I could write about ANYTHING but parenting. Obviously that didn’t happen, but instead I started to write about the realities that I was facing as a new parent. Not the stuff that social niceties are made of, but the real nitty gritty conflict that I was experiencing within myself. The stuff that people don’t talk about, or don’t want to know about.
There was a woman in the workshop, Julie, who had made the choice to not have children. It wasn’t what she wanted or what she related to. I presented a piece I’d written about being in an airport about to get on a plane with my son, who was an infant at the time, and he was having a true meltdown. The piece was my inner dialogue, trying to figure out how to stop the crying; how to get on a plane with this screaming child; realizing that he and I were the child and mother that I, pre-motherhood, hated, praying that they would not be sitting near me on the plane. When I finished reading the piece, Julie said, “Wow – I will never look at a mother and child the same way again.” I knew that I was on the right path, although I certainly hadn’t thought that I would choose it. When I finished the workshop I had 20 minutes of material and a new purpose as a writer/musician.
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ESTUARY will feature an all-female band, that’s incredible! Can you talk about the importance of women championing other women in the arts?
Yes! I could talk about women supporting women for days…but I’ll try to be succinct. One qualifier – Michael, my husband, plays an integral role in ESTUARY and he is the sole man onstage, as pianist and MD. He is in the trenches with me!
Otherwise, from an audience’s perspective, it’s powerful to have a stageful of women supporting a woman who is exploring her place in the world as both a mother and an artist. With all the respect in the world to the male musicians I know and work with, it is far more common to see a female vocalist supported by an all male band, and I didn’t want to go that route in this piece. Whether or not the women who are supporting me are mothers, there is a kindred spirit on stage.
Can you talk about the process of ESTUARY starting out as an idea to becoming a fully produced work at Feinstein’s 54 Below?
Oh yes – it’s been a long and continuing process. After I had the kernel of an idea post-writing workshop, I had a long conversation with the director of Joe’s Pub, a wonderful venue in NYC. I have a long relationship with the folks at that venue and absolutely love it. We talked about what I’d discovered, and what I envisioned as a way back into my art. I was given the opportunity to further develop the piece through Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater’s New York Voices commissioning program. They provided a stipend, access to great mentors, and space in which to workshop the piece. I also had the opportunity to develop ESTUARY with the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, who partnered with Joe’s Pub for their residency program. I spent the two weeks working with the director Joanna Settle, crafting the monologues and lyrics and getting the shape of the piece in order. After all of this development work, I did short runs of ESTUARY both at the Kimmel Center and Joe’s Pub, with Joanna Settle directing.
I took what I learned from those performances and further edited the piece! I was able to catch the ear of the folks who book at Feinstein’s 54 Below, and they were excited about the show, and the fact that I have had success with it at other esteemed venues. So it’s been a long path! And now I’ve circled back and have been working with Gretchen Cryer in a new capacity – she’s helping me delve deeper into my own writing and performance of the piece.
The response to ESTUARY has been fantastic, do you mind sharing some of the experience audience members have shared with you.
Creating and performing ESTUARY has been life changing for me, and from what I’ve been told, it seems that it offers a voice that hasn’t yet been heard in this capacity. After performances, I’ve heard from mothers who’ve experienced relief when I sang or spoke about feelings that they haven’t felt comfortable to admit to anyone but themselves or their doctors; I’ve heard from people without children who related to the sections about self-doubt and self-sabotage. And there is lots of humor about the ridiculous events that we are faced with — it’s not all sturm und drang! What I want is for the audience to take away a different perspective on a very common occurrence. I am not the first artist to have a child. But I am the one who is sharing her story.
When did you meet Jeanie LoVetri?
I first spoke with Jeanie in the fall of 2005. I had been teaching in another teacher’s studio and was looking for additional training, both as a teacher and a vocalist. I had just missed the training (one of the first three level Somatic Voicework™ trainings she had done, I believe) and we chatted a little bit about the next one. I was excited to start. About a month later I was speaking with my sister-in-law, Carolyn Leonhart (a fabulous singer and fellow Somatic Voicework™ practitioner) and she was telling me about a new teacher she’d discovered who was changing her vocal life, and guess who it was? Hallelujah! I started studying with Jeanie around the same time, and then in 2006 I completed all three levels of Somatic Voicework™.
What has Somatic Voicework™ helped you with as a singer and a teacher?
I think the question is more what hasn’t it helped me with? I think the answer can be very simple. Awareness, self-confidence, a good work ethic, a working knowledge of the vocal tract and respiratory system and how to most effectively use them, humility (on good days), and more.
It has also brought such joy to my teaching. I love experiencing a break through with a student. I love watching and hearing a student begin to understand and problem solve on their own, using Somatic Voicework™ as the model. Our job is to not only be there for them in the moment of the lessons, but to also give them the tools to start helping themselves, right?
How did you get your professional start in music? Were there unexpected challenges or setbacks?
It might be shocking to hear that I really fought against being a professional musician tooth and nail. I kept pushing away from it, even though I knew how much I loved to sing, and that I was recognized for it from a young age. I was really afraid of the uncertainty – the lack of a guided path for popular music (this was many years ago, and I was at a liberal arts college.) I applied to law school, was accepted, and pulled out right before tuition was due (thank goodness!) for as much as I thought that path would give me “security,” I knew that I didn’t really want to be a lawyer…so I started singing in bands, and on other people’s projects – I got involved in some commercial music, started writing my own material, and realized that as “unknown” as it was to have a career in music, it would have been worse to not pursue it at all.
Here’s an embarrassing story about the folly of youth. I’d had the good luck of meeting Harry Belafonte when I was in my early 20s and he came to hear me sing – I had my first band together and was very excited about it. We met a few times, and he asked me if I wanted the opportunity to sing with some breaking jazz artists – to travel around, learn from them, etc. And what did I say? That I’d really like to stay and work with my band. Smart or stupid? Still not sure. But there’s no guarantee that doing that would have made me more successful or fulfilled.
Over the years, I’ve signed some bad contracts; I’ve rushed into projects without assessing the benefits vs the detriments; I’ve wanted things that I haven’t gotten — but I’ve also put out beautiful records with the support of a wonderful boutique label, I’ve worked with amazing musicians, I’ve had success in the commercial world (this Trulia spot is running now: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-aEsOhIdlM) and I’m putting on my own show at wonderful venues. I am still learning and developing.
As someone teaching and working as a professional singer in NYC, what advice do you have for people planning on moving to The Big Apple?
Boy, that’s hard. New York is an expensive, crowded city, not for the faint of heart. But it is also a city that oozes creativity. There is something to do at every moment of the day and night. I’d say if you’re young and single it is a city of boundless opportunities. (If you’re not young and/or single there are still more things to explore than you can imagine, you just can’t stay up out quite as late). There are so many amazing musicians who are hungry to collaborate. I think it takes moxie and grit to be a musician in NYC. There is a wonderful book by E.B. White called “Here is New York” – it’s essentially a love letter to the real New York City and he writes, “It can destroy an individual, or it can fulfill him, depending a good deal on luck. No one should come to New York to live unless he is willing to be lucky.”
Jamie, thank you so much for meeting with us today. is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
I want to recognize the Somatic Voicework™ community. This is a group that shares so generously — I have witnessed many times when someone has shared information in response to a request on the forum that has made a big impact not only on the recipient, but on others on the forum as well. I’ve seen people give emotional support to others who just needed/wanted to share information, whether it be joy- or sorrowful. It’s a very special group, and I’m so happy to be a part of it.
Please Check Out More From Jamie Leonhart (Discount Code: JAMIEL5)
Estuary: Website (click here), Facebook (click here)
Jamie Leonhart Music: Website (click here), Facebook (click here), YouTube (click here), Instagram (click here), Twitter (click here)
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