Thursday, March 21, 2013

Liquid Tone: Lena Horne on Music

Over the years I’ve been collecting anecdotes about the inner workings of music, especially about feelings and about moments of transcendence. Here are some remarks that late Lena Horne made to David Craig for On Performing (McGraw-Hill, 1987), his book about how musicians work their magic (p. 134):
And then when they killed [Robert] Kennedy and Martin Luther King, it seemed like a floodgate had opened. There had been a lot of deaths in my own family. . . . and when I say, I was different. I began to "listen" to what I was doing and thinking. I listened to the audience. Even to the quiet. I had never listened to it before. . . . I was different because I was letting something in. The tone was developing differently. I could do what I wanted with it. I could soften it. I wasn't afraid to show the emotion. I went straight for what I thought the songwriter had felt at a particular moment because he must have felt what I'd been feeling or else I couldn't have read that lyric, I couldn't have understood what he was saying. And I used my regretfulness and my cynicism. But even my cynicism had become not so much that as . . . logic. Yes, life is shit. Yes, people listen in different ways. some nights they're unhappy at something that has happened to them. OK. I can feel that knot of resistance. OK. That's where I'm going to work to. . . . And the second "eight" would be different than the first because the first was feeling it out and the second would change because I could come in "to my mood." . . . It developed out of this relaxation . . . a tone that was softer, more liquid.

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