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Tom Petty: Runnin’ Down a Dream

I listened to a bunch of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in high school and college, but the soundtrack to my freshman year of college was Petty’s debut solo album, Full Moon Fever. I’d listen to the cd from top to bottom, only skipping over the ridiculous last track, Zombie Zoo. The track I’m highlighting today, Running Down A Dream, starts with a killer guitar riff that propels the song all the way across the finish line some four and a half minutes later. RIP, Tom Petty.

Jake Heggie: The Moon’s Lullaby

I had the great pleasure of singing Three Decembers with Frederica von Stade at Chicago Opera Theater some years ago. The role of Madeline Mitchell was written for her and she premiered it in Houston a few years before we remounted the original production in Chicago. Her honesty and generosity in the role have stayed with me for near a decade. The lullaby Madeline sings in the opera also has stayed with me. Now that I’ve got two children under the age of three, I’m singing a fair amount of lullabies and this one is near the top of the rotation.

Hanns Eisler: 7 Elegien from “Hollywooder Liederbuch”

I’ve had the pleasure of singing selections from Hanns Eisler’s Hollywood Liederbuch a couple of times in the past decade, most recently last year while pursuing my doctorate at the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati. In this latest go-round, I developed a greater appreciation for the historical context of Eisler’s writing. His flight from Europe during the Nazi ascent to power landed him in Hollywood where he wrote this songbook. The combination of Eisler’s biting compositional style with Brecht’s poignant texts makes for blistering song. Roswitha Trexler’s takes on the songbook are laser-focused and painted with a supersized palette.

Brandi Carlisle: Raise Hell

For the longest time, Bob Boilen and Stephen Thompson (hosts of NPR’s All Songs Considered) were my podcasting companions on road trips and flights. They introduced me to Fleet Foxes, Arcade Fire, The Head and the Heart, The Civil Wars, and Dirty Projectors. Perhaps my favorite innovation of Boilen’s is his hosting of Tiny Desk Concerts—he sets up a tripod in his office, and invites an artist to play in the office while the NPR music staff watches. We, the uninvited audience, get to see the concert through the marvels of modern technology. The mini concerts are up-close, personal and extremely exposed for the performer. My favorite of these TDC’s is Brandi Carlisle’s from 2012, coinciding with her release of her album Bear Creek. In the opening track of “Raise Hell,” she and the Hanseroth brothers (guitars) saw away at the text and music. Their performance is raw and revealing and I love the gruffness in her voice.

You can also watch the video of the performance here.

John Charles Thomas sings The Lord’s Prayer

I started studying with the distinguished voice teacher Marlena Malas in 2002. She had a great influence on my life and I love her dearly, and in the years we worked together I learned everything I now know about beautiful singing. One of the perks of studying with Marlena, and spending innumerable summers with her at her summer voice program in Chautauqua, is getting to know her husband, the inimitable Sprio Malas. I loved sitting on the Malas’s front porch with Spiro, talking about the good ole days of singing. He’d tell stories about how he introduced Luciano Pavarotti to v-neck t-shirts and how he botched major entrances at City Opera and kept chugging along. He would make me laugh and laugh and laugh. He sang for me and asked me to imitate his sound—I never got close to matching that plush and rich tone—and asked me to listen to John Charles Thomas. For the longest time I didn’t get Thomas’s voice. At the time I found it plain, and even boring.

It’s only in the past few years that I’ve realized the greatness in his sound. I hear the most amazing coordination of breath and tone in his singing. There isn’t a single note that flutters or bats at the listener and, OMG, his vowels. I love how at 1’05” of The Lord’s Prayer his onset “as it is,” should have been an {æ} but he chooses to slide in on an {a} to connect to a deeper origin of sound. His voiced {n}’s last an eternity and he makes a quirky choice to roll and flip his {r}’s. I admire how Thomas doesn’t try to make the song about him—he sings with his voice and lets the song do the rest. It’s a lesson for every young singer, and a lesson for me fifteen years removed from the Malas’s front porch at Chautauqua.

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