‘Swan,’ by Mary Oliver. Poems and prose. Reading from this book is as if visiting a very wise friend. There is wisdom and welcoming kindness on every page.
A person has the right, and I think the responsibility, to develop all of their talents.
As for my voice, it cannot be categorised – and I like it that way, because I sing things that would be considered in the dramatic, mezzo or spinto range.
Growing up in Augusta in such a protected and loving community is something that I really enjoy talking about. I love talking about – even though I grew up, of course, in the time of segregated schools: Brown vs. Board of Education came along after I was already in first grade.
I am deeply spiritual; I revel in those things that make for good – the things that we can do to shed a little light, to help place an oft-dissonant universe back in tune with itself… Long live art, long live friendship, long live the joy of life!
I am grateful that my horizons were not narrowed at the outset.
I am not one to equate dress size and artistic performance.
I am the proud and humble recipient of more than 30 honorary doctorate degrees.
I didn’t think at all as a young child that music would be my profession. It was just something that one did along with going to Brownies or going to church or going to school or anything else that one did in sort of one’s very young life.
I enjoy reading about the lives of musicians, and find many similarities in their ideas of preparation and their utter devotion to this great, eternal language: music.
I feel comfortable singing in the great cathedrals of the world because I spent so much time as a child singing in church. And it isn’t very different. Of course, nothing looks quite like Notre Dame de Paris.
I have a particular affliction. I am unable to say a word I can’t spell.
I have enjoyed most particularly reading the correspondence between Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss. The genuine friendship, competitiveness and support that thread through their communications are life lessons for us all.
I knew that I was loved. And that’s such an important thing. And, of course, at such an early age, you take it for granted. Of course your parents love you. Of course Mrs. Hubert across the street loves you and your godmother loves you and your grandparents love you.
I like so many different kinds of music that I’ve never allowed myself the limitations of one particular range.
I love singing jazz. I don’t like the idea that classical music should be over here and jazz should be someplace else. It’s all wonderful, and we should be open to enjoying it all.
I read everything. I’ll read a John Grisham novel, I’ll sit and read a whole book of poems by Maya Angelou, or I’ll just read some Mary Oliver – this is a book that was given to me for Christmas. No particular genre. And I read in French, and I read in German, and I read in English. I love to see how other people use language.
I sing in Hungarian. I read Hungarian. I do not pretend to speak Hungarian, but I sing in languages that I have studied as languages. And I find that to be central and very, very helpful. I think if you’re not really cognizant of what every single word means, I think that might be a little tricky.
I sing in languages that I speak. So when I’m singing a Schubert song, I know precisely what every word means and, you know, when it was composed and who was the poet and all of that and whether Strauss or Wagner or French Belioz, Duparc or Debussy or whatever.
I think that it is expansive for the mind, for the fantasy of children and grownups alike, to understand that the world is huge. There is so much in the world to experience, and the odds are so essential to life.
I think that, certainly, most of my operatic roles are in German. I think it happened because, of course, I was lucky in that I was invited to sing, first of all, my operatic debut in Berlin at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, which was West Berlin at the time.
I try to frighten my very young colleagues into studying and understanding their voices before they attempt things that are beyond them. It’s wise to take gymnastics and swimming to strengthen the body, because people don’t realise what an athletic undertaking singing actually is.
I walk an 11-minute mile without huffing and puffing.
I want to keep learning, keep exploring, keep doing more.
I want to sing more in Spanish. I want to sing the songs of Granados; the songs of Montsalvatge. To do things that truly I’ve not done before.
I was given a stethoscope in a child’s ‘doctor’s bag’ at about age six and I loved it! One could hear the heart beating through that plastic toy.
I was given the opportunity to write the kind of book that I wanted to write, rather than one that catalogues where I sang and what I sang and what I wore. I wanted to write a book about an American family, the family that has produced me. The longer I live, the more I realise the incredible support and love we were given as children.
I wasn’t born Austrian; I wasn’t born German. My roots are from Africa, and I do not have any reason for not wanting to celebrate that. Every time that I can, I like to kind of mention it, you know, just to keep people sort of knowing exactly what’s going on. My French is pretty good, but I’m still African, thank you very much.
I would like to see more African-American singers as part of our opera companies. If you take music and the arts out of the public schools, then you’re going to lose a lot of people that you might have discovered were talented, very early.
I’m a sloucher, sort of, when nobody’s looking.
I’m dying always.
If I were not able to separate the art from the artists, I think I would limit myself a great deal, and life wouldn’t be nearly as interesting.
If you send up a weather vane or put your thumb up in the air every time you want to do something different, to find out what people are going to think about it, you’re going to limit yourself. That’s a very strange way to live.
It is still more likely that a woman’s power would be seen as aggression, and a man’s power would be seen as assertion.
It takes a caring community to raise a child that will be a whole person and a contributing citizen.
My parents said to us, practically on a daily basis, that we were as good as anyone else on this earth, and that we would simply have to work harder in order to show that.
One has to draw upon one’s own musical thoughts and one’s own musical acumen, and not to be afraid to let that come into one’s work. Perhaps that comes with more experience, but perhaps it also comes with daring, and believing that you should.
One needs more than ambition and talent to make a success of anything, really. There must be love and a vocation.
One of the reasons that I take such joy in being a trustee of the New York Public Library is the love of reading that I found as a child in the Saturday morning library events for preschoolers and first and second graders as I was growing up in Augusta, GA.
Problems arise in that one has to find a balance between what people need from you and what you need for yourself.
The high notes always hard to hit. I mean, one has to understand how high notes even happen. The vocal cords have to vibrate so very, very quickly, and this takes a great deal of physical energy. And it makes perfect sense that it would become more of an effort, perhaps, to make sure that those notes are absolutely where they’re supposed to be.
There has never been a time when I was not committed to, involved in, or caring of, the social and political issues of my world.
There have been occasions – and I think it’s very good for any human being that such occasions would be rare – that one would feel that one is a channel, and there have been some occasions when it seemed as though I was standing outside of myself watching and listening to myself sing.
There is a lot of propaganda about opera singers not being able to act. That’s not necessarily true and hasn’t been true for a very long time. And certainly there were those instances when singers were told they need to fit into a certain size dress. Of course, women. Men? They just make the costume bigger.
There’s no anger ever in a spiritual. There’s always the dream of a hope of a better day coming. That God understands the troubles that I’m experiencing.
We singers have a different level of responsibility from other musicians. We have words that we must convey; we have meanings that we must convey through these lyrics.