Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Artist Interview: Faith Winthrop's Life of Singing

I first went to Faith Winthrop for a voice lesson several years ago when Jacqui Naylor tipped me off to the great jazz singer who calls San Francisco home. Faith has performed around the globe, taught a whose-who of accomplished singers and actors, directed Glide Memorial Church's choir, and is on the faculty at Mills and the Jazz School. Having sung professionally since 1953, Faith is truly a master at both singing and teaching singers. I tend to feel like a baby bird whose just learning to peep when I see her. And I only appreciate her prowess more the longer I know her. As she prepares for another round of performances and to launch a new website, Faith talked a bit about how it is to sing now and her approach to teaching.

Q You returned to performing 2009 after five years away from the stage. What's changed for you?

FW: I wanted to feel more comfortable in my skin and enjoy the process of being onstage. I needed to do some more work on the interior. And being a new grandma helped as well.

Q What's your approach to choosing songs and building a set list? Are you adding new material to the mix?
FW: A lot of my choice has to do with what my intention is for the set in terms of taking people on a journey. I love finding songs I've never sung, but it's also very inspiring to look back and find a song that I may have sang 40 years ago which has a totally different meaning to me now. Currently, I'm working on the Johnny Mercer Song "When the World Was Young (Ah, the Apple Trees)" which I sang 35 years ago. The meaning is far more poignant. Having living through so much of my life, I can see the lyric with even more expressive intention and it comes from a more honest place.

Q You write as well as interpret? Can you talk a little about your writing process? Do you start with words or melody or both?
FW: My songs come to me whole. I'm more of a lyricist than a composer but I'm working on that as well. I enjoy finding collaborators who can wed my lyric to a good melody. Barrett Lindsay Steiner has done some wonderful work with my songs. He's also a great lyricist.

Q You've taught many of the best singers singing today—did you have a singing mentor or did you become the teacher you wish you'd had?
FW: I became the teacher I wish I'd had. When I was very young I studied with lots of charlatans. One had me put a pencil between my upper and lower jar, gripping it as I sang. Another spoke on the phone for at least half of my lesson. And there was always the discrepancy about how a singer should breathe. I've always wanted to have all voice teachers meet at the Grand Canyon and have an understanding as to what the process really is.

Faith next performs at The Bliss Bar in San Francisco, September 19, 2010 at 4:30pm. Photo by Pat Johnson.

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