ADLER AND HEARNE INTERVIEW #3
[This transcript is excerpted from an Art of the Song interview as broadcast nationally on Public Radio. Click here to listen to the complete show with music.]
Viv: Sometimes, no matter whether you’re born into a musical family or born into a family where you have to find your voice as a musician and song writer, there’s always challenges. Can you talk a little bit about challenges that you may have faced, either together or independently, that called on you to dig a little deeper to honor your voice?
Adler: That’s a good question.
Hearne: When we’re home we teach kindergarten through sixth grade. I teach guitar, Lynn teaches voice/singing at school. I think being able to teach young kids teaches you a lot about your own voice, and your musicianship. With Lynn, she’s been teaching these little, mostly young girls, songwriting techniques and then giving them tips on how to perform them.
Adler: Express their art, to tell their own story in song. I think that, for me personally, what resonates for me about that question is you grow up with your family of origin comfort zone, of how to sound and what songs are safe to sing, and what’s safe to sound like. Then, if you’re lucky enough to live long enough, you get comfortable in your own skin, you do go through some growing pains of “I’m going to give myself permission to do this with my voice or to do that or to come out with this topic in this song. To write a song about something that’s a little edgier or a little outside the box from what I grew up singing about.” I’ve enjoyed learning to be comfortable with growing.
Hearne: I know we’ve talked about this, with someone who plays an instrument, it’s a lot easier to take criticism and to learn from that. When someone is criticizing your voice, that’s a lot harder to take, that digs a lot deeper. I’ve faced a lot of criticism with my voice over the years. At the same time I’ve had a lot of people who’ve liked my voice. You have to weigh it out. Some people are going to like my voice, some people aren’t. A lot of people are just going to fall in the middle and say, “Eh, it’s okay”. You have to live with your voice. With an instrument, you can put down the guitar and pick up the tuba and that’s a different voice but with your voice you’re stuck with it pretty much so you have to learn how to develop it, how to use it, and live with it. Because you are stuck with it pretty much.
Adler: I think that, as a teacher too, I hear students come in trying to have a certain sound that’s the hip, cool sound of whoever their favorite singer is. I really try to encourage them to play around with different sounds with their voice, but find their way to their own sound, not try to mimic or sound like.
Hearne: It comes in all ways and we love teaching song writing. Sometimes we’ll write a song with the whole group of fifteen or twenty people. That’s always fun to do and rewarding. We’re doing that, maybe some this summer, depending on where we are. We love to do that with people.
John: What’s it like doing that with children?
Adler: It’s fantastic.
Hearne: It’s great because the younger they are the more unfiltered they are. They come up with these songwriting ideas that are wonderful. My kindergarten kids, just the last few weeks that we taught this spring, we were writing songs and they were just coming up with the greatest ideas. Every time they would come in they would say, “Hey, let’s write a song! Can we write a song, Mr. Hearne?” And I’d say, “Ok, let’s try one”. I’d just throw out ideas and say, “Well, what do you want to write about?” Some would want to write about their dog, some would want to write about–it’s an Episcopal school and we do Chapel with them every Thursday–so some of them would want to write songs about God. It’s just incredible because they don’t care what you think. They don’t have the filters so they’ll throw out anything. It’s very refreshing.
Adler: I have a whole growing collection of songs. I teach privately. I work with these children individually. I feel like a lot of the time the songwriting process for us becomes almost a therapy session for the child. I find that really interesting. I ask them at the beginning of our time together, would you like to write a song together this semester? They always say yes. “Would you want it to be a God song or a song about family or friends or a silly song or a song about your pet?” This little girl said she wanted to write a song about God. I said “Great! What is it about God that interests? Or what do you think would be an interesting topic?” and she said, “The trinity.” I was like, “Whoa, that’s a big topic! Can you pick one? God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit?” and she said, “Jesus.” And I said, “Ok, cool, what is it about Jesus that intrigues you?” And she said, “He was rejected.” And I thought, “Well that’s a really specific thing for a child to observe.” And I said, “That’s really something, that that connects with you. What do you know about rejection?” And she said, “Oh, I’ve been rejected.” Then she talked about friends that have rejected her. I said, “Oh we can write a song about that.” We started writing this really soulful song about how Jesus knew what it feels to be rejected. It was really cool.
Viv: That’s fabulous. How wonderful to have that outlet early on. To know that you can take an experience like that and make it art. That’s really extraordinary.
Adler: We’ve all written, mostly girls but a couple little boys too, we’ve written some really awesome songs together. I’m hoping to put a collection of them together and publish them, with the hook being that these are all songs co-written by children.