The Art of Collaboration and Balance
Looking back over the years, it appears that I was born to collaborate! Starting when I was 4 or 5, my mom, my sister Marlene, and I would gather at the piano on a Friday night at home there in Philly, and we’d sing hymns and other songs until bedtime. With the TV turned off and Nana napping in her big chair (periodically waking to smile!) we would take turns and share the verses on songs like “How Great Thou Art” or “Shall We Gather at the River.” Occasionally, some show tune from South Pacific, one of the few shows I remember my very religious mom taking us to see in the theater, or a Harry Belafonte song, would find its way into the mix.
It was there that I began to learn how to trade harmonies, as my sister and I began to construct our own arrangements, with lyrics and antics that often earned us a raised eyebrow or a word of rebuke. It was a very happy time and so formative to my later years of singing in church and school choirs. It’s no surprise to me that, with that as background, I have spent a lifetime finding great delight in collaborative musical endeavors.
For over 40 years, as one half of the duo Kim and Reggie Harris, I’ve been blessed to travel the world singing songs: original, traditional, and borrowed. It’s been an effort to add meaning, context, joy, and substance to the community of song that exists… sharing the stories of reality and the dreams of our human connection along with reflections on the challenges that we face.
In that time, I’ve had the opportunity to explore my background, my motivations, my voice, and my being as well as the many critical aspects of the art of listening and responding to others. I’ve led and I’ve followed. I’ve given and taken clues. And I’ve shared in the journey of ‘risk taking’… walking that fine line of self exploration and group commitment that allows one to go beyond the comfort zones of what is known and unknown in both musical and life experience to reach new vistas.
Truthfully, I will admit that, every now and again, there have been some train wrecks of a song or two! But it’s been a rich education and also a whole universe of fun. And the list of amazing artists who’ve become friends and mentors along the way simply boggles my mind. I’m filled to overflowing with gratitude and deep great appreciation for the range of personalities and dream-makers whose passions and skills have contributed so much to my worldview.
A year ago, when Kim and I made a decision to shift our personal and career paths, I embarked on the new phase of this journey as a solo artist. That shift has launched a powerful new landscape of possibility and excitement as I find that my years of collaboration have both enhanced and limited my freedom to soar and grow. This year of touring has brought some vibrant changes in my work and musical life. Some fans have said, “Wow. I didn’t even know you had THAT voice!” I smile. I’m having a new kind of fun.”
So, as I move forward with a new vocal freedom and a renewed passion for guitar expression, I’ve also added some focused collaborations with some trusted friends to the reduced partnership opportunities with Kim. It’s a work in progress that is yielding some very cool results and uncovering some astounding skills.
I seek a different balance. And it’s a journey I will share here in writing, on stage, and in recordings as I redefine the lines of a mission I started years ago around that upright piano. And to quote my friend Greg Greenway, “It’s a mighty long way, from there to here.” But it’s a song I can sing with joy!
(Second try). I tend to overuse the word “Wow”. It helps me to describe large feelings and reactions of amazement, of admiration, and sometimes of incredulity and wonderment, all in a very small word. It has been amazing to watch what is happening with you with the new, and old, collaborations between you and other performers, and to see new music and a new voice emerging. Your description also shows your understanding of and appreciation for the act of collaboration. Even solo artists are always collaborating, using instruments built by others, recording equipment made and used by others, taking in feedback from their audiences. The best collaborations result in an enhancement of creativity and originality for everyone – the Beatles being a prime example. The “whole” that comes out of creative collaboration always seems to be more than the sum of its parts. My experience of collaboration is not as extensive as yours. But it is a joy to write songs with my husband, and allows each of our talents to come out in better ways. And at music camp one of the most fun things is to work together with others to prepare a song for performance. It is a great opportunity to put aside our own egos and ideas in the service of the collaborative effort, kind of like the members of an orchestra whose goal is not to play louder and better than the others, but to play with them, to join in the making of a beautiful sound together. The fact that you have given such thought and expression to the events, collaborations and forces that brought you to where you are now on the journey, that there is a deep understanding and consciousness of how these things all fit together, is as important, to me at least, as the music that you bring into the world. So thank you, for all of it. Wow.