Today I learned that the woman responsible for extending my vocal range by an octave or better has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. My father sent me an article from the local paper about a benefit concert- tonight -for Marge Halvorson. I haven’t spoken to her in years, but the impression she made on my life- and my career -may never be fully appreciated.
Marge kicked my ass, vocally speaking. She simply wouldn’t allow me to be lazy or develop bad habits, at least not while I was in her office or rehearsing for a performance. She saw talent in me even at age 17 when she cast me in a Spokane Opera production- my first time on stage as an opera singer.
Marge taught me how to breathe. You think you already know how to do that? Bullshit. You’re doing it wrong. Maximizing one’s singing potential means maximizing that airbag capacity. I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t born with perfect posture and I had to re-learn everything from standing upright to holding my head a certain way. And it is all important.
Marge taught me that the pronunciation of a German word is far less important than what the word means. Or any word, for that matter. Why would I sing one syllable louder than another, or hold it longer? Was it intentional, or was I just going with the flow of the language? What matters most is the message you are trying to convey through song, not the rigors of proper diction.
Marge made it possible for me to hit a high C.
Most important to me, Marge helped shape me at a time when I was an uncertain, socially awkward class clown with a tendency to be a selfish prick. She didn’t care, I’m sure she’s dealt with worse.
The kinds of people that teach others to be creative are a special, immortal class of humanity. I’ve said before that the greatest compliment you can pay me is that my music inspired you to create something of your own. Well, thanks to the creative people I’ve met in my life, I am a full-time performing artist. I can sing with confidence (even if my pitch isn’t always perfect). I am ten times the performer I was when I first met Marge and I know I’m not alone.
Tonight there will be a concert (which I wish I could attend) where a small fraction of the people she’s helped will pay tribute to her with their voices. These are the people, like myself, who are the embodiment of Marge’s immortality. Every note we sing is a thank-you to the woman that made it sound better.
Last weekend another friend passed away due to a rare form of cancer. She wasn’t someone I knew well, but my room mate had been friends with her for well over a decade. When I met Liana, I was wearing nothing but a corset, panties, and a cape. No, seriously, the first time I met her she was playing Riff-Raff and putting the “Boss” tattoo on my arm for a production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The makeup has worn off, but she has left an indelible mark on me. I know she has left a deeper mark on my room mate and most of her friends as well.
Her spirit and creativity have outlived her body.
So, for Marge and Liana, thank you. Your voices will never be silenced as long as I’ve still got one.