Heart strings (Kimberly Barber, February 2022)

This week on Valentine’s Day, one of my former students, Sarah Stapleton, released her first album. It’s called Heartstrings, and features songs Sarah wrote and recorded herself–it’s largely a self-produced album (created with her collaborator and partner-in-crime, Zack Evans-Whitley, also a graduate of my studio). This is pretty exciting stuff, and while I have only heard very few of the songs, I know that above all things, Sarah writes and sings from the heart. Her ode to my dear friend and our former Dean of the Faculty of Music, the late Glen Carruthers (who I know was a huge supporter and mentor to Sarah, and countless other students), is heartbreaking in its authenticity. The album is available on Spotify and Apple Music, and I’m so proud of her! You can check it out on the links below.

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/6VUZCIsyG0yNOjmXNMaSB5
Apple Music: https://music.apple.com/ca/album/heartstrings/1609086486

Meanwhile, back in the voice studio, singing from the heart was a theme this week. Sometimes this work feels incredibly hard, as we find ourselves wishing to retreat to our own private cave and not expose ourselves to hurt or harm. But the deepest, most affecting and satisfying singing comes from the connection to authentic feeling. When we feel our voice originating in the centre of our chest, it’s anchored in a place of strength and shared humanity. I like to call it “playing on the heart string”. I’m trying to remember where I first heard this analogy–perhaps I have heard it used in several different places (I sure didn’t make it up)–but it seems so universal that its resonance can be readily recognized. I’ve encouraged more than one student this week to access their deepest singing self, a voice that seems to speak from their centre, by urging them to “play on that heart string”. When they do this–when I do this–we immediately sense a fuller resonance, a more integrated and connected sound that emanates from a primal place of shared connection. The singing feels easier and better coordinated without us having to interfere so much (or at all).

As I prepare my upcoming Pierrot Lunaire Redux, and feel full of fear, imposter syndrome, stuck in comparing myself to other iconic performances or second-guessing my abilities, I remind myself that I need to play the strings of my own heart, and offer in my own humble way, the simplest gift I have to give: my self. Play on, heart!