Finding Your Voice
By: Johnny Gwynn, November 10, 2011
For the past few months, I’ve been memorizing Guiseppe Giordano's Caro Mio Ben for a concert performance, all in perfect Italian.
For someone whose mediocre singing can only be matched by inability to learn languages, this is a tall order.
I’m just a rock n’ roll kid who got fed up with screeching into microphones and butchering sing-a-longs. When no one wants to karaoke with you, you know its time to go back to the drawing board. So, I signed up with Sandwich-based voice teacher John Murelle with the intention of learning a few exercises to keep my voice crisp.
Murelle is an unlikely ally for my hopes at becoming a better rock singer. A seasoned vocalist who studied at the Boston University Opera Institute, Murelle has since set up shop as a voice teacher on the Cape, performing local concerts and recitals. Murelle’s teaching is not concerned so much with becoming the singer you think you are, but exploring various outlets to realize your voice.
A typical lesson with Murelle consists of him pushing you in every musical direction you wouldn’t dare tread on your own. Vulnerability is out the window as you wrap your head around just being able to grasp what he throws at you (hence, singing in Italian).
But what sets Murelle apart from other teachers I’ve had is the fact that he puts himself in just as much unfamiliar territory as his students. This weekend, Murelle is holding a concert at West Falmouth Library, where he will perform nothing but Duke Ellington songs.
Coming from a classical background, jazz is no walk in the park.
When I asked him about the challenges with the performance, Murelle brought up Ellington’s song “Solitude,” which calls for a real high, head voice as opposed to a powerful chest voice.
“I felt unsure of my overall performance initially, but we started doing it with piano and accompanist and it sounded great,” he said.
It’s tough for musicians to step outside of their comfort zone, but that’s when we start to truly find our sound. Murelle’s ability to jump around and explore styles comes from confidence in his ability. He makes these Ellington tracks his own
Even though we’re not a bustling city here on the Cape, Murelle says he has found multiple outlets for his musical endeavors, and enjoys the artistic freedom here.
“The arts scene has really grown during the 12 years I’ve lived here,” Murelle tells me. “People here are very creative and very comfortable with the arts.”
This creativity fuels Murelle’s exploration for new musical frontiers.
Which brings me back to “Caro Mio Ben.” I can’t begin to describe the frustration I have trying to balance pronouncing Italian words while singing correct notes, but the more I delve into it, the more I hear my voice come out.
No longer am I a rock singer but now a singer—a singer who has also realized he will not be visiting Italy any time soon.
Johnny Gwynn is a columnist and musician. You can find him at 3 PM on Sunday, November 13 at “John Murelle Sings The Songs of Duke Ellington” at West Falmouth Library, 575 Route 28A, West Falmouth.