Let me share a story, one of the stories that got me thinking about these “artist myths”–myths like “Artists are born, not made” and “Only the best artists succeed.”
A few years after I finally started my own art journey, I was invited to do a series of artist presentations in a nearby school system. I was to visit three elementary schools in one day, sharing my artwork with students and telling them about the Ice Age cave art that inspired me.
I met the woman who set up the presentations, Nancy Brown, and she drove me from school to school. She was very pleasant, and we chatted animatedly between “sets” about family and life.
At the first school, I introduced myself at the main office but was met with blank stares. They’d never heard of me. But when I explained, the office person exclaimed, “Oh, you’re going to talk about CAVE ART. We were expecting an artist named ‘Kay Vart’!” She pointed to the chalk board behind her, and sure enough, “Thursday 10:00–Guest Artist Kay Vart” was carefully written there.
At the second school, we arrived a little early. “Oh, goody!” exclaimed Nancy, “We can play in the gym!”
Baffled, I followed her into the school cafeteria/gymnasium to a piano in the far corner. “This room has the most amazing acoustics!” Nancy said happily. She plopped herself on the piano stool, broke into a few chords on the keys, and began to sing.
To this day, I cannot describe that moment adequately.
Her voice was…..incredible. Astonishing. Powerful. Rich. Her voice filled the room with a moving variation on a Shawn Colvin piece.
I kid you not–a thrill ran down my spine.
I stood, entranced, as this perfectly ordinary little woman revealed a talent as big as the ocean. I will never forget it. It moved me to tears.
When she finished, I broke into applause. I told her she had an amazing voice.
“Actually, my voice is quite ordinary,” she said frankly. “I don’t have a natural ‘voice’. But I am passionate about singing, and I have studied and trained my voice to the nth degree.”
I was dumbfounded. Not being knowledgeable about things music, I had assumed only people born with a naturally beautiful voice could sing like that.
I had no concept of training an ordinary voice to be beautiful.
It was an epiphany.
I had seen–I had heard–the power that comes, not from natural talent, not from luck, but from dedication and determination. The power that comes from passion and training, and indomitable spirit.
I’ve lost track of Nancy. She moved in and out of professional music over the years and eventually left the area.
But I have never forgotten that beautiful moment, when time was suspended for a few precious moments. An empty school gymnasium, a grand old piano and passionate woman with a bold and beautiful voice.
An extraordinarily beautiful….a beautifully ordinary….voice.