Living and Singing on Interest

I’ve thought about this a lot over the last few months. It started with a concert I played in January, in collaboration with WTOC alums Keith Phares and Patricia Risley. It had been about ten years since I’d worked with either of them, and it was such a pleasure to reconnect. As professional singers who are parents of 5-month-old twins, Keith and Patricia are becoming experts at time management and coordination. But the thing that impressed me the most was seeing them do high level vocal and musical work in the face of sleep deprivation, fragmented attention, and waning energy. How do they do it? They have learned to sing and perform on the interest rather than the principal.

This is a description I use in its inverse form when describing young singers who are operating full throttle, without a strong technical foundation and a secure frame of reference. “Singing on the principal rather than the interest” – taking withdrawals from the vocal savings account and depleting the foundation of the technique. As we see in life, in finance, and in singing; this soft of chipping away at meagre resources can only lead one place. And too often, that’s where we see young singers – (to drive home the metaphor one final time) – in vocal bankruptcy. Going for broke, all guns blazing until the voice is in shreds.

But if you spend your formative years shoring up the foundation – plugging up the holes in the technique, learning efficient and effective music-reading, language acquisition and memorization strategies – when real life throws you curves, you can still sing on your interest rather than your principal. It doesn’t matter if those challenges are wonderful (e.g., twin babies:)) or otherwise (illness, difficult relationships, travel traumas) – what you can be sure of is that real life will intervene.

That’s what it means to sing on your interest.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about living on interest instead of principal, for this is something to which I aspire. I’m sure that many of you join me in my current trap (no pun intended) – being so depleted that you resort to chipping away at your personal stores of energy, creativity, collegiality and good humor until it’s pretty much gone. It’s increasingly difficult and then inevitably impossible to do your best work that way. Duh.

It’s kind of like the starvation response your body goes through when you try to lose weight by trying to stop eating. (Yeah, I’ve been there.) You start to cling to every little scrap, and the machine (body or mind) grinds to a halt.

How to fix this? We know the answer in our guts, but there’s a lot of distracting noise in our heads. The self-help books have addressed this for years – sharpen the saw, refuel the gas tanks, etc – and neither the problem nor the solution is news any more. Could we be so stupid as to not understand how this works? Well, no. But the guilt overwhelms common sense.

No matter if you’re an artist, a desk jockey, or anything in between – give yourself permission to include regular (dare I say daily?) reinvigoration in your work ethic. Silence. Slowness. Clarity. The machine doesn’t work so well without them.

Can you tell that this rant precedes a vacation? Just a 3-day break (preceded by a gig), but it’s a start. I’ll be in Orlando at the end of this week playing for Sing for Hope at a benefit for the Children’s Miracle Network. Then 3 days at the beach (my first time in about 5 years).

Meanwhile, step away from the computer, shut down the Facebook and the Twitter, allow some trivial tasks to remain undone (and accept the heat for it in a Zenlike fashion:)), and consider the big picture.

“Nothing can be more useful to a man than the determination not to be hurried.”

– Henry David Thoreau



Dear Kim,

Exactly what I needed to hear right now. Thank you.



Hi Kim,

This is such powerful, positive stuff for young artists (as well as everybody else) to hear.
It’s our whole culture as Americans, not just our musical or professional culture, that encourages us to push ourselves onward without a thought for our health, or the overall health of our work. The detriments of such a lifestyle are everywhere, yet it can be hard to remember that growth and success come when we finally relax, enjoy, and trust, so that we can bring focus to what really matters.
Thank you, and please keep telling it like you see it.

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