GRAMMY® Award winner and three-time nominee Darlene Koldenhoven has sung on over 1000 recordings for film, television, albums, commercials, and charitable causes. She sang on the 2000 Academy Awards with Robin Williams, three American Idol specials, the 2010 Academy Awards, and was the tambourine-waving choir nun and real-life vocal coach/musical director for Disney in both “Sister Act” films with Whoopi Goldberg. Her album credits include Barbra Streisand, Whitney Houston, Rod Stewart, Ramsey Lewis, Pink Floyd, and Neil Young. And, her performance as soprano soloist in “Yanni, Live at the Acropolis” on PBS was seen by 1.5 billion people worldwide. Please visit her website at DarleneKoldenhoven.com to read an extended bio and learn more about her music.
We wish to celebrate with Darlene the pre-release of her ninth solo album, Color Me Home — “Creatively engaging, melodic New Age vocal music with an easy pulse and humanitarian purpose for peace and planet.” It is available 4/24/17 from TimeArt Recordings. Here are two tracks and a video from the CD:
“Ode to Our Orb” ©Darlene Koldenhoven
“Until” ©Darlene Koldenhoven
Darlene Koldenhoven interview with Editor-in-Chief Stuart Vail
SV: You have sung on over a hundred film scores. In a long take that records choir with the orchestra, do you make notes along the way (oboe=Eb, e.g.) to help with starting pitches when there are big gaps between choral phrases?
DK: Yes, when singing film scores with live orchestra, we would listen down on the first run-through with the orchestra and mark (by ear) what instruments were giving our upcoming pitch and indicate that in the chart.
SV: What is some of the most difficult music you’ve recorded?
DK: “Poltergeist” score by Jerry Goldsmith reigns in this category and it was my very first film scoring session. I was called in at 6am that day because another soprano got sick. I walked on to the huge scoring stage to what seemed like a one-hundred-piece orchestra and forty-voice choir, and I sang top soprano with five other amazing women. To this day, it was the most difficult score I ever had to read. Literally, every measure had a different time signature and when the bottom number changes constantly, that’s some fast thinking one has to do. 3/16, 5/8, 3/4, 9/16, I mean every permutation of time signatures had to have been in that score. AND the music was atonal, no key center. I must have passed that test with flying colors, only because I had been studying and performing Luciano Berio and other’s “atonal strangeness” in college, so my ears and eyes were fresh off that boat. It seems that session firmly established my ability to perform on live, high-pressure Hollywood film dates because apparently, I became one of the top five sopranos to call from then on. I learned a lot from such an incredibly talented female section of which I was honored to be part for many years.
But my next film date about two weeks later had another set of challenges with James Horner on “Brainstorm.” Also a difficult score to read and perform but that one stands out because at one point in the score, James had me and three additional high sopranos in a cluster of half steps, way above high-C. Starting on F above high-C, well into “ledger-line land” above the staff, and descending from there: F, E, Eb, D. So, one voice on each note in a tight cluster of long tones moving in that tight formation from bar to bar. But the real kicker was that the dynamics were marked pppp! In common terms, super-soft times four. Yes, four p’s on long tones with decrescendo at the end, straight tone, no vibrato, and perfectly in tune. Anyone who has ever tried that will know just how precisely difficult that is, not to mention how high that is, which makes the overtones more difficult to tune between voices to blend. Talk about having an ear and vocal control. Oh, and you could not mess up, or else—bye-bye and no more next time.
Singing in Sanskrit for the film “The Matrix Revolutions,” by Don Davis, was also challenging in that the combination of language with a difficult score required extra concentration. I have sung/recorded in 23 different languages but not coupled with the range and rhythm of this score. On a side note, the physical difficulty of singing on live scoring sessions is that a singer will be standing still, shoulder to shoulder, on risers for 8 or 9 hours a day. Once the red light goes on, one cannot make any sound with shifting weight, respiratory sounds, noisy clothes, or shoe sounds, nothing. And with that many people on the payroll, you don’t want to be the one who messes up in any way.
I’m grateful that I could enjoy singing on the most amazing pieces of music by so many composers in my lifetime. Making it easier for others by giving them some of what I learned has been important throughout my career, so I developed my book with 7 instructional CDs titled: Tune Your Voice: Singing and Your Mind’s Musical Ear, endorsed by faculty of Juilliard, NYU, Berklee, American Idol, and many more. It has just about everything a musician and singer would like to know to help themselves be the best at what they do with their voice and listening ear.
SV: Since your voice is your instrument, how do you take care of it, and are there any exercises that you do on a regular basis?
DK: I still vocalize daily and I can tell when I don’t. Even when I was singing 8 or sometimes up to 18 hours a day in the studios, I would still vocalize 30 minutes on my way to the session. Today I try to get in at least 10 minutes daily without fail, and the full 30 (maybe twice a day) when in preparation for a gig or live performance. I use a lot of the exercises in Tune Your Voice and more advanced ones I intend to release in a follow-up program. I drink a lot of water and try to keep the cords and nasal passages moist. Also, I keep physical body, ear, and brain in shape, as that is the instrument.
SV: What would you say is the highpoint of your career, the most musically satisfying?
DK: I have some live and some studio highpoints, if I may. But if you want only one highpoint, then I like to make the joke, that I peaked at 19 when I effortlessly sang, a difficult coloratura aria, “Ombra leggiera” from Dinorah by Meyerbeer (link goes to Maria Callas 1954), with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Orchestra Hall (as it was called then). Oddly, I was not nervous at all. I was very prepared and looked forward to the thrill. And what a thrill that was. Packed house, amazing sound and energy with THAT orchestra behind me, and a superior flautist doing the ultimate duet cadenzas with me at the end. That was so fun and very musically satisfying. That’s a tough one to beat. I use that performance as the anchor performance whenever I perform. Meaning, get in that frame of mind and just go for it.
Then there was singing with Pink Floyd on “Momentary Lapse of Reason,” actually standing next to David Gilmore in the studio. Of course, “Sister Act” and “Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit.” I was the tambourine-waving choir nun, real life music director, and production vocal coach. I got to use so many of my skills with so many fun and wonderful people. That’s a whole other article in itself. Then came “Yanni, Live at the Acropolis”, singing E above soprano high-C at every sound check and every show, writing the nonsense vocal syllables and how we were going to end the piece. Then, a commissioned work called “Free to Serve,” which I composed, produced, and performed. I spent time working with musicians in Sierra Leone, West Africa, and returned with them for a multi-media tour across the US and Canada. And most recently, Ricky Kej’s “Shanti Samsara” concert and videos for climate-change awareness that I did last year in Bangalore, India, where I contributed background vocals and their vocal arrangement, sang all the parts, and my textures and solos; performed in a concert and two videos. I loved it. Now I’m looking forward to performing my new album, Color Me Home.
SV: My wife is very much into sound and color healing. Please tell me about your interest with sonic healing.
DK: Context is important here. When I was 7, my mother, a beginner at piano, would invite me to lay on the carpet under the piano bench and color in my coloring books while she practiced. I associated sound and color/drawing at an early age. Then when I was 9, something more miraculous opened me to the world of sound when my only sibling was born deaf with no ears (bilateral aural atresia). It became my assignment to help teach my sister how to speak, spell, and sing. She was/is very intelligent, so it was not an effort. One day, Mother and I went to Elim Christian School for the Handicapped in Chicago’s southwest suburbs, to learn how we had to teach my sister to speak, and that inspired me with a new word, vibration, and what that meant to hearing, speaking and singing. When she was 6 months old, she had experimental hearing aids called oscillators, because less than 5 years before in Paris, Dr. Alfred Tomatis announced the results of his research: that we also hear by bone conduction as well as air conduction. Decades later I learned about Tomatis and his system and began studying his books and research, and I took courses, culminating in certification in the USA through iLs (Integrated Listening Systems) in what Tomatis called APP, or audio-psycho-phonology—or as I like to say, the ear-brain-voice connection.
I even had the privilege to study with Tomatis’s partner in Belgium for a short time during the weeks I was there as guest speaker for the 2015 International Conference, and was also their closing-night concert performer. They asked me to teach my “Listening Eye” eye-movement technique for immediate improvement with pitch-challenged individuals. They had read about it in my book, Tune Your Voice, which they tried with immediate success and continue to use my technique.
I’ve seen and experienced so much healing going on in my lifetime with music. Mom said when I was upset as a kid, I’d play the piano for long periods of time. I’ve seen, and experienced myself, people showing up to studio recordings in pain and bandages, but as soon as they’d open their mouth and sing, the pain went away, and afterwards remarked how much better they felt. It all has to do with vibration. I’ve seen videos of others, and experienced with my own mother, being able to calm her from dementia and Altzheimer’s episodes, bringing her back to reality with just a few bars of peppy singing “You’re a Grand Ol’ Flag.” I’ve seen children with no muscle tone, unable to walk or talk, walk unaided (albeit slowly) and talk simply, within four months’ time from APP listening. If at all, this would normally take 3-4 years. Or wiping out dyslexia by fixing the audio processing. In my own practice, ListeningMatrix.com and my WellnessVoiceWorkshop.com, I’ve seen the depressed get healthy and get jobs; ADD young adults finally being able to concentrate hours at a time living a fulfilled life with no meds; PTSD overcome with no meds; elderly regain balance, muscle tone, memory; pain reduced, atrophied vocal cords once thought incurable, brought back to life in 3-6 weeks; children and adults with pitch and/or rhythmic challenges eliminated in a few months; even vocal range, overall musicality, and confidence improved. And on and on.
Music reaches parts of the brain like nothing else can, and the ear is our master conductor. It’s important we take care of the muscles of the middle ear and eardrum as well as protect ourselves from loud volume. In fact, when I was in Bangalore, India, last summer for three weeks, a different Indian newspaper’s front page article for four days in a row was about noise pollution and how bad it was for stress, heart, mental distress, confusion, and so on. 100-135 decibels was common, it read. But, that volume is very uncommon, unless you are on the tarmac of an airport runway. Average human hearing pain threshold is 110dbs, or an auto horn at one meter. Everyone honks constantly, and there you have it. I experienced that ear pain after walking down the main street less than 5 minutes. I quickly pulled out my earplugs on that first day and plugged my ears going from hotel to car. Always protect your own hearing and that of your infant and children.
Music is the carrier wave of consciousness. Some music is very beneficial, usually made with love, and other music may not be. It depends on several factors, but generally the low-frequency, heavy-bottom beats tend to slow one down, possibly draining energy. Whereas, take a Mozart violin concerto for example. That has a lot of high frequency, so it will stimulate and charge the brain. One of the activities we do during “Listening” is drawing, painting, coloring, and adding art while listening. Broad strokes (pun intended) help open the ear, relax the brain and body, and allow the acoustically modified music to do its job. I have experienced, and my clients have also experienced, improved eye- and hand-coordination to express art with enhanced creativity because of Listening, as it optimizes the brain through exercising the muscles of the ear.
Which brings me to why I composed and produced the music on my latest album the way I did and included a coloring book with the CD as part of the lyrics/liner notes. Color Me Home is beautiful, soothing, listening; or support music by itself. “Invigorating and blissful,” as one reviewer put it. But when you color the image that goes with the song while listening to it, something different takes place in the brain. One reviewer did this and called it the “new high” that promoted a calm, relaxed focus. Downloaders can order the coloring book. With music purchase, both come with free gift of coloring pencils, and a cloth carry-bag, hand-made by yours truly. (Sewing is my hobby and I make most of my clothes/gowns.) Offer and details available on my website until April 21. I also incorporate 12 quartz singing bowls and a two-foot clear-quartz tuning fork in my sonic therapy when called for.
SV: You have a life-long interest in education, having privately taught piano and voice since you were 17, and you also direct a choir called the Young Vocal Artists of Los Angeles. How has the process of teaching helped you as a musician?
DK: Teaching always helps clarify your own mind on the subject, and if one is open, one learns a lot from students in a variety of ways. Teaching awakens one to the beautiful individuality of each person, if one looks for it and teaches accordingly. I have taught in-person over a thousand individuals in my lifetime, and who knows how many through my Tune Your Voice program. As a teacher, it is my job to make the student become aware of him/herself and for me to be a good example. Teaching makes me feel good in many ways. Even on a day after a bad cold when I must teach, I always feel better about 10 minutes into it. But the best is seeing my students grow, reach their goals, and walk out of my studio with a confident smile.
On the rare occasion, I will get students around age 4 and have the privilege to continue to teach them up to when they go to college. When they come back, sometimes when a session comes up for which I contract, I have an opportunity to give them their first professional jobs. It is such a blessing for me. I love when a severely pitch-challenged adult student of mine matched pitch for the first time with me. He heard and felt the unification of the vibration between two people, and tears started streaming down his face. Sometimes they’re tears of joy, but sometimes it has opened up a door to a bad experience of someone telling him he couldn’t sing under duress, so I have to be ready to help the person go through that emotional side of the voice as well. As Tomatis taught, there is a psychological component to listening; therefore, singing, as well. Teaching people to improvise, take risks, persist — hearing myself teach this to students — is always good for anyone to hear, reinforcing my own beliefs and confidence in my own work as a musician. I think teaching also gives me a special mettle in life, and on tour, no matter what comes up, there’s always a way to get through it.
SV: And finally, any advice to aspiring singers who want to break into the biz?
DK: Do it very carefully . . . one gets good at something only if they put in the time. Practice and get super prepared. Get your skills and craft together when you are young if you can. (I had 10,000 hours on piano and 13,000 hours on voice before I moved from Chicago to Los Angeles in my twenties. Reference to Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.) And I still did not feel prepared, and I practiced even more the next 5 years until it all became second nature. One has to have a deep love of music to put up with what independent artists have to deal with, and only a few get the record deal, which is kind of like a big bank loan with marketing support. Immediate gratification will not sustain a career or might not even get you there at all. Make sure the music you sing matches your image in everything about you, your brand, your sound, etc.
You may use mimicry as a learning tool — in fact, that’s how we all learn. But then express your own individuality. Train your ear. The voice can only express what the ear can hear. The better your ear is, the better your musicianship, voice, and confidence. Give your voice and ear a chance to work faster together daily by exercising the voice, without fail; minimum 10 to preferably 30 minutes. Exercise the body, power walking preferred over running. The body is your instrument so take good care of it. Listen to a wide variety of music and singers. Listen . . . listen . . . listen. Your opportunities will come out of nowhere and everywhere. Meet people in person and learn to communicate effectively, speak clearly. Get your nose out of your device and learn to converse well. Ask the type of question that leads you to the answer you desire. Listen to yourself sing, and speak by singing and reading out loud a few minutes a day. Leave out the “sh” sound in words that don’t have it, like street, stream, strict, etcetera. Think ‘stir’ – ‘eat’ for street, not ‘shtir-eat.’ Really listen to yourself. Some singing jobs require perfect articulation and unless you start really listening to yourself, you might get fired if you can’t pronounce correctly and clearly.
The skill of social networking is also essential, both online and in person. State your point, your purpose, as soon as possible, clearly. Wear a humble confidence so people want to know who you are. Always be on time. Always be sincere and considerate of others. Know your history. I repeat, do your research. And be aware of the social hierarchy in a group dynamic. As old fashioned as this may sound, have a business card with your picture on it with you at all times, in case sharing info on your smart phone isn’t working. No important person delights in standing around watching you fiddle with your smart phone, acting stupid. Consider having a products/bio card if you are an indie artist that you carry with you at all times in purse or pocket. You never know who you’ll meet on a plane or in an Uber. Have professionally produced demo tracks. See my Kaleidoscope Vocal Demo on my website for an example of what I mean. I could go on for hours as I do in my workshops on this topic. But check out my website, as there’s a plethora of information you can glean from it, or sign up for one of my workshops or private lessons in person or by Skype.