I had a radio interview yesterday morning on WPAZ, Pennsylvania’s  tiniest radio station (“with the biggest heart!”). The station had been struck by lightning the night before so they had to create an alternate tech set-up for my phone interview (see  below).  You can listen to that interview here:

WPAZ-2011-09-22_DHC-Interview

I love the mic placement  at the speakerphone, and especially love that even though I wasn’t there … they still provided morning coffee.

Hey, it ain’t called “The Morning Show” for nothin’!

Radio host Betsy Chapman will also be hosting my “Fireworks for the Creative Spirit” workshop on Tue. Sept. 27 at the Tri-Country Performing Arts Center.  There are a couple of spots left as of this writing.  Here’s where you can get more info about the workshop is and how to register.

DHC & Betsy Chapman on live radio

It's nice to know that even if you phone it in, you still get coffee

RELATED POST:  Betsy sent me questions ahead-of-time (most of which she didn’t ask in the interview) but I experimented with writing out the answers in advance.  You can see the first question “Why the Harp?” here.

Line drawing of DHC playing harp (artist name: "Friday")

Line drawing of DHC by audience/artist "Friday"

I got a set of questions from Betsy Chapman, who hosts “The Morning Show” on WPAZ, a tiny station (“with a big heart!”) in Pennsylvania. WPAZ is co-sponsoring my “Fireworks for the Creative Spirit” next week, so Betsy interviewed me on air. But first she sent her questions, starting with the question I most dread and am most often asked.  So I started writing to find out what my  answer would be this time:


Q: So … why the HARP?

A: This is a question I ask myself over and over.  Did I play the harp as avoidance for writing musical theater, which is my first love?  Because it was an incredible physical challenge, a way I could be both an athlete and a musician at the same time?  Is it because it was an underdog instrument?  Is it because it was so identified with women, and so marginalized in the music world, that I felt like I wanted to liberate it in some way?

If someone had told me it is THE traditional storytelling instrument through history, that might have made me choose it.  But I did NOT know that.

If someone had told me it’s the missing link between the piano and the guitar, with all the double-handed dexterity of the piano but the ability to get right in on the strings and bend them and snap them like a guitar – that might have done it.  But I didn’t know that either.

So I honestly don’t know why I STARTED.  But I kept going for many reasons.  First, the challenge.  Practicing the harp completely enveloped my mind.  The dexterity between hands and feet, it calmed my mind and focused me in a way that nothing else did.  I think that my brain and my body needed something to connect them in that way: something complex and intricate, that required huge physical coordination and physical strength.  I found that very satisfying.

I also loved the excuse to get dressed up in long gowns,  high-heels, rhinestones and red-red lipstick, and I loved that I could pay my way through school by playing in dining rooms — PLUS I got free food.

When I started focusing on jazz, then again was the physical challenge I loved, and the understanding that by practicing a structure, I could eventually have huge musical freedom.

Then, later on, I fell in love with the international community of harp builders and players.  Which is good because a few years after that, I developed this idee fixe: the idea that it must be possible to strap on the harp, play it like an electric guitar.  And that was something I couldn’t make happen on my own.

NEXT BLOG:  “WHY ELECTRIC HARP?

ON SEPT. 30, 2011 – Denver, CO:  I’m presenting a hands-on workshop for harpists on “Baroque Flamenco” on Friday, Sept. 30 at Kolacny Music in Denver, CO.


Baroque Flamenco is one of my most famous and fiery pieces. But it wasn’t always.

The first time I heard the melody, it was in a  Minuet by Jean-Jacques Rousseau  (pictured below – quite fetchingly, I think).

I found it in one of my first harp books (“Medieval to Modern, Vol. 1″ by Samuel Milligan) under the title “Minuet in A Minor.”

I fell in love with the melody and started improvising on it, first in a Baroque style, and then over time, I started adding rhythm to the variations.

Little by little the piece became a conversation of styles: the melody was Baroque, but the variations took on a Latin rhythmic character (a lot like the rhythm of Bernstein’s “America.”)

Then, one day, packing up my gear in a rock club in Berlin, and hearing Ottmar Liebert’s “Nuevo Flamenco” on the house sound system, I had a revelation: “Wait a minute!” I yelled at myself over the music, “The harp … the HARP … is just a big GUITAR!”

By which I meant: there’s a whole other instrument here, not just the strings, but the sound box as well.

I started experimenting, and created a cadenza for the piece that included my best imitation of a flamenco troupe, from strums and slaps to foot stomps – all created on the strings and soundboard of the harp.

DHC Playing Baroque Flamenco with the Grand Rapids Symphony

Me playing "Baroque Flamenco" with the Grand Rapids Symphony

Thus was born, “Baroque Flamenco,” which morphed from a sweet, haunting minuet into a fiery tour-de-force that was the dramatic finale of my PBS music special “Invention and Alchemy”, and later became the 3rd movement of my  concerto “Soñando en Español.”  You can see a video of the performance of “Baroque Flamenco” from the DVD (and GRAMMY-Nominated CD) “Invention & Alchemy” here:


SEPT. 30, 2011: I’m presenting a hands-on workshop for harpists on “Baroque Flamenco” on Friday, Sept. 30 at Kolacny Music in Denver, Colorado – for all levels of harpists.



NEXT: Hand to Hand: Passing on Baroque Flamenco…




Press Release – run until 10/1/2011

Take a Harp


Shrink it down


Plug it in


Strap it on

Deborah Henson-Conant is the world’s foremost electric harpist – but this ain’t your grandmother’s harp!

She’s a GRAMMY©-Nominated recording artist, and THE “DHC” behind the “DHC Blue-Light”  –  one of the fastest-selling new harp models in the world!
This 11lb carbon-fiber electric harp is Deborah’s signature instrument, and was designed specifically for her by the CAMAC Harp Company in France.

On October 1st Deborah Henson-Conant is coming to Denver for a 3-day Creative Residency sponsored by a consortium of local music organizations, that includes a solo show on Saturday, Oct. 1st at 8pm and a Hands-on Workshop on Friday, Sept. 30th, from 7-10pm.

ARTIST BIO

Guitar legend Steve Vai calls her “The Jimi Hendrix of the Harp.” NPR’s Scott Simon described her as “the Love-child of André Previn and Lucille Ball.” The New York Times credits her with “reshaping the serenely Olympian harp into a jazz instrument by warping it closer to the Blues.” And the Boston Globe described her as “A combination of Leonard Bernstein, Steven Tyler and Xena, Warrior Princess.”
Henson-Conant is a one-woman orchestra, with electric harp, voice and a looper pedal she uses to layer sounds in real time, then weaves solo lines and vocals above it. The music in her shows ranges from her Grammy-Nominated Blues to the tender love song, “The Nightingale” from her PBS Music Special, to a Hendrix-inspired version of the Star Spangled Banner.

FORGET the demure harpist – Henson-Conant is a showman, entertainer and solid musician who’s been compared to musical greats from Leonard Bernstein to Elvis Presley.  She’s been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, The Today Show and NPR’s Weekend Edition, and in two full-length PBS music specials. Henson-Conant’s voice is compared to Carly Simon and Joan Baez; her playing to Chuck Berry and Jimi Hendrix; and her humor to musical comedian Victor Borge.  The shows are tied together by powerful, funny, affirming stories and universal humor.  She’s known for her renegade image, evocative singing voice, and shows that fuse music, theater, stories and humor.  Her playing ranges from full-out bluesy to heart wrenching ballad.  This is a feel-good, outside-the-box, bring-the-folks-you-love kind of show for audiences of all genders and ages- folks who want to celebrate what it means to passionately follow your own creative path.  Henson-Conant debuted with the Boston Pops, opened for Ray Charles at Tanglewood, jammed onstage with Bobby McFerrin, Doc Severinsen and Marvin Hamlish — and offstage with Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler.  She’s been featured on CBS’ “Sunday Morning,” NBC’s “Today Show” and NPR’s “Weekend Edition,” and interviewed by Scott Simon, Studs Terkel, Charlie Rose & Joan Rivers.

WHO: Deborah Henson-Conant, GRAMMY® Nominated Electric Harpist
WHAT: Solo Show, PLUS 3 day Creative Residency
WHEN: Sat, Oct. 1, 2011 at 7:30 pm, see below for additional event date
WHERE: Unity Church of Denver – 3021 S. University Blvd – Denver, CO 80219
TIX: $15 all ages   Purchase Tix Online  / By phone 303-722-6081, OR Kolacny Music 1900 S. Broadway, Denver, CO 80210
SHOW INFO:  Artist’s Event Page 

CONTACT: Beatriz Harley, 781-483-3556, HipHarp@HipHarp.com

HI-RES IMAGES   Hi-Res Image
s
ARTIST WEBSITE:  (www.HipHarp.com) and YouTube channel give a good overview of what you can expect at the show.

↓  join   ↓  the   ↓   conversation   ↓

Facebook Fan Page         Blog      Twitter    YouTube Channel

Bonjour mes amis!

I’m writing from  France – in a tiny hotel room, in a small harbor town called Paimpol, which is on the coast of Brittany — which is the Celtic region of France.

Here’s  a 2-minute video of my first day in Paimpol (not to be confused with the last days of Pompeii), in which you can admire my cutting-edge sideways video technique.

For anyone who thinks all France is “French” – Brittany is fiercely, proudly Celtic,with its own native Breton language, music, dancing, food, instruments and funny hats (ever notice how important headwear can be in cultural identification? Hmmm … which means, I guess, that I have my own personal culture).  Below is a photo of the traditional Breton headdress. And now you know where I got the idea for my own hairstyle.

Traditional Breton Headdress

Traditional Breton Headdress

Fortunately, the people here also speak French, so we can misunderstand each other quite fluently.

This town, Paimpol, is deeply proud of its relationship to the sea. Outside my hotel is a harbor full of boats and yesterday, on my run, I discovered another harbor. Or … well, it was a curvy place where the water lops over the land, with boats leaning around in the sand, so – that’s a harbor, right? I mean a harbor when the tide’s out.

I’ve been told this festival was originally called “Festival du Chant de Marin” — meaning, “Festival of Sailor Songs” — which is why I’m here playing my father’s banjo, since he was in the Navy in WWII and an avid singer.

No, no, no! What am I saying?  I’m here with my harp …

So … this festival started out ten years ago as a festival of the songs of sailors, but things changed and now it’s called “Festival du Chant de marin et des musiques des mers du monde” — meaning “Festival of Sailor Songs and the Music of the Seas of the World.” You can’t get much more inclusive than that – plus I am partial to anywhere with a name longer than mine, as it makes me feel positively pithy. Which, obviously, I’m not.

So the point I’m trying to get to (did I tell you I’m a little jet-lagged?) is that the focus of this year’s festival is “Celtic Lands” – and no, I’d never call myself a Celtic musician – but my harp – the electric harp that the CAMAC company invented, designed and built for me  was built right here in Brittany, in a town called Nantes. Which means this harp is a perfect example of a Breton sailor who – having traveled off to parts unknown – has now returned to tell the tales of its adventures in song. You see?  We fit here perfectly.


(… and now let’s go back to that enewsletter and check out the Shameless Barn Plug to fill the last remaining spot in my summer intensive next week!)

If I close my eyes right now, I can see Tony.

If you were in my mind, you might think I was looking at a short Italian guy in an orange jumpsuit. But I’m seeing a stadium of improbable beings, huge and tiny. When I imagine Tony Montanaro I see everything his mind invented, and his body described. He was the most physically creative person I’ve ever known, and he could transform in a split second from a giant to dancing flea.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah … so the guy’s a mime,” you say. “The silent type with the white-face.” But Tony spoke a lot and he didn’t paint his face. Sure – he could mime – he and Marcel Marceau studied with the same teacher. But he went beyond mime to a form he called “Physical Eloquence” – the art of physical story-telling, with voice, body – and everything.

Tony moved to Maine in the early 70’s,  bought an old barn in South Paris Maine and turned it into a theater he called the “Celebration Barn.”  He taught and performed there. He became known as the “Guru of Street Performers.” Sooner or later every non-traditional performer on the Eastern Seaboard made their way up to Tony’s barn to study with him. You know the host of “America’s Funniest Video’s” – Tom Bergeron? He studied with Tony. You know the “Mentos Guys” from the TV commercial? They came to the Barn, too. And, along with actors, jesters, jugglers, puppeteers, storytellers and dancers, I also found my way to the Barn.

Did I rush up there the minute I heard about him?  No! I didn’t have the guts!  It took me 3 years to get up the courage to actually call and ask if he’d take me for a student. I was afraid he wouldn’t accept me, afraid I wouldn’t fit in, because his workshops were for — well, for other people. People who could do things I couldn’t do. People more able than me, solo performers (which I wasn’t yet), people with exotic skills and street-smart courage. He was “the guy” and I was some weird little harp player!  When I finally got the courage to call and stuttered out a request to study with him, he said, “Sure!” — and that began a relationship that changed my life.

Tony Montanaro

Tony Montanaro

As I watched Tony use his body like an instrument — I learned how to make my own awkward instrument into a part of my body. And when I whined about the prejudices and stereotypes people have about the harp, Tony just looked at me and said, “The harp is the instrument of the storyteller. Tell your stories.”

And to this day, the shows I do after a week at the Barn, are like creative cosmic gushers — whether I’m the teacher or the student — this work liberates me in ways that change my performances for the next 12 months — but at that splendid, raw moment after a week at the Barn, I am the freest I will be all year. I do things in that show, completely spontaneously, that I’ll struggle to reconnect with for the next year.

So why am I telling you this?  It’s on my mind for sure — I’m starting to pack for the Barn again, my yearly pilgrimage to perform and teach a new generation of students alongside Tony’s partner, Karen Montanaro (you can get more info at my workshop page, tour page, or  another blog on the Barn)   But I know many of you live thousands of miles from the Celebration Barn.  You just might not make it there this year.

Tony Montanaro and Deborah Henson-Conant

Tony and Me

So why do I want you do know about it?  Well, my theory is that knowing about things is a step towards experiencing them.  I want you to know about Tony.  Even if you never get to the Barn, I want you to know that one little Italian guy with a vision and a passion could create a PLACE. A place where his vision continues, even after his death. I want you to know you don’t have to be Steven Spielberg creating “Skywalker Ranch” or Robert Redford, creating “Sundance” to create a place that can change people’s lives, even after you’re gone.

And I want you to know that you don’t have to have the resume of a genius to be invited into that place, to belong there.  You can just call and ask to come.  Well, now, you can email, too.

And if you can get to the Barn in August, to join the workshop or come to the concerts, I hope you’ll stand for a moment in the middle of the floor, and let the spirit Tony brought there change your life, too.


For more workshop details Click Here (Aug 15-20, 2011: 5-Day Intensive Workshop)

For more about the Celebration Barn and tickets to show Click here
Aug 19 (Fri): “Meet the Artists” – 8pm
Aug 20 (Sat) : DHC Solo Performance – 8pm

In two weeks I’ll be “Up at the Barn” teaching my 5-Day “Performance for Musicians” Intensive.  There’s only two slots left, so if you’re on the fence, come on over!   Here’s a video I made about the workshop.  And I’ve asked former students to add comments to this post about their own experience at the Barn, so read on!

Once a year, I pack my van with five harps and drive to a big old Barn in Maine where I hold a 5-Day Intensive Workshop for performers. The group is small – never more than 16 – and the students are all ages, all levels and many play different instruments – though there are always many harpists. Students come from all over the US and Europe, and many come back year after year. The co-teacher is my long-time colleague, award-winning dancer Karen Montanaro.

Together, Karen and take this group on a learning adventure that we, ourselves, came to this very barn for 20 years ago, the basic concepts we each still use today to find the authentic performer inside of each of us. We both came to study with – and eventually to love – Tony Montanaro, the man who turned this barn into a study/performance place, who taught us how to look to ourselves and our bodies as the foundation of our performance — and the man who Karen eventually married.

Now, each summer, Karen and I pass along these concepts that changed our lives – and continue to change them – to this small group. We only have 2 slots left for 2011, and we invite you to join. I was always one of those students who waited until the last minute to sign-up, so if you’re like me in that – grab one of these last 2 slots by going direct to the registration page or you can  learn more about the workshop here.

Students at "Performance for Musicians" 5-Day Intensive in 2010

Students at "Performance for Musicians" 5-Day Intensive in 2010

The work we do at the Barn is fundamental – but hard to explain – so I’ve asked former students to add comments below, telling others what they might expect at “Performance for Musicians” to describe their own experience, so that others can get an idea what to expect.

So former students, please add your comments below – describe your own experience at the Barn! What did you experience?  What surprised you?  What happened for you there?  And how has the experience impacted your own life?   


To register right now Click Here

For more workshop details Click Here
Aug 15-20: 5-Day Intensive Workshop

For more about the Celebration Barn and tickets to show Click here
Aug 19 (Fri): “Meet the Artists” – 8pm
Aug 20 (Sat) : DHC Solo Performance – 8pm


I hope I see you “Up at the Barn!”

and p.s. Here are some links to blogs about how the Barn changed my own life:
My Blog about The Workshop

My Blog about Tony & Me

It was one of those things where you just blurt out, “I wanna do THAT!” when it’s something you’ve never done before, and have no idea if you can.

I was talking to Regent Theatre manager, Leland Stein, when he said the UltraSonic Rock Orchestra was in residence on a weekend I was home from tour.  The Regent is a few blocks from my house, and what I blurted out was, “Hey, ask them if they want me to play a Hendrix version of ‘Star Spangled Banner’ at the shows.”

Hendrix at Woodstock

High on my own personal Hendrix Experience

If you’re new to this blog, I should say here that I play the harp.  OK, it’s an electric harp and while I have been called the “Hendrix of the harp” — ’til a few weeks ago I’d actually never played any Hendrix, and … forgive me … but I’d never really listened to “Star Spangled Banner” – I mean the Hendrix version.

So I came into it like I do to most popular culture experiences: as an alien.   Which has a lot of advantages.

I found a YouTube video of Hendrix’s “National Anthem” Woodstock performance and started watching.  Instead of trying to write out the notes, I typed up the lyrics – it seemed easier.  Then I watched the video and scribbled onto the lyrics:   small squiggles where Hendrix bent the notes, intense squiggles blots and bursts where that’s how the music sounded. And as my squiggles and blotches filled the page,  the piece came into view and I realized what Hendrix had done was no random distortion of a national symbol, but an emotional, moving tone-poemillustrating, sometimes very literally, the underlying words of the very piece he was playing.*

Far from defiling the song in any way, Hendrix intentionally illustrated the words.

Would I have noticed this if I hadn’t studied Debussy and Mahler, if I hadn’t listened to Wagner or art songs?   Who knows.

But once I realized it was a tone-poem, I knew how to approach playing it, and if you follow the words either listening to my version or the Hendrix version, you’ll hear immediately how the musical ‘departures’ closely illustrate the words.

One of the most moving moment of the piece, for me, comes after the words:  “Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there …”

Translating Hendrix to Harp

At that point, Hendrix plays a haunting reference to “Taps”  — which creates a beautiful musical double-entendre, because not only does “Taps” have a double meaning of ‘nighttime’ and respect for the death of a soldier – but the first notes of Taps are the same as those that follow in the national anthem (“Oh say, does that star spangled banner yet wave…)” — and on “wave” Hendrix flutters the note in a gorgeous combination of synethesia and onomatopœia, making the music sound the way the words say it looked.

I’d call it musical theater – but it almost seems like musical literature.


UPDATE OCT. 2011 – I’ll be reprising this in my 11-11-11 show at the Regent Theatre, so I searched through my pile for my ‘transcription.’ Here it is (click on it to see it larger):

Hendrix "Transcription"

Hendrix SSB "Transcription"

To start at the beginning of this blog series: AGT Blog 1


If you’ve read the previous blogs in this series, you’ll know that I was invited to compete on”America’s Got Talent” last March in Seattle, I played James Brown “I Feel Good” on electric harp,  was rejected with lightning speed, and received a comment from one of the judges that completely rocked my world, solving a huge personal conflict and leaving me feeling utterly liberated.  But that personal revelation didn’t happen in a vacuum, and if not for one of the other contestants, it might not have happened at all:  

Marylee & me in the holding tank

The day before the taping, we — all the contestants — arrived from various cities to a single hotel in downtown Seattle.  On the day of the show, we met in the hotel lobby and were shuttled in vans to the Paramount Theater, where they directed us to a curtained-off corner of the theater lobby.  This was our ‘holding tank’ and it was filled with hotel function-room chairs jumbled into 20 or so different groups, each of which defined the territory of one act.  Some were only two or three chairs, some were big groups, circled together like Conestoga wagons, some were half-circles or just clumps.

Getting anywhere in the room meant tripping over costumes, instrument cases, food containers and other performers.  All the performers for our segment were there – and were all totally different:  a little kid was sitting nervously with her father, a Punk-haired magician checked his flight case, a transvestite stood in half-drag next to a rack of clothing whispering loudly to two assistants, a dozen or so men in tuxedos lounged on the steps of the descending staircase, a pair of acrobats was practicing on the stairway landing, a young girl lounged on the floor with her computer, talking aloud to herself and then typing, as if she were taking dictation from herself.

Everyone was preoccupied, and anxious and bored.

I walked around meeting people for an hour or so, and then went out to the bathroom and when I came back I saw a woman fanning herself on a folding chair at the foot of the staircase.  She had not  been there before.

Marylee Hause

She was plump, looked to be about my age, seemed dazed, and was gazing around with an almost giddy smile.  Most everyone in the room was in some kind of costume, but this woman wore a plain lime-green blouse, black pants and no makeup.  She looked completely out-of-place and utterly inviting.

I thought, “Oh, there’s someone my age.” Like when I was a kid, and every summer we’d move to a different town (don’t ask why – I don’t really know) — but my job, while the movers carried boxes and furniture, was to go house-to-house, introduce myself and ask if there were other kids my age to play with.  I guess I still do that, so I introduced myself,  sat down next to her and we started talking.

She told me her name was Marylee Hause and her talent was writing songs for dead people.  She said the first song she wrote for a dead person was in high school, when a girl committed suicide in the bathroom.  Marylee found herself writing a song both about and almost in the voice of this girl, and the song helped her deal with the death.

After that, she said, life continued, she got married, became a real estate agent, continued to write songs, but secretly.  Then, the night that Michael Jackson died she had a dream that he came to her and told her to follow her passion.  (OK, I might be misremembering this part – I just looked at her website and that’s not exactly the story that’s there — but hopefully she’ll correct me if I’m wrong.)

That night, the night of the Michael Jackson dream, she realized she had a gift, and she had to dedicate her life to it.  So she started a business writing songs for dead people – songs to give a voice to people who no longer have one – and to give the people left behind a sense of comfort and connection.

She sang me one of the songs she’d written and I – honestly – gasped.  This person she was singing about – and I mean just singing acapella in the middle of this crowded room — this person came alive for me in the time it took for Marylee to sing the song.  I suddenly remembered a girl who had committed suicide in my own school — and the song gave me a sense of that she had been a real person, instead of just a ‘suicide.’   I thought, “This woman could be writing musical theater!”  Her talent seemed effortless, sincere and surprisingly effective.

But what blew me away was that Marylee Hause really cares about “America’s Got Talent.”  She told me she watches it regularly, and when she talked about the show, she talked about the judges like she knew them –  like they were her friends.

When she heard I wasn’t going to perform my own original material, she was very upset.   It just didn’t make sense to her.  Why would a person who has their own voice, compete in a voice that really isn’t them??

Good question.   But if you’ve read the previous blogs, you’ll know why …

So for the AGT audition, Marylee had composed a song as if judge Piers Morgan was dead.  “How brilliant is that!” I thought.

I asked what she was going to wear and she said these clothes were all she had, and she didn’t normally wear makeup. So I offered to put some makeup on her, “Not to change you,” I said, “Just to make it easier to see where your features are.” (This is my personal makeup theory, nothing specific to Marylee).

When it was time to go on, she and I were brought backstage at about the same time, since she’d be performing shortly before me.  By then we were friends, and I was excited I could watch her performance on the backstage monitor while I stretched out.  Well, excited and nervous.

So I actually saw Marylee walk out on stage – which was unusual because most of the time the performers were basically sequestered in the holding tank. She talked with the judges — I swear –  like she was their next-door neighbor.  Then she sat down to play the piano and sing her Piers Morgan post-mortem tribute.   As she sang, a video with excerpts from his life played on a screen over her head.  It was totally sincere, funny, personal, compelling — like a tribute to a man she seemed to know and love, and which — from what I could tell — she’d written in the last week or so specifically for this audition.

You could see Piers morph from almost offended to deeply moved, and you could feel the audience completely taken by Marylee’s sincerity.  And when she was done playing, the audience leaped to their feet, screaming, cheering, and Piers Morgan did, too.  (You can see it all here on Marylee’s website IWriteSongsForDeadPeople.com.

And as I stood there watching on that tiny monitor backstage, I thought, “Please … do not … make me go next.  How could anybody follow that level of ‘real?'”  This woman had a personal relationship with each judge, with the show, with Michael Jackson and with the dead people she writes songs about.  And that personal relationship was completely her choice – she’d never met any of them.

And she’d only performed in front of people once before in her life (a troupe of Boy Scouts, I think, the weekend before the show). She just went out and did what was most important to her, and the audience fell completely in love with her.

Was she a polished performer?  No!  Was she a young, svelte beauty?  No!  Had she practiced this over and over ’til it was flawless? NO! Was she a real person with a huge talent capable of inspiring and moving an audience?? Absolutely, totally, completely yes.  But only because she was truly being herself.

Which was the one thing I was having trouble doing.

When Marylee’s “Critique Session” started, the judges argued back and forth, not about her talent, but about whether they liked hearing songs about Piers Morgan or not.  In the end they voted “No.” Not “No, Marylee isn’t talented,” but “No, we don’t want to hear another song about Piers Morgan.”  I wanted to race onstage yelling. “No! No! You don’t get it!  The next song will be about YOU!  And you DO want to hear it!!!”

But they didn’t.   She was rejected and she walked off.

Fifteen minutes later I walked on stage and you can read what happened in the previous blogs.  I was buzzed, and the judge’s comments hit me like a revelation and resolved a huge personal conflict about my own authenticity.  But if I hadn’t seen Marylee Hause, Howie Mandel’s comment about my playing would never have had the profound effect it did on me.  In the space of fifteen minutes I got to see a raw talent being true to herself — and professional making bad choices based on fear.

And there was no contest.

In the end, we both were buzzed.  But what that audience saw of Marylee was truly who she is, and what they saw of me was a brief, awkward model of who I thought I should be.  But because of her, I could see the difference, and that’s what I needed.

Later, Marylee and I sat in the hotel restaurant, she very glum with her rejection and me elated by what I’d learned from mine.  I tried to tell her how her authenticity helped me see where I’d gotten lost, but we were both in that zone where it’s hard to see outside your own experience.

I swear I have many times since then thought:  “OK, wait, she’s really a successful songwriter, who’s doing this incognito, right?”  Or, “Oh, I get, it, AGT made up this person and asked an amazing actress to impersonate her on the show …” That’s how unreal it is to see someone so completely real.

As I write this, I have a twinge of anxiety – that maybe she didn’t come across on TV the way she did in person, that the editing might have undermined and diffused what everyone there experienced live — and that someone might question my judgement about her. But frankly, it’s not about judgement.  Life ISN’T a talent contest and we’re NOT celebrity judges.  We fall in love with someone or we don’t, because they speak to our spirits through their art or they don’t.  That entire audience, me included, fell in love with Marylee Hause.   And the person they fell in love with is really who she is.

We were both rejected, and we both went down, but Marylee went down as herself —  and I saw that  if you do go down for who you really are,  you’re still shining the whole the way.  And that’s a light that people can see you by.

Marylee … Thank you.  You can pretend I’m dead any day.


(You can watch the video of Marylee at her own website or on the ‘official’ AGT Video site.  I don’t know how long they’ll stay on line, so apologies if they’ve been removed)

Marylee on AGT


UPDATE: On Oct. 1, 2011 – Marylee Hause joined Deborah for a special cameo appearance on Deborah’s show in Denver, CO. 

Deborah & Marylee after the concert in Denver


Marylee & DHC On-Stage

Marylee & DHC On-Stage

To start at the beginning of this blog series: AGT Blog 1
To read previous blogs in this series: Blog 1    Blog 2   Blog 3 (the first part of this story)


The story so far, in a nutshell:  I was invited to compete on “America’s Got Talent” last March in Seattle, I played James Brown “I Feel Good,” was buzzed to rejection with lightning speed, and the show aired a few days ago.  The previous blog tells about how I prepared for the contest, which started as an adventure and a creative research project, but quickly became conflict-in-microcosm for a serious conflict playing out bigtime in my ‘real’  life.


Listening to Howie Mandel lay in on the line for me

We lose ourselves and we find ourselves in the most unexpected ways.

By the time I walked onto the AGT stage, my 90-second performance of James Brown’s “I Feel Good” represented the entire struggle between buying the idea that who I am as an artist is fundamentally unmarketable — and believing that “sellable or not –  this is who I am and this is what I do.”

It hurts that I still struggle with that after years as an artist, and that I still find myself at times unable to stand up for the artist I am — notwithstanding the fact that I still can’t articulate what that is.  But this is why artists have managers in the first place: the greatest managers – like the greatest directors, or producers or teachers – fight fiercely to keep revealing who that artist really is, particularly to the artist — but also to the public.

Without that support, there’s a constant conflict between trying to maintain (while still discovering) ones’ individuality — and thinking that each glitzy new mold we could pour ourselves into might bring us ‘real’ success, not the fake kind we have.  Maybe other artists are more self-realized.  Me? I struggle with that every day.

But why play that conflict out on National TV?

If I was a more cosmic-type, I’d say that I needed that kind of floodlight to see it myself.

In any case, there I was, backstage at “America’s Got Talent,” deeply conflicted, unable to even verbalize the conflict to myself, and wearing blue-sequins.  By then, I’d totally committed to trying it my producer’s way – actually, I didn’t think I had a choice – I’d bought the idea that performing the way I actually perform was not only certain to fail — but was actually against the rules.  And I was only vaguely aware of my original purpose, which was to go through this as research for my musical.  I had totally bought in to the game.

So, I walked out on stage and launched into my James Brown routine, which started intentionally bland and underwhelming, and which would build over 90 seconds to a spectacular climax.

Only I never got beyond the first 10 seconds.  All 3 judges buzzed me almost simultaneously, which meant, that the power to my harp was also cut.   “Woah, that was fast,” I thought.

But it wasn’t over, because now the judges had the microphone.  “Well, first of all,” one of them said – and I can’t remember who — “first of all, you’re not a singer.”

“Right,” I said, wondering why anyone would think I was, not realizing that right there was a huge disconnect.

Then Howie Mandel leaned up to the mic. “You say,” he said, “that you want to show the world what this instrument can do.  But what you’re doing is just a gimmick.”

And the second he said that, all the chatter in my head stopped and the whole struggle became clear. Every bit of it, from the reason I was playing this piece to the way I was playing it.  “That’s it!!!” I thought. “That is the WORD! This approach IS a gimmick!!”

And the next second I was flooded with relief. “My god,” I thought “My god! I just got saved from a year of going down the wrong road!!!”

So I floated off the stage, and into a bank of cameras, with interviewers asking, “Is there anything you regret? What do you wish you’d done differently out there?”  And all I could think was, “‘America’s Got Talent’  just saved my life!!”

So anyone who thinks that I felt bad being rejected on National TV, has it completely wrong.  That moment was transcendent.

Later, when I started realizing how caught up I’d become in my own self-doubt, and that I’d still have to explain to my producer-friend that the Classic Rock Orchestra Harp show wasn’t really me;  and when I knew I’d be on national TV in a way that was less-than-impressive  – OK, that didn’t feel so great.  But the moment of revelation was exquisite.

I wanted to write about it.  I wanted to talk about it.  But of course, I couldn’t.  We all had to keep completely mum until the show aired, which was last week.

When it did air,  I kind of hoped my entire performance would be cut – but it wasn’t – there was still enough there to disappoint the people who love what I do — and it hurt to know that they were disappointed.   But now that it has aired, and I can finally write about the experience, it’s a huge relief.  And I realize that that moment of clarity, that was so strong when Howie Mandel laid it on the line, that clarity has blurred a little in the past months, and writing about it brings it back into focus.

So … as a research project for my ‘ultimate game show musical’ (see blog #1) my experience on “America’s Got Talent” went beyond my wildest hopes.  And in the next few blogs I’ll talk about the amazing, committed people I met on the show.

I also know now that this experience will become part of my own shows. But there won’t be any judges in that audience, just a whole lot of human beings who have all, at some point or other, opened themselves up to ridicule by reaching imperfectly for who they are.

And you know what I’m going to do?  You guessed it – pull out my harp and play my 90-second version of James Brown “I Feel Good.”

We lose ourselves and we find ourselves in the most unexpected ways.  And it does feel good.


Stay tuned for next AGT blog:  Standing in Stark Contrast (or whatever I end up calling it) – The Authenticity of Marylee Hause.

Blog Categories