Jazz Times Interview with Roseanna Vitro
from Jazz Times June 13, 2012
Rhiannon: Total Improvisation
Roseanna Vitro interviews vocalist and educator about her life’s work
Rhiannon is a unique and extraordinary vocalist, performance artist, composer and master teacher whose musical vision embraces jazz, a cappella, improvisation, world music and storytelling. Rhiannon has a brand new recording just released titled Spontaneous. I felt this would be the perfect time to interview this gifted artist and mentor. I have attended three Rhiannon workshops in the New York City area, where she has accumulated a very large following of singers as well as around the world. Usually Rhiannon's workshop's run for a minimum of two days. One can expect to play improvisational exercises guided by Rhiannon that will enhance and enlighten a singer’s ability to hear and create harmony. We worked on various time feels with accuracy while improvising with lyrics and scat syllables. In general, she builds confidence and musicianship in the participants. Her classes usually breed a feeling of brother and sisterhood, a unity with a strong bond in spirituality that says: music is not simply fast chops and notes on a page.
Roseanna Vitro: What are your earliest memories of singing and music? Did you know you were a singer from an early age?
Rhiannon: I grew up on a farm on the banks of the Missouri River on the border of South Dakota and Nebraska. I went to a one room country school house for my first five grades. There were eighteen kids in the whole eight grades. That educational beginning was amazing. It served me well to be in that one room hearing everyone's lessons and having the open country as my real textbook.
I spent loads of time wandering the pastures in the neighborhood of our farm making up stories and playing all the characters. I sang out loud with no inhibition, lucky me. I don't know if I was singing songs my mom played on the piano or making them up or both. There was a period of years where I buried small dead animals that I found in my adventures. I would sing as I buried them some invented blessing for their safe journey and make up details of their animal lives. That was very important to me. I felt the power of singing as part of ceremony. I didn't tell anyone but kept it as my secret world. My mother studied piano and French in college there in Yankton, South Dakota. She had some dreams didn't she? She played throughout her life and encouraged all of us. She knew tons of songs from the American songbook and I learned many of them without realizing. There is no other reason I would know all the lyrics to those old songs because I don't remember studying them. She infused them into me. My father was a farmer and a beautiful dancer. He had some dreams too. Both of them ended up on the farm, so they did the best they could to pass those dreams on to me and my sisters. What I got from them was that improvisation was a life skill. There is nowhere better to learn that than on the farm; weather, animals, emergencies of equipment, banks, changing seasons, all of it and you need to roll with it and not resist. Just go with it the best you can.