A Conversation with Denyce Graves

denyce2Acclaimed Mezzo Soprano
Performs at the Living Legends Awards
By Markus Williams

On February 22, 2014 at 6 P.M. the Human Symphony Foundation will presents the ninth annual Living Legends Awards for Service to Humanity. Each year as I approach the honored task of assembling the program I am guided by our expectation of having performances of the highest quality and at the same time, have something significant to say. It is always the goal of the program not only to celebrate the best of humanity but also to inspire others to be builders of humanity. I can think of no better way to do this than with the use of the arts. This year to help us accomplish this goal we are honored to have one of the world’s leading voices Denyce Graves. I can’t begin to tell you how honored I am to be working with such an artist. She is in possession of a voice that is rich and always beautiful accompanied by an unparalleled sense of artistry. As an accomplished artist who continues to give of herself beyond the concert stage it is fitting that she would be our guest artist and recipient of our inaugural award The Human Symphony Foundation Award for Service to the Arts. I recently had the privilege of catching up with Denyce Graves to talk about her appearance with us.

Thank you for taking time to talk to me about your upcoming performance at the Living Legends Awards. You have established yourself as one of the major voices of our time, when did you know this is what you wanted to do?
I heard a recording of Leontyne Price when I was 14 years old and at that very moment, even though I had NO idea that I might be able to sing, I said, “That’s what I want to do”, “I want to sing like that!”.
How are you balancing life as a mother, wife, performer and now your teaching at the Peabody Conservatory?
How am I balancing life as a mother, wife, performer and teacher…………. Hmmmmm, the jury’s still out on that!
Some days I am more successful than others, some days I nail it and feel like a super hero and then there are days that I fail miserably and think, “What am I doing with my life”
You have been one of the world’s most celebrated Carmens but I know you have quite a broad range of musical interest. What excites you as an artist?
What excites me as an artist is whatever is truthful and raw. I’m moved by nakedness,
vulnerability, fragility and surrender.
How have you evolved as an artist since making your professional début?
I am still evolving but I think I’m more centered now as a performer. My instrument has changed and grown and still challenges me at times and there are other times when I can really enjoy my voice and the joy of singing. I am more present than ever.

Part of your performance at the Living Legends Awards will be the premiere of “The Moment I Fly” a piece that articulates the journey to success. How important is preparation for success?
I think every performer and artist wants to do their best always, so preparation is the key to success.
“The Moment I fly” is a world premiere written especially for The Living Legends Event so already much attention has been given as this is its anchor piece and the Anthem of the program so I want to get it right.
As you know the Living Legends Awards is focusing on education and who gets to “fly” into
their destiny. What are some of your hopes for education?
I believe that education is THE key to our individual success and to the success of our Nation.
My hope is that education takes centre stage and is funded and supported, so that it lights the way for a better and stable world.
You have said that a major reason you have become what you are is because of a teacher you had in elementary and middle school. Who was this teacher and what did she do?
AH, yes, the teacher that I had who guided me on the path that I’m presently on is Ms. Judith Grove Allen. She was my elementary, Jr high and high school teacher.
She introduced me to serious music and it changed me forever.
Clearly there is a great power with teachers and schools to influence the course of lives. The national conversation regarding education has been about bad teachers and failing schools without the mention of community and home life. How does this affect the students ability to fly into their destiny?
The adage “It takes a village” comes to mind here. We all have a responsibility to every child and to each other. Community and Home life are very important and it permanently shapes us. There are people who can thrive and rise above very challenging home lives and surrounding environments. Kindness, respect and education are key.
The idea behind the Human Symphony Foundation is that we are all members of this symphony of humanity and the dignity of each person is our melody. That being said, for students with limited opportunities living outside of hope, what should be our collective response as a society?
Our response ,as we are able, should be to reach out, give back and stretch outside of our comfort zones.
How do you feel about your upcoming performance with the Living Legends Awards and being recipient of the first Human Symphony Foundation Award for Service to the Arts.
I’m so honored to be acknowledged from the HUMAN Symphony Foundation. To be a good human being has always been my prayer. The Arts have blessed my life and continues to do so, and I hope that I am able through the beauty of music making be a blessing to others.
Thank you for taking time to do this interview and for lending your voice and presence to this cause. I’m looking forward to your performance.
I too, am excited about our upcoming performance. Thank you for this gift to my life.

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