CS Music loves to spotlight singers, especially when they have a special project they are working on. Elyse Anne Kakacek recently recorded and released Untethered: The Song Cycles of Valerie Saalbach. She shared with us all about the project and her unique perspective during the process. If you have project you think CS Music would be interested in spotlighting, email our online magazine editor, Mary Taylor at email@example.com.
- How and when did this project come up?
The idea to create Untethered came up in the summer of 2018. Matthan Black asked if I would be interested in launching his new classical music record label with an album of modern art song. We met collaborating as performers in Chicago- so I knew from experience that having Matthan’s ears to guide me would make this project very special. In his initial call, Matthan explained he wanted to create True Capture Records to empower emerging talent to create new art. “No huge corporations. Just pure voices doing what they do best. Telling their stories their way.” – I was in!
- What was the process of recording like?
It was so much fun! We scheduled one 6-8 hour session per song cycle. Each session was spaced about three months apart to give me time to become intimate with all the material. Chris Fecteau and I had 2 to 3 working sessions per song cycle where we volleyed artistic ideas and solidified a “stay in your lane” mentality that made for some beautiful discovery during the actual sessions. I will say, maintaining a high level of focus for 6-8 hours of time will knock you over! I felt totally fine during the sessions, but afterwards Matthan and I often laughed at how hard it was to hold a conversation for the subway ride back to Brooklyn. We usually settled on sitting silently in wonder at what we had just done all day.
- Why Valerie Saalbach’s work?
I thought of Valerie Saalbach right away when Matthan approached me. Her music is gorgeous and not many people know it. But mostly, I saw an opportunity to give voice to a living female composer, with feminine centric music and poetry, in this time when our culture is desperately craving healthy femininity. I saw an opportunity to use music to promote social change- which can be a rare thing in classical music.
- What was the most challenging part of the process?
The most challenging experience was sorting through the hours of raw takes. Matthan and I agreed early on we wanted to aim for perfect vulnerability rather than perfect vocalism. I also had a strong desire to honor every detail I found in the music. Sorting through hours of unedited material often had me thinking I was crazy to ever open my mouth to sing let alone release an album. It did get easier with time and working with Matthan was so helpful because as a singer, he knew exactly how to be supportive but honest as we made the big decisions.
- What do you hope people take away from listening to Untethered?
I hope this album contributes to healing the American perspective on feminine (and masculine) energy on a daily basis.
The philosophy and poetry in Untethered fills a gap in the American body of art – giving an example of deeply sensual women that are not hyper sexualized or patronized by a male gaze- honest, raw feminine essence. The perspectives on relationships and loss give us an example of a woman fighting for what she wants and losing- with divinity, grace and nothing to prove. These songs are an example of what it is to love a man, to be a fully embodied half, and then be torn away by death. It is very poignant that we need each other- the feminine and masculine are meant to exist together in a balance. As a whole, the album highlights what it looks like when a woman embodies every part of herself without shame or fear and is accepted as such by her counterpart. It is an empowering message for every human on the planet that has ever attempted to connect with another. I think we could benefit from being more aware of this today.
- How has this experience changed you as an operatic artist?
This project really pushed me to a different level of honing in on artful detail. Singing on stage in an opera is its own special experience but does not lend itself to the level of vocal intimacy that becomes available in a recording session. I was able to stretch and play with so many new colors in my voice to bring the poetry to life- colors that aren’t often explored on the operatic stage. I was lucky to jump right into a production (Princess Maleine) after we finished recording sessions, and I believe my performance was colored in a new way as a result.
- What is your advice for someone wanting to do a similar project?
Take your time in finding a concept that lights you up inside! The most beautiful thing about this project is really taking the effort to become one with the material and the concept, to focus on moving people. I think what Matthan and I achieved that is different from most classical vocal albums is we led with concept first in the way a pop album would. Each step of the way we checked in to make sure each piece of our puzzle fit with the message we wanted to send to the listener. It has been one of the most fulfilling things in my life so far to use this art form to incite exploration and curiosity in others, and hopefully inspire a new perspective. Take the time to create art!