by: Sandi Durell
Joanna Strand isn’t new to the world of theatre or jazz cabaret for that matter. She’s had a glorious career in England having appeared as Emma in Jekyll and Hyde at London’s The Union Theatre, as Sharon Graham in the Broadway transfer of Terrence McNally’s Master Class, as Madame Giry in Phantom of the Opera as well as appearing in numerous opera houses. Of all the roles she played, the role of Dolly in “Hello Dolly,” a low budget production and a short run, was the most meaningful. Why? Just singing “Before The Parade Passes By” was a catharsis at that moment in time. Her husband had left her, she was dealing with her sister’s illness and raising two little girls; music, the perfect catalyst to fill the soul, helping one rise to the occasion, survive and succeed!
But all of this wasn’t quite enough. Something was looming beneath her classically trained image. An inner voice, a why she must sing, an expression yet to be satisfied.
As Joanna explains it:“Singing in an opera or musical is a fantastic experience. And the singer brings an element of themselves to each of the characters they play. Indeed, usually a character has some major elements of the people we are, and the director and musical director will recognize that in the casting process. Whether it is a look, a vocal colour, or just an overall impression. . . But the freedom of putting together a cabaret show – choosing songs, arranging the songs, deciding on the instruments and the musicians to collaborate with, all of these elements gives the singer an amazing opportunity to say something in their own voice.”
Was there a specific role that fulfilled her? Joanna’s revealing reply was that she doesn’t know if she’ll ever be fulfilled as a singer. She calls it a ‘sehnsucht’ (a sort of longing for fulfillment) that motivates her. “Can an artist ever be fulfilled? Thank goodness the answer is ‘no’ or we’d all give up as soon as we felt we had done well in a role!”
Crossing the divide from classical to jazz and categorizing oneself is a great frustration for Joanna who says: “I wish singers didn’t have to be forced to define the self into a narrow category. It seems to me commercial, a marketing strategy. This show would suit a jazz venue, this one a cabaret venue, this a concert hall. Musical theatre and jazz, by their nature, incorporate a wider variety of styles than other genres. I have one voice. Whether I tilt my larynx to make a classical or legit musical theatre sound, or hold it still to switch of my vibrato, whether I belt, or let breath through to create a certain colour. All are my voice. And more than the sounds I make, there are the things I have to say. They are not restricted by genre, but by all the things I am, and all the things I want to share with an audience.
I do not feel the need to be recognized as a classical, jazz, country, pop or any other kind of singer. I have a great many things to say, and to share with my audience, and I need to access a great many styles to express all that we seek to share through music. . . We need music to make sense of the world we live in. We need music to feel free. We need music to find meaning. And to come together with others in a shared experience. And life being as beautifully complex as it is, we need to access many musical colours and many musical styles.”
When it comes to admiration, Joanna deeply admires Betty Buckley, Nancy Lamott and the English jazz singer Lianne Carroll. “The most important thing is to sing with your own voice. All that means is don’t feel you have to imitate . . . And my first teacher, Anthony Rolfe Johnson, who taught me so much about the sublime (tingle factor!) and honesty of expression.”
When Joanna is not performing, what takes up her time? “I love being with my family, walking on Hampstead Heath – a big park near my house, and listening to music. I also still take a dance class when I can, which isn’t often, but I love it.”
Joanna Strand is Flying Transatlantic to perform at the Metropolitan Room, 9:30 pm on October 28th and 29th Reservations: 212 206-0440