Voices blend at Centrum festival at Fort Worden State Park
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Singers Meschiya Lake, left, and Alice Gerrard, both members of the Voice Works faculty, express mutual admiration on Wednesday at Fort Worden State Park. -- Photo by Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — Voice Works, which continues at Fort Worden State Park through Sunday, may be the most inclusive of all Centrum’s summer festivals.

“The quality of the voices here is outstanding,” said program manager Peter McCracken on Wednesday, the event’s third day.

“There is a lack of ego at play and an instant sense of community that is really remarkable.”

Voice Works classes will continue Friday.

A concert and dance, “Vocal Roots and Honky Tonkin’: A Day-Long Concert and Dance Event,” is scheduled Saturday.

It will begin at 1:30 p.m. with a concert in McCurdy Pavilion at Fort Worden State Park and finish with a dance until 9:30 p.m. on Littlefield Green.

This year, Voice Works has drawn 96 people, 26 from Port Townsend.

On the first night of the festival, all the participants sat in a circle and sang a song that created an immediate connection, McCracken said.

There is no audition required, and the participants range from professionals who want to refine their craft to people who like singing and just want to learn how.

“Anyone can sing one note,” said Centrum Executive Director John MacElwee.

“And if you can sing one note, you can sing another.”

Tuition for the week — $440 — does not completely pay for the program, MacElwee said.

Many of the participants and some of the faculty overlap with Fiddle Tunes, which starts Sunday.

Two of the featured performers at Saturday’s concert are faculty members who demonstrate Voice Works’ diversity by representing two ends of the vocal performance and cultural spectrum.

Alice Gerrard, 76, is a bluegrass pioneer who has performed and recorded since the 1960s, both as a soloist and with Hazel Dickens and her then-husband, Mike Seeger.

Jazz singer Meschiya Lake, 31, began her professional singing career when she was 9 and has become an ambassador for New Orleans’ music.

The two women, who had not met prior to Voice Works, have developed a fast friendship and a mutual-admiration society.

“I first heard her sing in orientation, and I loved her tone, I loved what she was doing, and there wasn’t a false moment in her body,” Lake said of Gerrard.

“Some people get up there and are more concerned about the show and how they look than what is coming out of them.

“What came out of her was very pure.”

Gerrard was equally complimentary of Lake.

“I was just knocked over by the power of her singing,” Gerrard said.

“I kind of like the tattoos, too.”

Both singers walk the line between traditional and modern.

Gerrard said she is interested in a lot of categories but chooses to remain in her genre because she wants to make the best use of her time and perform the music she enjoys.

Lake balances tradition with modern but sees the need to explore new areas within her own structure.

“If I don’t get new people to play the old music, it could die,” Lake said.

“But a lot of new people are doing old music but with a little twist — and this helps to keep it alive.

“The older musicians, the purists, may not always like the results, but they recognize that it’s necessary,” Lake said.

Said Gerrard: “It’s good that some people are holding the line and keeping it pure, but it’s also healthy that other people are taking the same music into other directions.

“If they like what they hear, the younger musicians can always go back to the source.”

Both singers appreciate the Internet for allowing any musician to record and distribute music to a large audience.

They are less enamored of another modern innovation: the televised singing contest “American Idol,” now hosting auditions for its 11th season.

“I’m horrified and mesmerized at the same time,” Gerrard said.

“Yeah,” Lake agreed. “It’s like a car crash.

“There’s not much room for substance, and the style is very ornamented and affected, so there’s not a lot of subtlety or individual artistry,” Lake said.

Both singers are encouraging this week’s students to tap into their feelings.

“Some people here have a lot more experience than others, and some people just want to open their mouths and let it fly,” Gerrard said.

“I love it when they can do that, just open their mouths and go for it.”

Lake said people without strong voices still have a lot of options.

“There are different styles of singing, like those that are mostly talking and doing rhythmic things with your mouth,” Lake said.

“You can put inflection into your voice with tonality and expressiveness or put an exclamation at the end of a sentence with a beat.”

Said Gerrard: “Everyone here has their own goals.

“We are here to help them to achieve those goals.”

Music at Saturday’s concert will include Canadian bluegrass, country, blue, swing, honky tonk and Cajun, as well as music from the Balkans, Africa and Europe.

Reserved seats for Saturday’s event are $35 and $20 — and free to those 18 and younger.

For more information or for tickets, visit www.centrum.org/voiceworks or phone 800-746-1982.

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Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at charlie.bermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: June 30. 2011 12:27AM
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