Cross Roads

So, Friends, here’s some new writing. And by new, I mean just written these past two days, unedited; in fact, too new to know what it is. But.

I had a lively chat today with Dr. Marie Rolf at Eastman, and she said, among many nuggets, this line about practice and study and it fell into what I’ve been working on. So, here’s some stuff about Jan and Juilliard and art and me.

We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.  –Goethe

My interest in making music has been to create something that does not exist that I would like to listen to. I wanted to hear music that had not yet happened, by putting together things that suggested new things which did not yet exist.  -Brian Eno

She described what she sees today when she looks at me: unburdened. Over and over again, she said, unburdened. She layers this view with her memory of me, always working so hard to keep us stable, happy, to make a good family life, make good happy memories– but the energy and being it took to do this laid on me, and now, she says, she sees lighter, unburdened.

She asked me, do you think being in this marriage has anything to do with not being your full artist self? And we talked about it all, so much of what I’ve written here. We talked about Jan and the book and I said out loud, it’s about woman, art, and love.

We used words for Jan, about Jan, like pure, authentic, unburdened, clear, and how it must be true how unusual this is for an artist to arrive as this and live this clear thread through, unfettered. How my friend Amy believes this is not the usual for an artist but that most of us struggle and suffer and lug things of great weight (my words just now) on our shoulders throughout our lives. That it is a very special thing and unique and one-in-a-million to be completely free of this.

Of course, Jan wasn’t totally free of it. The sacrifice, her family, her husband, her children.

But that this pure thing is what I want to show people.

And to perform it, [to attempt to perform it] to put it on display through the what, when, where, how, is probably not nearly enough. [As she did when learning a new score, she internalized it, ran it through herself, this vessel, and it became another thing entirely. She makes it from herself.] I have to swallow the light, internalize it, give it back wholly from myself: [what is art? How do we make it? Who makes it? Why do we come to it? It to us? Is there only one way?]

There is not only one way. What is lost when we are silenced because we are 1. Woman, 2. Poor, 3. Mothers and poor, 4. Husbands/fathers who must provide, 5. Riddled with self-doubt and crushed self-esteem? 6. Imagine-less?

The meta [which is truly primary, too] as I do this, daily stepping forward.

Music is for everyone.

If research doesn’t inform and enhance performance, what good is it? [She believed.] (MR)

And I said, I didn’t get it before, but I have it now, I said to my friend Amy, with gestures, it is a seed of light and I’ve swallowed it and it’s here (as I palm my chest) and I get it. She was pure love of and –for this thing, and I get it now. I don’t share it. I don’t match its intensity, probably, for anything, I doubt, but now I get it. I have it.

And Amy said, then, as a girl, I couldn’t understand this love of this thing music, at all, but I could register and see greatness and that’s why I wanted her. I could see and feel and witness this love and I wanted it.

I said, it is not a book about one artist, it is a book about two.


So. Jan goes to Juilliard to become. She can’t read music. She hasn’t seen or heard but one full opera. She carries with her respect, awe, a winning disposition and work ethic, and love.

People can’t believe she is Louanne Ruetz’s sister. So kind, prim and proper. Pollyanna. Good to the bone. They don’t know what to make of her. But they loved her. Her peers, her teachers. She was essentially a teenager dropped down in the big city, but her talent was undeniable. She quickly became a favored student. A model student. From the beginning, it was obvious the voice was outstanding.

She is terrified. Self-admittedly.  Fear—of the city, of Juilliard, the singers, of all she didn’t know—fed her determination.

She believed she was hot stuff, and everything would fall into place.

She would work harder than she ever had.

There would be guides, mentors, host:

If you encounter a great teacher once in your lifetime, you are one of the blessed. I can count many, many, among them:

           Henry Brant [crazy crazy man] whose classes made me deal with improvisation, orchestration.

           Norman Lloyd [they would be friends a very long time] who was a very big part of her early Juilliard years.


Year One:

Private voice lessons with Bernard Taylor, a small circle of worshippers holding him up. Jan most likely went straight to him because of Miss Boyer. In the mid-50’s, he is rimless, wire glasses; slanted eyes; puffy lids; combed back white hair parted in the middle. Jutted jaw. [Strong?] Arms crossed at his chest in this photo. Severe. Serious. [He is also on his way out, an episode that will test Janice, but a necessity (fate, luck, chance?), for it will lead her to Kagen.]

Choral Sight Singing, perhaps with Norman Lloyd, who will have snatched her up soon after meeting her for his madrigals group. Six singers—Lynn Clarke, Bud Burrows, Barbara Crouch, Alan Baker, Ray DeVo, and Jan together on Saturday mornings for four years who would morph into the Riverside Chamber Singers.

I learned the intricacies of madrigal writing, the incredible beauty of Dufay, Lassus, Monteverdi, Gesualdo, and great modern, too, like Hindemith and Poulenc. This group repeatedly talked about such things as tuning, use of vibrato, and attack, dynamics, etc. Now these are all things you would certainly expect any musician to be dealing with as a matter of course, but the sad truth is that much of vocal teaching doesn’t address them at all. The repertoire is exclusively classics and romantic (occasionally a little Baroque). The emphasis is on sound, its beauty and quantity. The skills of craftsman and artist are separated. 

The Norman Lloyd Singers

Jan, front left, in the mid-50’s with members of the Lloyd Chamber Singers. Norman Lloyd was one of Jan’s first important teachers at Juilliard. Arthur Burrows is the fellow on the right.


We sat in a circle on couches, chairs, the floor, notebooks in hand, pens moving. Wine glasses at our feet. 45 minutes, sometimes much more. Writing. Ten women writing. Together. Two Friday nights each month for years. I was invited to be here. And this is where I learned to be a writer. Fast, hard writing under the clock, and then, reading aloud, unedited, un-critiqued, just voice and language and intent and passion and what this does to our sound, breath, body. Because witnesses see it. How it moves you. How it falls upon your ears as it hits theirs. And you learn what to keep, what to do again, how to write tomorrow. In community. Because of community.

We talked of form and voice and point of view and writers we loved who were doing it. We talked of evidence and fact and invention and what comes wild when you’re not looking. We wrote a book about it, three of us from this group, and sold it fast to a good publisher. People care about how to make art happen.



About dhaines54

Dawn Denham (formerly Haines) lives in the hill country of North Central Mississippi where she's writing a book about her mentor at the Eastman School of Music mezzo-soprano Jan DeGaetani and teaching writing at Oxford High School. Her work has been published in Poets and Writers magazine, Brevity, Zone 3, Literary Mama, and WILLA. Her book with authors Jacqueline Raphael and Susan Newcomer Writing Together: Transforming Your Writing in a Writing Group was the first book of its kind published in the US. Her essay Aleatorik about her mother’s death won the 2012 Solstice magazine Creative Nonfiction prize chosen by Jerald Walker and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She received an MFA in Nonfiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts, an MA in Rhetoric and Composition from the University of Arizona, and a BM in Voice from Eastman School of Music.
This entry was posted in Dawn's Journey, Excerpt from Book, Images, Reflecting on Jan, Reflection and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Cross Roads

  1. John Kramar says:

    These words made my day. Things were particularly rough at school. Thoughts of how Ms. DeG became an unburdened human being made me happy and gave me hope. Thank you, Dear One, for what you are doing.


    • dhaines54 says:

      Oh, thank you, John, for reading and responding. Knowing you’re reading makes me happy and hopeful. I am having so much fun now in every way: the continued research and writing writing writing.


  2. Meg Kerr says:

    “I said, it is not a book about one artist, it is a book about two.” Hmm, yes. I’d like to see more about this. XO.


  3. dhaines54 says:

    Keep reading, Lovey! (and thanks for reading and commenting here). I’m glad this interests you.


  4. Meg Kerr says:

    Is there a genre that mixes biography (Jan’s) with autobiography (yours)? Maybe “creative dual-biography”?


    • dhaines54 says:

      There is a genre or really what I mean is that I read and learn of books all the time where writers are doing this. But your name for it sounds just right! I’ve been calling it a hybrid of memoir and biography. I will share with you the recent books I’ve ordered doing this when I get them and read them! But two of my favorites are My Mentor by Alec Wilkinson and Mentor by Tom Grimes, both writers on writers: William Maxwell and Frank Conroy.


    • dhaines54 says:

      You’ve been reading? I see a spike in views this am 🙂
      Snow day?


  5. Pingback: Update | The Stream and the Broken Pottery: a blog by Dawn Haines

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