(This is the fourth of a series tracing Gordon County and Calhoun’s music legacy, leading up to the Smithsonian Institution’s New Harmonies Roots of American Music exhibit scheduled to begin at the Harris Arts Center, April 14. This area has produced musicians, song writers and performers who have enhanced and advanced all types of music. Numerous genres have emerged in the city and county over the years, from Hall of Fame classicist Roland Hayes to today’s collection of musicians and singers of all types of music, whether it is performed in the schools, on professional stages and in recording studios or, simply, for pleasure. Today: Contemporary/India Galyeon))
(Editor’s Note: The author is a professional singer-musician who has found success as a performer in New York, Atlanta, Nashville and other major cities. She is a Calhoun native who came back home and now teaches music and song at Calhoun Middle School. )
I live a double life – torch singer on weekends, wife, mom and teacher the other days. I sing all around, Chattanooga, Nashville, Knoxville, sometimes Atlanta. It’s a normal thing for me since I gigged professionally for 15 years or so and that, coupled with great family support, gives me enjoyment and helps to continue a lifelong passion. That, then, gets us to the reason for this part of a series of articles covering all genres of music, mine being contemporary. I was asked to render a few thoughts on Why I Sing.
It came forcibly home to me a few years ago. I had been working in New York, a different experience because, suddenly, you are singing not entirely for enjoyment or to fulfill a passion, but for a living. I burned out, completely, and came home. I didn’t sing for six months. Then, all of a sudden, I felt that if I didn’t get up and sing, I would go crazy. So, I’m gigging again. It’s more than a job, it is what I am. I have made peace with that and, now, I just want to enjoy it.
When I am on my way to a job, no matter where – Chattanooga, Nashville, Atlanta and, yes, here in Calhoun, wherever – I think to myself, I am so thankful to be able to do this and to have a husband, Hugh, and three kids, Ava, Adrian and Selah, at home who are understanding. To them it is normal for mom to cook dinner then put on what Selah calls “singing clothes,” then head out to work.
Hugh works for Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources and owns a business, North Georgia Food Safety, so he’s also pretty busy these days.
For me to pursue performing was a very natural decision. I’m from a very creative family.
They’re all artists, writers and musicians. It’s evident on both sides of my family. My father’s brother, Norman, lived and worked as an artist in New York City his entire adult life. My grandmother, Martha
Nance Chitwood, lived her entire life in Resaca and was a self-taught painter and designer. She worked with my grandfather designing textiles, beginning with chenille spreads in the 1930s. My mom paints and writes. My sister, Melea, and brother, Jule, are musicians. (I’ve been told my brother Bret can play the harmonica, and I credit him for my appreciation of The Allman Brothers.) Jule’s boys are working musicians in Nashville. Two cousins, Monty and Eben Powell, make their livings in the Nashville music scene. My dad couldn’t sing a note, but he was the biggest fan of music you ever saw. My biggest influence during my years at CHS was Sandra Silvers. She taught English at Calhoun
High and was an important instructor in plays and debate, among other events. No teacher ever was more respected by not only her students, but parents and others. She was interested in whatever her students did. She validated your ability. When she paid you a compliment, you knew you had earned it.
Everybody wanted to win her respect . . . she was a huge influence on a lot of us. Julie Leggett, the head of CHS Performing Arts and I, are both products of her influence.
I am told my first performance was when I was three. I did a Joe Cocker impersonation of “With a Little Help from my Friends” for my sister’s “hippie” friends. They say I was a big hit. Not that I crave attention then or now. That isn’t what drives me. Audience reaction is important, but what I enjoy is a shared love of music, of the song and its lyrics, and I love responding to other musicians. That connection . . . it’s very special.
After college, Hugh and I were newlyweds. We bought two one-way tickets and moved to New York City sight unseen. My first audition for a Broadway show was for the role of Grizabella in Cats. It was the day of the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center. The subways were all shut down and I had to share a cab with two strangers to my apartment uptown. Living in NYC was exciting, overwhelming, thrilling and exhausting. I always felt like I was living my life right in the middle of what was happening in the world. I worked steadily as a singer/actress and was accepted into the esteemed William Esper Studio.
I eventually landed a gig developing and managing entertainment for Bateaux NY, a Parisian style vessel in the New York harbor. It was there I was introduced to jazz. I played with a group of accomplished musicians every night and I credit their influence for taking my musicianship to a new level. I loved that special connection, the bonding with others in the group, knowing what you did was working. I enjoyed it there. New York is everything they say it is. You know, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere, the city that never sleeps, Broadway, the Yankees . . . wow, what a great experience. It’s a long way from North and South Wall Street to THE Wall Street in New York, from downtown Calhoun to Times Square, from trees and lawns and creeks and lakes to concrete sidewalks and the Empire State Building.
I wouldn’t trade the experience. But, then, I came back home, where there’s no place like, didn’t
I? Now, I’m teaching at Calhoun Middle School and I love it. As a teacher, the kids matter so much to me. Not all are super talented, but you can teach them love and appreciation for music. You notice things about them through music and what they seem to feel that don’t show up in academics. They can excel in other ways, and the good teacher, I think, tries to exploit that. I hope I succeed. And you know something? I think I’m beginning to know what drove Sandra Silvers.
Growing up, my idols were Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland, but now I mostly listento classical and jazz (and my nephews,The Medders). I still have my own music. I love to communicate a song to an audience. I love to be in the music with innovative musicians. I love it when the band refers to me as one of them, not just the girl singer. I think, at my age, it is so fulfilling to do something that brings creativity and energy to my life. And while I’m thankful for my family and kids, I am happy that I still have that part of myself. I hope I can do as well as my mother to recognize and encourage my children’s gifts so they get to know this same satisfaction.
All those things, then, are Why I Sing. And I take requests.
The New Harmonies: Celebrating American Roots Music exhibit is on display at The Harris Arts Center, April 14 – May 24. Admission is free to the exhibit and to many live performances. Other events will be ticketed at affordable prices. Call 706-629-2599 for details.