Sundays with Guy Boleri (or, getting yelled at is good).

Photo by Charles R. Lewis

Photo by Charles R. Lewis

Just a typical Sunday afternoon with my 77 year old, cranky vocal coach Guy Boleri. Some days it’s enough to make a grown woman cry.

You’d think I was a beginner. I’ve written and produced two acoustic folk and one jazz CD. I’ve opened for and performed with semi-famous people (Sylvia Tyson, Shawn Colvin, Richie Havens). I’ve had voice training for over ten years. Why do I sign up (and pay) for this abuse? Turns out, I really need the help.

Here’s what I get from Guy:
Guy holds a mirror up. When I’m good, he lets me know. When I blow it, he tells me (unlike a family member or friend), because I’m paying him to tell me. I can see it on his face and, very rarely, in the tears in his eyes.

Guy knows more than I do. Guy performed at a piano bars and clubs in Hollywood and Northern California for decades. He knows hundreds of songs from the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s by heart. He sang a lot of them when they were first popular. He has forgotten more of the Great American Songbook than I will ever know.

Guy raises the bar. Just when I get comfy, he suggests a song I hate, or find too hard to sing. “Lush Life” and “What Are You Doing The Rest of Your Life” nearly killed me. I’m still struggling with “Mad About the Boy.” On my own, I’d coast on Mediocre Street.

Guy cares about the music. Do not mess with the lyrics. Change an adverb and Guy will be up your business in a flash. He can also magically tell when you are filching someone else’s interpretation, “What are YOU thinking?” Instead, Guy insists I strip a song down to “as written” then encourages me to improvise with my own ideas, not a cheaply rip-off of someone else’s.

I don’t study with Guy because I want to be good. I’m with Guy because I want my voice to stop people in their tracks, and shake them down, looking for any emotional spare change. I'm hoping for brilliance, craft, and ultimately, transcendence.

My “Sundays With Guy” is a start.