Preview: Marley Howard’s Junior Recital

By Bry Woodard

Like many voice majors on the day of their recital, Marley Howard is guaranteed to have a bottle of honey in hand on March 4, right up until she is set to take the stage for her Junior Recital at Stull Recital Hall at 4:30pm.

Howard, a Connecticut native, is a jazz voice major at Oberlin College and Conservatory. She is stubborn, creative, chaotic, and extremely talented. She hopes to go to grad school to study ethnomusicology and the history of black music and gender. After that she is not entirely sure what she wants to do or where she wants to go. “I just know I want to be gigging” Howard commented with a reassuring smile.

Howard grew up with a love for gymnastics and started competing at a very young age. It was her passion, up until a career-ending injury that she sustained when she was 14. After looking for somewhere else to lend her talents and another hobby to pick up, Howard decided to pursue singing. “I always liked music and was in choir but it was never a focus.” After the injury, Howard started focusing on her singing and, after previously attending a toxic jazz department at another school, she found her home at the Oberlin Conservatory. Black American music filled her childhood home and now, she is ready to honor the genre, and her career at Oberlin thus far.

Now what exactly is jazz voice you may be asking. Google defines it as a broad style of music characterized by complex harmony, syncopated rhythms, and a heavy emphasis on improvisation. However, Howard wonders if “jazz” is the right term. She would rather describe it as an “idiom of black American Music that is incredibly layered.”

Although her program will not feature works from her favorite album “Live At The Harlem Square” by Sam Cooke, her show is chock full of storytelling pieces highlighting the voices and stories of Black Americans. Featuring the works of Claire Fisher, Llynette Coleman, Max Roach, Kurt Weil, Ida Cox, Charles Mingus, and Diane Reeves, Howard’s line-up is special to her. “I picked the stories I wanted to tell,” she remarked. Although she doesn’t have a favorite, “Barbara’s Song” by Kurt Weil which tells a story of sexual harm, is by far the hardest to sing. It is even hard in the practice room as the emotion that the song holds imparts a deep level of empathy upon both the performer and the listener. “It’s the hardest but it’s one of the most important.”

Highlighting women in both the concert and her life, Howard’s main inspirations are Abbey Lincoln and Carmen McRae. Lincoln, a jazz vocalist from the 1960s, like Howard was influenced by Billie Holiday, and her lyrics highlighted the goals of the civil rights movement and ignited a fire in her listeners. McRae, jazz vocalist and pianist, met Billie Holiday when she was just 17 and used him as inspiration in her own work. “Those two, but really all the women in my life” Howard remarked with a soft smile, remembering all the women who had helped her get where she is today.

One of those women is La Tanya Hall. Hall, an Associate Professor of Jazz voice at Oberlin is also a talented singer and Howard’s mentor. A key phrase that Howard remembers whenever she may get nervous about a performance is “nervousness is selfishness” which Hall says to her as a reminder to not let her ego get in the way of her performance. Additionally Howard would like to thank her family and friends that have been her main support system, as well as the fellow musicians she will be performing with Saturday. “They are all my friends and I don’t get to play with them often” she said, so the concert will be a really special moment for her.

As one can see, Howard’s Junior Recital will be one for the books, and a perfect reminder that although black history month will be over, Black stories and voices should be told and celebrated every month of the year.

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