Sheila Whitney and ‘The Art of Love’

You can’t sing and be in a bad mood, Sheila Whitney says. Is that why she’s always smiling? “Yes,” says the Sonoma Valley soprano. “You’ve discovered my secret.”

Soloist for Trinity Episcopal Church and the Sonoma Valley Chorale. Whitney, classically trained, has written and produced seven one-woman shows that featured mostly jazz tunes with monologues, and numerous recitals of both classical music and Broadway tunes.

Her concert, “The Art of Love” is Feb. 12, 3 p.m., at Trinity, features classic romantic French and Italian songs. Donations to the Friends of Music at Trinity Episcopal Church are welcome, 275 E. Spain St.

Sun: You’ve named the upcoming show “The Art of Love,” (a grabby title, by the way). Tell us how you put the program together.

Sheila Whitney: The title just came to me in one of those inspired 3:30 a.m. moments. (I can’t sleep, so what should I think about?) An art song is a vocal composition usually written for single voice and piano orchestral accompaniment, often set to lyric poetry. Since most songs are about love and the date of the concert is right before Valentine’s Day, it was a no-brainer to sing art songs about love. I am recently very sadly disappointed in love. So, I am asking myself all those annoying questions, like ‘What went wrong? How can I change to make love stay?’ etc. I decided to use this concert as a tutorial. Hence, “The Art of Love.” I will sing songs about romantic love, of course, but will also sing songs about spiritual love and love of nature.

How did you get hooked on performing? Hooked? That image feels painful, like a trout in a stream. (No, I’m not singing that Schubert piece!) I’m sure some folks would like to give me the hook. But, what can I say? I feel comfortable exploring the boundaries of relationship. I love interacting with the audience. Most of us are emotionally a bit numb. When we witness a performance we hope to feel something… anything. As an artist, the more personal I can be, the more universal I am. So, it’s important that I feel my emotions while singing. Perhaps that is the hook.

You are classically trained, but well versed in Broadway tunes. What’s your favorite musical, and why? West Side Story. Great score, great lyrics, great dancing, great emotion. Its got everything. Plus, I’m half Puerto Rican….HOnee.

Who are some of your favorite singers, and how have they influenced you? Julie Andrews was one of my first favorite singers. Such a pure, sweet, focused, strong, effortless sound. I like Marni Nixon, Chet Baker, Kiri Te Kanawa, Irene Kral, Linda Ronstadt, Renee Fleming, Placido Domingo, Tony Bennet, Victoria de los Angeles, the list is endless. I don’t like ugly voices. I don’t believe something ugly is necessarily more emotionally authentic. I have gotten a lot of flak for that. I like pretty things. Pretty and powerful.

Talk a bit about the experience of singing solo, and then with larger groups such as Sonoma Valley Chorale. There is nothing in my life more satisfying than making beautiful music in harmony with fellow singers. I really appreciate my experience with Sonoma Valley Chorale. Not only did I get to blend with a large chorus but I also got the opportunity to have a large group sing “back up” for me accompanied by an orchestra. That is an amazing experience. Quite rich. At the moment, I love singing with a smaller group, Valley of the Moon Chamber Ensemble. Dr. Brian Sebastian leads us dozen singers on a sweet, intimate odyssey. I have to be totally focused on my part and also very tuned in to the whole. It’s a spiritual practice.

Are you a music downloader? What’s new on your iPod? No. I am woefully deficient in music downloading. I miss my son’s influence in my downloading life.

The ultimate gig: Soloist with the San Francisco Symphony in Samuel Barber’s Knoxville Summer of 1915 with Michael Tilson-Thomas conducting.

Favorite performer ever: Hmm. Hard to say. I can tell you one of my favorite experiences was San Francisco Opera’s 2007 production of Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier. Awesome singers! Great music. Great drama. Extraordinary performance.

Growing up, wanted to be: Happy.

Worst musician-inspired fashion choice: I think this must be a rock band driven question because Divas always look fabulous.

Secretly always wanted to join the band: A female jazz vocalist with Duke Ellington’s Band would be cool. Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, maybe Manhattan Transfer.

Best movie music: Probably some of that music written for Hitchcock films. The score for that movie, the piano, stuck with me for awhile. I think I was unhappy in love at the time.

Porter or Sondheim? Porter!!!!!!

Buble or Sinatra? Both.

“Glee.” Yes or no? “Glee”, Si !

– Val Robichaud
Photo: Betsy Kershner


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