Aaron’s Radio Show

Episode 50

My Three Songs with Michèle Voillequé

 

Notes

Episode Notes

EPISODE 50 – My Three Songs with Michèle Voillequé  Welcome, everyone, to Episode 50. This is the 40th in our series of episodes called My Three Songs where my guest chooses three memorable songs and we listen to the songs and talk about why they are meaningful to my guest. Michèle Voillequé is a singer and voice teacher. She’s helped me tremendously with my radio show. We listen to and discuss three meaningful songs from her life, including “Dimming of the Day” by Bonnie Raitt.

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Three Songs

  1. Like the Way I Do – Melissa Etheridge (1988)
  2. Dimming of the Day – Bonnie Raitt (1994)
  3. Love Is Our Cross to Bear – John Gorka (1990)

Aaron’s Radio Show has been licensed by ASCAP and BMI to include songs from their repertories in performances on this website.

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Transcript

This transcript was originally generated using artificial intelligence ("AI") software. It has been edited by a human being, but it may still contain some misspellings, lack necessary punctuation, or include other anomalies. We are regularly working to improve our transcripts!


Jake:

Coming to you almost live from Berkeley, California. It's Aaron's Radio Show with your host, Aaron Gobler.

Aaron Gobler:

Thanks, Jake. Welcome to My Three Songs, where I play three special songs chosen by my guest, and we talk about why they chose each song. Today, my guest is Michèle Voillequé. Michèle is a singer and voice teacher. And she's helped me significantly with my Radio Show endeavors. And I'm psyched to have her as a guest today. Welcome to the show, Michèle, how are you today?

Michèle Voillequé:

Hi, Aaron. I'm great. I'm great. It's nice to be here.

Aaron Gobler:

Thank you so much, Michèle, for taking the time to be on the show today. And I wanted to talk with you for a few minutes about your career in voice teaching. And also if you could share some things about your various performances.

Michéle Voillequé:

Sure. The short story is that I started teaching children's music in 2005 and was singing at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley as a soloist. And people started asking me if I would teach them to sing. And I kept saying no, I don't do that. I just worked with kids. Then one day, I finally asked my voice teacher ... I said, "you know so-and-so you know, asked if I would teach them, you know?" And he said, "of course you should be teaching people ... you should be teaching grownups Yes, you should do that!" And so I needed a push. But that was 2008. And I work with all ages, literally, I think at one time, my youngest student was five and my oldest was in her late 80s. Right now that age range is a little bit more compressed. I love helping people sound ... what I say is sound like themselves and like what they sound like. So how to make a good, a good sound coming through a relaxed body. That just sounds like sounds like you, you at your best.

Aaron Gobler:

Gotcha. And I know you you worked with my daughter, Emma, for her bat mitzvah over 10 years ago, and then also are working with her right now, as she's developing her songwriting and singing art.

Michéle Voillequé:

Working with Emma is a really sweet opportunity for me in that, in that respect, in addition to the fact that she's just lovely and talented and a great student and fun. But having that experience of hearing the body in the early teens, and then the early 20, early mid 20s. Right. You know, maybe she'll come back when she's 50.

Aaron Gobler:

Yeah, yeah. Speaking of Emma, she and I went to a performance at at the church that you described before, I believe.

Michéle Voillequé:

Yeah, yeah. The Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley.

Aaron Gobler:

Yeah. Just just a few weeks ago, and you were in part of that program. And so it reminded me that you actually are performing for audiences. So can you tell me something about that?

Michéle Voillequé:

Yeah. Yeah, that was a that was a really fun program of opera scenes together with the Kensington Symphony Orchestra and sort of our first, well, not sort of, actually our first collaborative venture since COVID. And it was just a great time to have everybody in the same room making music again together, like, oh, you know, wow, this is a good thing. So as a singer, I'm basically a finely tuned bio weapon at this point in the world of respiratory viruses, so we're, we're, we're being really cautious. So I, you know, I test twice a week and I, all of that I sang this morning again, in the church service. And I've been preparing a recital based on a May Sarton poem called Now I Become Myself. And I don't have a date for that recital yet, but hopefully, before the end of the summer to do that, but beyond that, we're still kind of living week-to-week and month-to-month as performers. So yeah, that's all I can say right now. Walk by my house; it can be loud. You know.

Aaron Gobler:

So you, you are singing for yourself at home, you know, like sing like nobody's listening.

Michéle Voillequé:

Yeah, well, I try to practice what I preach. Don't you know? Yeah,

Aaron Gobler:

I do a lot of singing in the house. Emma does as well, and my spouse Lisa puts up with both of us singing; I imagine it's not awful otherwise she'd probably, you know, find reasons to leave the house. But if you had your choice I mean, you use you were singing operatically, the other day at this performance. Is that what you prefer in a public setting to perform? Or is there something else that you prefer?

Michéle Voillequé:

Oh, so I you know, I like it all. This morning I was singing Sondheim. And the recital program that I'm developing has opera, and Sondheim and runs the whole gamut. I don't rap. And I don't yell, don't scream, I don't do death metal.

Aaron Gobler:

So you draw the line at death metal ...

Michéle Voillequé:

I draw the line at death metal. Yeah. If it has a beautiful melody and a really nice poem, I generally want to sing it.

Aaron Gobler:

And just because you mentioned death metal, I have to ask you a question about that. I don't seek out death metal music. I'm not judging it in any way. But when I listen to it, the person obviously, who's singing it, they might need to rest their voice after they do a song or concert or something like that. But they are using their voice as an instrument in a way that they have to be able to not burn out. There's got to be something that they're doing a certain way to be sure that they don't just like destroy their voice.

Michéle Voillequé:

Right? Yeah. Well, we hope they aren't. But that's part of what's going on with death metal, is that there's a microphone there. And a lot of the kinds of things that you're hearing are effects with the microphone, and the breath. And that are actually not as straining on the voice as it might as it's not as strange as it sounds. So there's definitely technique going on. I mean, for the people who have a longish career, right, who don't burn themselves out, there's definitely technique there. Interesting. I mean, our vocal folds, you know, you've got, you've only got the pair, you've got two of them, and they're the size of your thumbnail, and we haven't figured out how to replace them yet. So it's really important that you be good to them.

Aaron Gobler:

Yeah, I hear you. Maybe there is a place for me in that particular milieu ... you know, now that I realize it can be done with audio augmentation, so maybe you'll hear something from me someday. And in that, in that genre ...

Michéle Voillequé:

You have many years left in you. You've got time.

Aaron Gobler:

Okay. I'll keep that in mind. Yeah, I mean, you know, you're never too young to start a death metal career?

Michéle Voillequé:

I don't think so. Yeah. Or opera? You know?

Aaron Gobler:

Yeah. Or death metal opera; there's whole genres that we, you know, crossover fusion things that we can create? Michelle, like I said, a moment ago, I'm really happy that you decided to be a guest. And I'm really curious, like, what inspired you to be on the show?

Michéle Voillequé:

Well, I love the idea of just three songs. And you know, what they, what they mean to you, you're a delight to talk to anyway. So like, how bad could this be? And just, yeah, the exercise of you know, like, well, just just three, pick three. And, you know, you and I could probably pick, we could do several versions of this, right? We each have way more than three.

Aaron Gobler:

Right. Because if you're really passionate about music, then you have sought it out, or at least just like take it in your whole life, then there are like whole types of groupings you could do of different songs; of three songs. So I'm completely with you on that. Before we get into your song list. Can you tell me how music fits into your life? I mean, I know this is what you do. A lot of your a lot of the vocal work is with music. But do you like seek out music each day? Is music in the foreground or the background of each day? I probably? I think I know the answer to that. But I ask everybody this question.

Michéle Voillequé:

No, I think that's a really great question. And the answer is no, I don't seek it out. Because it's coming to my door. And well, I guess I seek it out in the sense of, you know, there's a stack of music that I'm working on learning. And, you know, there are things that I'm interested in exploring, but I'm not like my father who in his work life would have, you know, symphonies on all the time, and he can hum for you entire symphonies, because he's listened to them a zillion times, you know, while he's been working. So, in between students, and in between my own practicing, I it's pretty quiet here. When my youngest was at home, she plays the saxophone. So there would be a lot of clarinet and saxophone practicing going on in the background. If I have to get something done that I'm not looking forward to, like, I don't know straightening up the house or you know, cleaning out the garage or something like that. I'll more often turn to a podcast than music. I've turned to speech.

Aaron Gobler:

Yeah. Well, that's, that's interesting, 'cuz it's sometimes difficult to listen to a podcast as background, when you are doing something that requires a certain part of your brain to process something you're doing, but when you're doing something that's, you know, quote unquote, mindless, like reorganizing the garage or something like that, then your brain can concentrate on what the person is saying in the podcast. So I totally understand.

Michéle Voillequé:

Yeah, it's and it's like company, like, I'm not, you know ...

Aaron Gobler:

Right. But they're not helping you. You can't give them a box to move.

Michéle Voillequé:

No, but they're at least, you know, in the room, you know ...

Aaron Gobler:

Like, Ira Glass, come over here; could you help me move that thing over there? Yeah. Yeah, that's an interesting idea, too, is that you do feel like like you've got that companionship, even though they're basically just sitting there in the corner of the garage talking. And they really can't help you.

Michéle Voillequé:

Yeah.

Aaron Gobler:

So Michèle, the songs you chose for today, because I know we're probably going to have you on the show again, at some other point for another three, is "Like the Way I Do", by Melissa Etheridge from 1988; "Dimming of the Day", by Bonnie Raitt from 1994; and "Love Is Our Cross to Bear", by John Gorka from 1990. So I'm really eager for us to both start listening to these songs, and I'm interested in knowing why each of them is meaningful to you. So let's start with your first song, "Like the Way I Do" by Melissa Etheridge.

Michéle Voillequé:

Let's do it.

Aaron Gobler:

Michèle, this was such a breakthrough hit for Melissa Etheridge in 1988. And she was only 27 years old at the time, you know, it never really hit it big on the charts. But it is certainly unforgettable for so many of us who are in our 50s and 60s. So I'm eager to know like what inspired you to include this song on your list?

Michéle Voillequé:

Yeah, it's such a trip to hear it again. Thank you for that. So I went to the University of Colorado at Boulder that was my freshman year. And I saw her in concert. And I just remember somebody I met in Boulder directed me to her. I don't know if if he gave me her album or said you should really listen to this. I think you'd really like it. And it was just it was just electrifying. I just I love the the passion in her voice which is reaching toward vocal damage, but I'm nervous as a voice teacher to listen to it. Okay. And just the, I don't know, the passion and the anger and the clarity. And the there's there's a little bit of a stalker vibe in it, you know? You know, it's a little bit scary. Yeah, yeah, I just I just loved it. And so I brought the song home to my family at Thanksgiving or Christmas, and I played it for them. And they didn't know what to say. They were just struck speechless. And I thought we could talk about the album. But we really couldn't talk about the album, it was very weird, kind of like, "what happened to my baby girl?" And then, a few years later, my mom asked my dad for a divorce. And shortly after that, Louise moved into our house, and I was already out and on my own by then. And but a few years after that, my mom felt and Louise felt comfortable saying that they were partners, and they're now you know, legally married, they've been together forever. But I think at the time that I brought this song home, my parents' marriage was already rocky, you know, and like, there was another woman in the picture. My mom and Louise met in 1982. So like, there was a third person, and another truth emerging, you know, in this relationship. And I think I feel like this song and that album, just kind of hit a nerve that I didn't know was raw, you know. So it's, it's a turning point kind of song as I write my biography.

Aaron Gobler:

And when you played it for or when your family heard it, or your parents heard it. I'll just say for me when I first heard the song, I didn't know that Melissa Etheridge was gay. And so for me, I thought she was talking about a guy. And then I realized that was ... I think, was like maybe the first song where I actually realized that when someone's singing about another person, it doesn't necessarily mean the person of the opposite sex. And a lot of songs are worded in such a way that they don't actually, you know, identify what the gender identity is of the other person. Maybe this is a naive question then based on what you're describing, that it was clear to your family that Etheridge was gay. Is that part of the what you're describing?

Michéle Voillequé:

I knew she was a lesbian. And I think I told them, and I think that might have been ... yeah, that was maybe part of it too. I mean, my parents are atheist humanist, liberal people, I mean in a very conservative part of Idaho, so it wasn't like it wasn't the first time they'd heard the word lesbian or had, you know, it wasn't that wasn't that kind of a shock. But I think Melissa Etheridge was certainly, you know, out and proud earlier than ... well, obviously then my mom was ready to be out, but then earlier earlier than a lot of people, she really broke that barrier down, I think.

Aaron Gobler:

Yeah, I agree. So we're gonna switch to more mellow songs than other next two songs that you've chose. And so let's jump right into the second song, which is "Dimming of the Day", by Bonnie Raitt. We'll give that a listen and we'll talk about it on the other side. Michèle, I love Bonnie Raitt. I've seen her in concert so many times. And just hearing the song, it brings me back to like the Mann Music Center in West Philadelphia. And she was the main act and she come on at like nine o'clock and the air would be still kind of humid, but there would be a cool breeze. And the sound was so sharp and clear. And her singing and her guitar playing ... so I thank you for choosing your Bonnie Raitt song and the song's written by Richard Thompson, another musician I really, really admire. So like, what a what a combination of talent right there. And so let me ask you what inspired you to include this song on your list?

Michéle Voillequé:

Well, I I wish I sounded like Bonnie Raitt. I came late to singing when I was in fifth grade, my fifth grade teacher told me to mouth the words ... the class was working on this, you know, big program of patriotic songs. And right before we were supposed to go perform it for the school district, she said, she pulled me aside and she said, you know, it's okay if you just mouthed the words.

Aaron Gobler:

Oh ...

Michéle Voillequé:

And so, I didn't start singing until I was in my early 20s. For when I was in college, I got dragged to a Community Chorus and talked into being an alto. And that sort of got me singing got me eventually to voice lessons and whatever and to where I am now. But when I think about that, but who I really wanted to, I would go to voice lessons and who I really wanted to sound like was Bonnie Raitt. And nobody's gonna sound like Bonnie ... only Bonnie Raitt is gonna sound like Bonnie Raitt. So I wanted to include it because she's just, I just love the emotion that she puts into the songs. I love the clarity of her voice. I love the variety. You know, the different tambor she gets with her voice. She's just really a remarkable storyteller. And again, you know, in kind of a trailblazing way, a woman who is singing about love and loss and vulnerability and death and like all of the things, but in not a wimpy way, and not in a way like she's hanging out for some man to show up and take care of her. You know, she's just ... has a wonderful presence about her.

Aaron Gobler:

It is really is a beautiful song. And songs are poetry put to music, but not all songs really feel like a poem. Like the way she's able to perform her songs.

Michéle Voillequé:

Yeah, I think that's right. And what I love about "Dimming of the Day" is, I think when when I was writing to you with my three songs, I think it's I said, it's like, it's comfort food. Right? It's like, it's like a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup. And what I love about how how Richard Thompson has constructed the song is that you I can make it work for anything. I can make it work for for somebody who's died and who I'll never see again, I can make it work for ... it can touch the part in me when I'm in the middle of a misunderstanding with somebody, you know, and I can make it work for, you know, an estrangement, you know, missing a lost love, you know, the one that got away kind of story. You know, it's just depending on the verse, you know, I can just, I can just sit and be in this great emotion of love and longing and, and the way that it's, you know, I need you at the dimming of the day. Just a reminder that we're all still on this. We're all on this planet. We're all here. You know, the sun's going down for everybody else too. And I don't know. It's just Yeah, it's a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup.

Aaron Gobler:

So do you find that it's kind of an elixir for you for a variety of things that might, you know, get you from one mindset into into another.

Michéle Voillequé:

Absolutely. And now I kind of want to change my earlier answer to like, how do I seek out music in my day? When I seek out music to listen to? It's because I need medicine. It's because the song is ... or the piece of music is medicine. It's definitely yeah, "Dimming of the Day" is definitely an elixir. And so is the next one that John Gorka song. It's like a vitamin shot. You know?

Aaron Gobler:

And if you had to, if you had to identify the first song, "Like the Way I Do" as some kind of medicine or food, how would you describe?

Michéle Voillequé:

Oh ... I ...

Aaron Gobler:

I may require all guests to describe their songs in that fashion. Well, I'll let you think about that.

Michéle Voillequé:

Let me ponder that.

Aaron Gobler:

Yeah, okay, what kind of food or medicine would that be? So that's a great segue into the last song on your list, which is by John Gorka. It's from 1990. And the song is called "Love Is Our Cross to Bear". So let's give that a listen. Oh, Michèle, that's really really beautiful song. I had never heard of John Gorka before this week. And I discovered, you know, he's got about a dozen studio albums plus contributions to like another dozen compilations. And I want to thank you for for introducing his music to me. So why did you choose to include the song?

Michéle Voillequé:

Oh, that's great. So I had known about John Gorka, because I would listen to KFOG Acoustic Sunrise, on my way to church on Sunday mornings. And there was always Rosalie was always playing a John Gorka song. But I hadn't heard this one. A few years ago, my uncle who is a great music lover ... you two would talk for a week straight, if you ever met.

Aaron Gobler:

I'll try to get him on the show.

Michéle Voillequé:

He emailed me this song just out of the blue and said, I think it was for my birthday. "And so that I came across this song, and Michèle, I think you need it." He and I are not close. We hadn't had a conversation about anything, probably for maybe years before that. I mean, like Christmas cards and stuff, you know, and like, I have a really good feeling about my uncle, Kit. I love my uncle Kit a lot. But we're not like he doesn't know the details of my life. And this song landed in my inbox, like, it was just perfect. It was absolutely what I needed. And I just I'm still amazed at that. Yeah, so this is also an elixir. This is also a medicine song. This is one of the songs that when I need it, I can't sing it because it makes me cry. I love the mundane. Like, "I didn't know how to find you" followed by "I didn't know how to touch that light that's always gathering behind you." Right? I mean, it starts out like kind of sounding like an apology. And then all of a sudden, we're into this mystical place of, you know, love and adoration and amazement. And I love the framing, that love is our cross to bear that if you're suffering, if you're sad, if you're missing somebody, it's because you love them. That's a good thing. As opposed to I'm crushed and desperate, and I can barely get off the floor because I can't live without you and you're gone. Or I'll never see you again. It lifts me up out of despair.

Aaron Gobler:

And is your reading of the song ... I listened to it really closely for the first time just now. And is your reading of the song that these two people are geographically or physically apart? And and it's they're just having to deal with the fact that their love is a blessing in some sense. But also, it's something that can't be explored further or what is your sense?

Michéle Voillequé:

Yeah, it kind of sounded like, it sounds kind of like a summer camp story, you know, where you just find like, you finally almost connect with somebody enough to realize, Oh, you're one of my soul mates. And then your parents pick you up the next morning and take you to opposite you know, opposite ends of the county, opposite ends of the state opposite ends of the world. And it's like, oh, you know, we found something and we and we've, we haven't lost the thing but yeah, we can't be together. We're physically Yeah, we're physically separated.

Aaron Gobler:

And you said your uncle Kit sent you this song without much context, I guess.

Michéle Voillequé:

Yeah.

Aaron Gobler:

So what immediately struck you about the song? What resonated? It sounds like something really resonated with you about about the song?

Michéle Voillequé:

Yeah, I think it's the title and the refrain, that love is our cross to bear.

Aaron Gobler:

And was there something going on in your life at that time that your uncle Kit could have divined in some way? Or was this just in the universe speaking to you through your uncle?

Michéle Voillequé:

So I for several years, I was in a folk trio. And we recorded two-and-a-half CDs and played around Berkeley and San Francisco and all around the neighborhood. So we had, like, two guitars, a mandolin, a violin, and our repertoire pretty much drifted and stayed in the desperation and despair category. If it was a sad song, if it was a love song, like we were probably gonna sing it. We were not singing like, happy-go-lucky Beach Boys kinds of, you know, and so it might have come from after hearing our first CD, thinking that this would be a good song, maybe for us to sing. But that wasn't what the email said ... the email was like, I think you need this song. You need this? So that's the only context. Yeah, I can suppose. But, um, I had already been divorced for a few years. He knew that. Yeah, I don't know. Maybe he's just just crazy intuitive.

Aaron Gobler:

That's remarkable.

Michéle Voillequé:

Oh, so I've got it. So "Like I Do" is like a shot of whiskey.

Aaron Gobler:

Okay!

Michéle Voillequé:

But this this song has that quality of like, you know, just desperate. Yeah. And if I had to give John Gorka a different food, I would say, like a blueberry buckle,

Aaron Gobler:

A blueberry buckle?

Michéle Voillequé:

So a buckle is the kind of desert where the crust is on top. So the blueberries are on the bottom. It's kind of like, okay, like a crisp. Only it's doughier than a you know, a crisp is more like crumbly on the top and a buck but that kind of a warm fruit dessert with cream.

Aaron Gobler:

Okay, now I know what I'm gonna Google next. That sounds ... I mean, blueberry! any kind of pastry kind of thing with blueberries gets my attention right away. Thank you for introducing that new confection to my mental library of different types of doughie things that I enjoy eating.

Michéle Voillequé:

You're very welcome.

Aaron Gobler:

So Michelle, is there anything else you'd like to share about your selections? Or like answers to questions that I didn't ask you?

Michéle Voillequé:

Oh, answers to questions. Um, well, I just want to say that I think I'm keeping to the theme of desperation, longing, desperation, and despair. Um, yeah, is the thread that goes through them? And also, yeah, a sense of home. You know, there's the childhood home, the, my current home home on the earth, and, you know, home through extended family. You know, that's, that's what I'd say.

Aaron Gobler:

Did you begin this list with that in mind? Or do you feel like you've kind of got that sensibility from the list after listening to it today, that that's where it's based?

Michéle Voillequé:

It kind of came together that way. It came together really quickly. And then I just all of a sudden notice that, you know, they're all from the same decade, more or less. Yeah, you know, 88, 90, and 94. Right. And, yeah, look, they're all about longing and despair. That's pretty consistent. Michelle, is there anything to add? No, that seems pretty complete.

Aaron Gobler:

Okay.

Michéle Voillequé:

So as a first pass at your exercise, yeah.

Aaron Gobler:

I really appreciate your candor, and talking from the heart about these songs. And being very frank in our conversation. I really had a pleasure speaking with you. It was it was fun. And I learned more about you today as well, and also about some new dessert that I can make for myself. And I hope you had a good time, too.

Michéle Voillequé:

I did. Aaron, you're, well, you're a lot of fun to talk to you. And it's a great, it's a great question to consider. It's a great, I really appreciate having the opportunity to think about these songs in a different way, as opposed to instead of you know, just my, my comfort food or my kick in the pants,

Aaron Gobler:

Michèle, thank you. Thank you again for taking time to be on the show. And I'd like to say to my listeners if you want to be part of the show. Start by going to our website Aaron's Radio dot Show and clicking on the My Three Songs button on the homepage. You can also sign up for our mailing list so you'll know immediately when a new episode is available. You can also find Aaron's Radio Show on your favorite podcast service, but the podcast episodes only include interviews and no licensed music. Before we wrap up this episode, I wanted to let you know of an experimental format we have for the radio show called "Dedications". If you're familiar with Casey Kasem's Top 40 show, he would read a dedication written by one listener, with hopes that it would reach the ears of another listener, and then he would play the song. I'm hoping to recapture some of that magic. So I'm asking you, if you have a dedication you'd like to make to somebody , please go to Aaron's Radio dot Show slash dedications to submit yours. Once I receive a few I'll begin making episodes based on those dedications. So until next time, keep your ears and mind open and let more music into your world.

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