Showcase: Rachel DeShon

Posted on March 12, 2013, 3:50 pm
7 mins


Seattle loves taking new approaches to old forms. Call it the pioneer spirit, the entrepreneurial spirit, or iconoclasm—everything has the potential to be reinvented. In the performing arts, our thriving dance and theatre communities consistently turn out cutting-edge productions, and a few local stars are breaking formulas in the classical music scene, too.

Dubbed “Seattle’s Littlest Diva,” Rachel DeShon is one such classically trained performer who is crossing boundaries. In collaboration with musician and artist Norman Durkee and rocker Martha Davis of The Motels, DeShon will stage a new spin on the recital form. The trio are hoping to surprise the audience with their creation, but DeShon was happy to talk a little about how the project came to be and the idea behind it.

What inspired you to pursue this project?

Rachel DeShon: Three years ago I was living in San Francisco. Walking through the city everything seemed to inspire me. I almost wanted to turn the dial down, it was so strong. I had always been working for other companies and their artistic vision, and I wanted to do a project of my own. As a classical singer, I have been extremely fortunate to have amazing mentors in my life who pushed me to think beyond what is expected and available. When it became apparent that I didn’t fit into any particular musical medium, I decided to create my own opportunities and not limit myself. Norman Durkee came down to San Francisco and we met and discussed my ideas for a solo show. He said he knew that this was what I was meant to do and that he saw it in me many years before, but I needed to find it for myself.

How did the project evolve over time?

Over the next two years the project had many forms. I worked with theatrical directors to see what other elements we could bring to the show. Ultimately, the story came back to the principal of a classical recital with only a soloist and pianist. Durkee and I wrote and interpreted many different songs and styles until we landed on the right mix.

The last year proved to be very difficult as Durkee was very ill and spent the majority of the year in and out of hospitals and rebuilding his strength. In the hospital we started experimenting with other ways to create music. Instead of reading from sheet music, I would find pamphlets in the hall and we would improvise a song using classical technique. Nothing planned, nothing said, we would just start and follow each other. This created an even stronger bond between us. We could truly trust each other and create an unique experience. This is something that is a part of this show this weekend. We have only lyrics and will let the song take us where it may.

And how did Martha Davis get involved?
Durkee has been friends with Martha Davis for many years. Martha Davis has been a part of the Teatro ZinZanni family for quite sometime. She wrote the lyrics for countless shows over the years. About a month ago, we looked at all the music and knew we needed to add lyrics. We couldn’t have a whole show sung on “la dee da.” We called Martha late one night and asked her if she would be willing to be a part of the project. She responded with a great big YES! She was really interested to write lyrics for classical music, something she had never had the opportunity to do before. I forwarded her the recordings the next day. We essentially gave Martha the keys to the car, told her she needed to find the car and then figure out where to go. An impossible task one might say, but since Martha is a genius with lyrics, she was able to drive the car to the most interesting of places. Martha Davis has a truly wonderful soul.

It sounds like all of you got to participate uniquely, doing what each of you does best. So what can you tell us about the result?

The recital can be a boring, academic experience. In college I did many recitals and they were always by the book, I never steered and always followed the rules. For “In Recital” we are bringing some production values using found objects, personal photographs and no significant budget. When compiling the music for this project, we did not adhere to any traditional classical recital protocol. We pulled music from different genres and styles. Durkee wrote new compositions. We improvised and deconstructed classical works. We are both classically trained musicians, so that technique is found throughout the work, but we abandoned the traditional soprano songbook and found pieces that suit our strengths. Recently, Durkee dove into photography and had a very successful exhibition at the Davidson Galleries here in Seattle. We decided we would also add this element to the piece.

You can see DeShon and Durkee on ArtZone in the video below and see photographs from Durkee’s exhibition at Davidson Galleries on the galleries Web site. “In Recital” is presented this weekend, Friday, March 15th and Saturday March 16th at 8PM at the PONCHO Concert Hall at Cornish College of the Arts. Read more about the artists and purchase tickets for “In Recital” at Brown Paper Tickets.

Norman Durkee – Musical Director Teatro ZinZanni Seattle from P. O’Brien | G. Miller on Vimeo.

T.s. Flock is a writer and arts critic based in Seattle and co-founder of Vanguard Seattle.