Joanne Connolly, Musical Director
Joanne was inspired to start Voices after attending a workshop with Ysaye Barnwell of Sweet Honey in the Rock. Connolly says, “It was amazing to do away with written music, and work together with other women to learn parts and create such soulful sounds! I wanted to recreate that experience in Portsmouth, NH. The response to the group has far exceeded my wildest dreams! These women and their singing have given me great joy!”
The Magic of Joanne
“Hellooooooo!!!” Joanne calls to us at the beginning of every Monday night rehearsal in the sanctuary of old South Church in downtown Portsmouth. She stands at the grand piano in front of the altar with her microphone headgear looking like Britney or Madonna with water bottle in hand.
Women from near and far and with varying levels of ability congregate weekly to fall under Joanne’s musical spell. Joanne believes everyone can sing, and puts her belief to work. She reminds us regularly to “sing for yourself,” no auditions necessary. Joanne is part Peter Pan and part Wendy, and we are all her precious singers together on a great adventure.
Warm ups are a very important part of our practice. Joanne invites us to sit on our “dragon tail,” and breathe through the pelvic floor, pushing the diaphragm down, making room for more breath. She demonstrates funny faces like a rabbit that brings the sound up into the nasal cavity, and takes the pressure off the vocal chords. She has us make funny sounds like when we sing “I’m Flying” as a warm-up exercise. Instead of singing the words “I’m flying”, we sang, “Vee Veevee.”
When it comes to introducing new and sometimes challenging music, Joanne is a master teacher and compassionate world citizen. The music she chooses reflects her love of freedom and justice. Two of the songs that we learned this past spring were arrangements from the “Songs of Survival” -vocal orchestral pieces transcribed by women in a WWII Japanese concentration camp in Sumatra. We sang Chopin’s Prelude in C minor and Dvorak’s theme from his New World Symphony, using our voices as instruments. We shared some of the same feelings of transcendence that the prisoners had. It was a powerful experience for all of us, and for our audiences too. I think it was the first time we got a standing ovation before the end of the concert.
Joanne stretches herself and in turn invites us to stretch. Lifting her voice and her arms, her energy and commitment open new doors for all of us who are lucky enough to come under her tutelage. Joanne has created a community of singing women, Voices from the Heart, two hundred strong. Joanne reaches out to all of us in a kind and loving way, and supports us to do the same for each other. She is our gift and we give thanks.