You could say Julie Andrews was my first voice teacher. No, I have never had the great good fortune to meet the marvelous Ms. Andrews, but I have been listening to her sing since I was a child and subsequently learned vast amounts about singing (and diction and acting) from her immense talent. So in honor of her 83rd birthday this week, I will sing her praises.
Singers learn first and foremost by listening. We hear a sound we like and try to imitate it. Now of course at some point we want to develop our unique voice and abilities, but an excellent way to start- to be inspired and motivated- is to emulate those we admire. And if the artist we are imitating has fabulous technique, perfect diction and incredible musicality, we are picking up on that subconsciously. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have Julie Andrews’ beautiful voice and sublime artistry in my head and ears.
My Fair Lady was my hands down, number one favorite original cast recording to listen to as a child and young adult. I knew every note, every word, every nuance. I longed to play Eliza Doolittle. Ms. Andrews’ voice was sublime- so clear, so warm, so musical. I didn’t have to see her to know how she evolved from a cockney flower girl down on her luck to an elegant, self-confident young woman; I knew by the way she used different colors and timbres in her voice to match her character’s journey. The acting, the emotion, was IN the music, in the diction, in the way she shaped a phrase, pronounced a word. This level of clarity and specificity is what we strive for; so that even without seeing them, we are able to see the action, feel the emotion from only the sound of the performer’s voice. It can all be there. Julie Andrews taught me that vicariously before I was ever taught it outright.
Camelot was also in my top 10 most played records. Here she was again, using her beautiful instrument and perfect dramatic instincts to bring to life another fabulously complex character, Guinevere. The petulant youthfulness she brings to her first song, “The Simple Joys of Maidenhood” gives way to the seductive playfulness of “The Lusty Month of May.” And then comes the longing of “I loved you once in silence” and finally the resignation of “Before I gaze at you again.” Once again, the musical, vocal and dramatic journey of her character is there without ever seeing her.
But when you do actually get to see Ms. Andrews in action on the big screen, you fall in love with her even more because though she is just as beautiful, delightful and fabulously talented as you imagine her to be just listening to her, now you get to see her twinkling eyes, sparkling personality, and the depths of emotion she can convey. Of course she is practically perfect in Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, both wonderful, award-winning (for good reason) films, but my personal favorite, and one very few people have seen, is the original version of Thoroughly Modern Millie, a movie from 1967. It is completely adorable and totally silly. And even in the midst of the wackiness, she makes you feel for her goofy, lovesick plight.
I love Julie Andrews and thank her bottom of my heart for her wonderful body of work and all that she has brought to both my personal and professional life. She is a true treasure of the arts.