When I worked with Bette Midler for a short stint in 2016, she affectionately called my Creativity exercises “drivel.” After all, she’s an industry veteran and a can-do professional. She is well aware that no one ever gets anywhere in entertainment without applying discipline. But sometimes the need for “drivel” surpasses work ethic, and even talent. I often implement brief exercises (like written reflection or drawing or lying down and groaning) as a way of getting in touch with the source of Creativity to bolster our craft. An intricate balance of “doing the work” and nurturing our inner world is necessary in any developing artist. I was joking with her when I told her that if I ever wrote a book on Creativity, I’d call it “drivel” in her honor.
Ms. Midler went on to win the Tony Award for “Hello Dolly” in 2017. In spite of her teasing me about my seemingly nonsensical and silly Creativity exercises, I honestly think that Bette Midler has her finger on the pulse of true Creativity. Perhaps she knew on some level that her success was already connected to the phenomenon of Creativity and didn’t need little tricks made up by me. Bette’s track record suggests that, once in a while, however inexplicable, the music industry collides with true Creativity, and vigorously impacts culture.
In the late ‘70s, it was Bette’s intuition that led her to lobby for “The Rose” as the title tune for the major motion picture, which eventually rose to No. 1 on “Billboard,” and she won a Grammy – over famous, trained vocalists and divas like Barbra Streisand. How could she know that society would be ripe for a poetic analysis of love? And one without a commercial hook? During the ‘80s, “Wind Beneath My Wings” peaked to the top slot of pop. How did a song that honored mentors, friends, parents, and leaders emerge smack dab in the middle of less substantial hits like the fluffy “Baby, Don’t Forget My Number” by Milli Vanilli and the frivolous “Wild Thing” by Tone Loc? How, then, in the ‘90s, did “From a Distance” reach No. 2? To society’s surprise, this song expanded the audience’s perspective to a bird’s-eye view of the collective, urging us to unite. None of these songs was a typical commercial love song, but each possessed deep meaning, ushering listeners into a profound human connection. We can assume Atlantic Label giants cared more about sales than connectivity, but what made folks flock to her concerts and deem her divine? Ms. M’s gold records not only climbed charts but, more importantly, carried relational correlations in our human experience. Knowingly or not, she brought these songs to the forefront of culture and passed them like batons to the rest of us. Not only have I repeatedly performed each song at weddings, funerals, retirement parties, church services and bars, I’ve also listened to countless others sing them. These experiences are the components that shape culture.
When the force of Creativity manifests in music, we are united, much like a ritual would do during ancient times. Living in Los Angeles, it’s easy to forget that before music became a business, it was a sacred calling. In the Bible era, the king would call David in to play his lyre and sing to him – there was no electronic music back then! Poets were history keepers and minstrels were revered. Music, in fact, is believed by anthropologists to be Homo sapiens’ original language. Before linguistics and the alphabet, grunting and vocalizing were all we had to commune with one another.
A trip down Musical Evolution Lane is just a reminder to stay connected with the function of music and the purpose of all human Creativity – connection. Intentionally reflecting on timeless songs that transform culture and that join us in a shared experience is, to me, a vital exercise. Some may think of these reflections as a waste of precious voice training minutes, but truly, these activities are the undergirding of our artistic endeavors. Music serves to hold us together as a species. Creativity exercises remind my soloists that they are not alone, that they are part of something greater. As a voice teacher, I straddle the great divide of commerce and Creativity daily, so I’m not scared off easily. Go ahead, call this exercise in reflection silly. Term it what you will. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, because the force of Creativity is at work, even when we deem it drivel.