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If I could sing, I could eat

By Krystyn Hartman

Nothing compares to singing live with a band, nothing, so retiring from musical performance as a vocalist after almost 50 years was not an easy goodbye. My last concert was two summers ago, due to health issues, and yet, music is and always will be a major thread in the tapestry that is me.

From rock to country to musical theatre to jazz and big band, let’s just say I’ve seen a lot from and behind the stage over the decades. 

Live performance exist in moments and in memories — both fleeting, like the wind, only to be discovered and experienced anew, by yet another generation. Being part of a live performance, being present in those moments, is magical and, for some, transformative. It was for me. Every. Time.

If I could sing, I could eat. And if I could eat, I could survive. At 16 years old forward, that was my core. If anyone would’ve told me then that I would’ve been performance singing on into my 60s, long past relying on it for sustenance, I wouldn’t have believed it. From singing on street corners as a homeless teen to singing telegrams to night clubs to melodramas to big band jazz and even a symphony orchestra, I’ve been blessed, somehow, with a musical life filled with adventure and I am humbly grateful for every note, every musician, every listener, every sound engineer.

Music performance was never my career. It was always a side gig. In my younger days, singing was a vital income supplement, but as I got older and less dependent on it financially, I was unable to let it go musically, spiritually.

Music and dance, expression through movement and song, are ancient and powerful, beautiful and mysterious, healing and haunting. There is something delicious about slipping into a good old torch song like Good Morning Heartache or For All We Know, two of my favorites to sing, especially with a good saxophone player. We know the blues when we hear it, no matter the language of the words.

I miss singing with the big bands, the talented musicians, the horns, the dancers, the smiling audience tapping their feet, the sparkly dresses, the sense of community that embodies live performance, transcending our geopolitical and socioeconomic boundaries.

I spent the past decade and a half singing with a 10-piece big band, comprised mostly of music teachers from the local schools and university. I was the only non-professional in the band, but they were always forgiving and ever-vigilant at giving me cues when it became obvious that I was lost. The smirks, smiles and chuckles from the band whenever I’d lose my place or forget the words, were quite visible to the audience who giggled right along with us, some audience goers even yelling out the words for me, then applauding when I got it right. 

Live performance, like life, is about vulnerability, it is raw and filled with inevitable surprises. There is no opportunity for editing, no going back, no do-overs. There is only forward: missteps, forgotten lyrics, a missed note, a bee on the microphone, and all sorts of oddities that occur on and off stage.

For all its convenience and attempts to homogenize us all, AI, artificial intelligence, can never give us a real human connection because it is but a machine pretending to be a human. AI can never know or relate to joy or what it means to love or to agonize or to weep at hearing a particular song or sound.

Whether singing song ideas into my cell phone recorder or slipping bare toes into my new red Flamenco shoes, I sing and dance for the same reasons I spend time with my notebooks and sewing machine: Creativity is oftentimes the only counteroffensive we peaceful folks have to all the pain and destruction in the world. 

Live music connects us, reunites us as cognizant beings in search of peace and harmony and beauty, reminding us that peace is possible. 

So? I rebel with every colorful stitch, with every sassy step, with every musical note, and of course, with every Wild Word I write.

Krystyn Hartman is a happily married retired niche magazine pubiisher and adventurer who has returned to school in pursuit of a Master degree in Public Policy. Based in Colorado, she has lived most of her life in Western US states from growing up in a New Mexico reservation border town to the remote mountains of Idaho to lush wine country of California to hot Texas and windy Wyoming. “I’m a dusty high desert girl, a tumbleweed.”


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