Classical training responsible for Judy Colllins’ success
January 29, 2013
Grammy Award-winning singer Judy Collins is known for her iconic folk-music renditions of Joni Mitchell’s "Both Sides Now" and Stephen Sondheim’s "Send in the Clowns" from his Broadway musical "A Little Night Music."
Collins, who will perform at the Egyptian Theatre Feb. 1 through Feb 2, got into folk music when she was 15, a couple of years later she made her public performance debut with an orchestra with Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos.
Although she shifted gears with her acoustic guitar, Collins said her classical training helped with her folk-music discipline.
"The best thing you can do for a kid is to give them classical training," Collins said during a telephone interview from her home in New York City. "It’s not just about music, but about discipline. It’s about showing up and being able to work with others as well as having a sensitivity to the arts, which one needs in any career. From the classical training I had, I moved, of course, into the area of folk music when I was a teenager."
The singer said since music was a big part of her father’s profession as a musician, singer and radio announcer, she never felt she had a choice when it came to a career in music.
"I don’t think these things come by choice so much as by the fact that you have what it takes to do that thing and you get exposed to it," she said. "For me it really took, so there wasn’t a question about what I would be doing the rest of my life. I may not have been aware of it, but everyone else certainly was."
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Collins began seeing success in the folk-music world after she released her debut album "Maid of Constant Sorrow" in 1961, but it was her album "Wildflowers," released six years later, that exposed her to a much broader audience.
The album peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard Pop Albums chart and the "Both Sides Now" single became a Top 10 hit.
Collins said she mostly attributes her success to hard work.
"I worked at music my whole life and 95 percent of success is just showing up and doing it," she said. "The rest is unpredictable and impossible to judge what will happen when or how or with whom.
"So, I just take on faith the fact that if you have in your mind that you are able to achieve something and have an ounce of discipline or mustard seed of hope, you can manage," she said. "But you have to be willing to put the time in."
When Collins first heard some folk songs, she decided they were up her alley.
"I was 14 or 15 at the time and was able to find the things I was looking for in the towns I lived," she remembered. "I lived in Denver, Colorado, and they already had a strong folk scene and I got very involved in it."
Collins got to know all the singers and where the stores were that sold the records.
"I was always babysitting so I could make enough money to buy the records," she said. "I was willing to practice and learn, like I did as a classical pianist, and I applied that to what I was learning about on the guitar, so it was a natural, marvelous procedure."
Throughout her career, Collins has performed countless concerts, TV specials, including "The Muppet Show" and "Sesame Street," and has penned three books — two memoirs, "Trust Your Heart" and "Sanity and Grace," and a novel, "Shameless."
She also performed at President Bill Clinton’s first inauguration and is a representative for UNICEF.
One of her favorite projects was a 1974 documentary film called "Antonia: Portrait of a Woman," which is about Collins’ classical piano instructor, Antonia Brico, who was one of the first female symphony conductors.
The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, Collins said.
"I made it in 1972-73, with my co-director Jill Godmilow, but I paid for it and produced it myself," she said. "Of course, I knew the story and knew what I wanted to say, because I knew Brico’s story very well, having studied with her for many years."
The film examines the discrimination Brico faced as a female conductor, but also shows her passion for music and nurturing her students.
"I always wanted to help somebody and wanted to help her, and the film did," Collins said. "It changed her life. It turned things around for her professionally, and sent her out there again and she began conducting orchestras around the world."
These days Collins is still performing music from a career that spans more than half a century.
"I always say if somebody wants to hear everything, they have to come to every show, because it’s not possible to do 50 years worth of repertoire in a night or two nights or even one week or two weeks," she said. "I mix things up and try to have a good time with the songs. I change things around and try to do interesting and different things for me and the audience."
A few years ago, PBS aired a program called "Judy Collins Live at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Fifty Years of Timeless Music," which featured Collins performing with Ani DiFranco, Shawn Colvin, Jimmy Webb and Kenny White.
"When I come to Park City, I will certainly do songs from that PBS Pledge special, but I will also perform some of my new songs and sing some of the things that I’ve been working on," she said. "From there we do some different things and there are some surprises."
Of course, Collins will sing some of the hits.
"I’ll try to get in ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘Send in the Clowns,’ or both," she said. "There will be three shows in Park City, three nights, which means I will have the change to do a lot of different songs, and every night will be different."
Other projects that are waiting in Collins’ wings include a new book, a new CD and two TV specials for PBS.
"I’ll be a busy bee for the next few years, and if there is anything I’d like to do that I haven’t done, yet, is to take a nap before I go out tonight," she said with a laugh.
Grammy Award-winning singer Judy Collins will perform at the Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., on Friday, Feb. 1, through Sunday, Feb. 3. The Friday and Saturday concerts will begin at 8 p.m. and Sunday’s show will start at 6 p.m. Tickets range from $35 through $75 and are available by visiting http://www.parkcityshows.com .