Name: Kristin Berardi
Occupation: Vocalist, composer
Current Release: Kristin Berardi's The Light & the Dark is out via Earshift.
Recommendations: Rilke – Book of Hours: love poems to God; Yayoi Kusama - Infinity Net (The Autobiography of Yayoi Kusama); These two books are dear to me.
If you enjoyed this interview with Kristin Berardi, visit her official website for more information. She is also on Instagram, and Facebook.
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started learning instruments from the age of 5. Classical violin was my first instrument. I had seen an orchestra on the TV and asked my Mum what “that” was – it was a violin and I asked if I could please learn it.
I was always listening and singing along to what was on the “charts” when I was older. I’d look forward to watching “RAGE” on the weekend to see all the songs and video clips.
Music was always this escape for me – I would become totally engrossed by the sounds – I was not focused on anything while listening. It would enfold me like a hug. I was safe, I was allowed to feel and express freely. That is what music has always given me – and it’s what I hope to give others through my offering of music.
When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?
Wow – that’s amazing. I have met only one other person with this.
Music affects me viscerally – I often need to be on my feet, in order to move a little. I smile; I sway; as I said before – I feel freedom through music. For my creativity I need to have “space” – space to hear, to feel, to be. To listen.
Mostly my songs come about through my thinking about a situation, or I am feeling feelings and this needs time, and space. “What could this feeling sound like?” Or “what sounds would support this feeling?” These are things I have realised later – when I have had to analyse my work – they have been quite instinctual in their happening.
I have always felt things deeply – and been sensitive to my surroundings, and as music has always been my “safe place”, it makes sense to me that this is the place, that I process things.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
Looking back it is clear that music was my safety - it gave me comfort and security when I felt alone as a child. I was a very shy person from the age of 13, however I desperately wanted to sing. I started doing gigs at 15 with a group of school students and university professors in our regional town of Mackay.
However, I started to have troubles with my voice. I eventually had it checked out and I had the start of nodules on my vocal folds. The treatment then was to have 2 weeks of silence, and then to start speech therapy and singing lessons. I was using my voice incorrectly in both settings. My “speaking voice” could be a whisper or using “fry” and my vocal production had a lot of laryngeal tension. The silence for speaking was ok for me, but it was then that I noticed I went to hum or sing ALL the time and I missed it so much.
Through this difficult time, I had the deep realisation that I needed to sing, and it actually made it very clear that this was something I had to work on technically in order to healthily express, to continue to have this in my daily life. I also knew I would not take such a thing for granted again.
My “personal voice” was assisted when I was taught, in my Bachelor degree, about the “Speech level singing” approach. Engaging your vocal folds as we do in speech – so learning to “talk on the pitch”, and then choose how one rounds out vowels in order to make it a bit more pleasant to the ear (or not) was a game changer for me.
Before this, I liked my “singing tone” – my softer, “pretty” voice, but when I would sing something with more of a groove, I could not figure out how to “dig in“. Nor how I was to sound like me, and not a much older singer, or an American (as I mainly listened to American musicians both in pop and jazz at that stage).
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
I think having integrity, honesty and kindness are key to my sense of identity.
I think as a listener I am drawn to a feeling of rawness – of honest sharing. It guides me as I create, or express, as I cannot sing songs which I do not connect with lyrically. When you are in university, there are songs which you need to learn and perform and know for your degree. If the message was not true to me, I could not emote or express in my usual intuitive way. My flow was different. I had to learn to focus on another aspect of the piece in order to be fully present and honest.
For example, I would need to immerse myself into the groove of the piece, so to not be distracted out of the now by the words (which I may have found a bit “naff”).
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
To be honest in my expression. To keep discovering different ways to express and develop ideas.
As an artist I long to continue to grow and develop, as we do as a human being.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
Perfectionism ruled my life in my youth. I am a recovering perfectionist I like to think.
I want my music - my songs and my voice - to be of a very high level, however I do not want that at the cost of my connection to what it is to be human, or honest.
In my Bachelor degree I started to see how this drive was isolating me from others and how I would resent time away from practise, and not feeling warmth to others if they invited me to things, or “interrupted my practise“ to ask me something, and this is not me. It is not who I am. I long to give to others. I also saw fellow students loose their emotional connection when singing as they were so focused on getting the technical side of singing completely perfect. This was not appealing to me.
I had to work and continue to work on my technique, however I neer wanted to lose my humanity with it.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
I think learning violin taught me the importance of regular practise, and to take responsibility for the intonation. I also studied the piano and organ throughout my primary school days, and this has aided me in being able to accompany myself in a basic way, and also now my students. I also use the piano when I am composing mostly.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
I guess like many people this changes – and it is still something I struggle with. I do miss the clarity of my life as a music student, and an independant adult. I now feel like I am a juggling clown most of the time. Just trying to not drop the balls. I have two kids and am a single parent. So my practise is sometimes less than optimal, in my opinion.
What is consistent is this - I do a vocal warm up Mon-Fri , before I start the day. This is for a work day or an off day. By work I refer to my teaching job. On the days where I teach singing, I also have 2 hours where I schedule in time to practise / compose / explore.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
To learn a piece:
I learn the melody of a piece first, then I sing the 3rds through playing the bass notes only, then the 7ths, with the bass, and when this is more clear and I’m hearing my way through the changes I begin to solo over the form. This helps me feel more aware / inside the changes, and therefore know the song better and take more risks in the moment.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
I actively avoided collaboration until well into my 30s! I had been scared to see how my ideas could be affected, but what I found is that working with people who respect you and your music, and you with theirs, the ideas and songs will only be more enhanced.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
I think music’s role in society is to be a place where people can loose themselves. Be it a healthy form of escape to a good beat, or be it allowing them to feel seen or emotionally validated in it’s message.
I think art can be entertainment, or it can be compelling us to feel deeply, and live boldly. It’s really up to the individual.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
Yes – I think that is the incredible thing about art.
We can take the painful, ugly parts of “life on planet earth” and make it into something ... something of beauty even. That blows me away.
The songs that have flowed very easily and honestly have often been during times of great struggle or pain. These times also, if we are willing to trust the process, it can take us to new ways of expression, where we don’t just create how we are used to, or in the habit of doing so.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
I think to create something great requires great focus, practise, and for someone to be clear in their intention. It also needs you to be able to remain in the present moment.
For me personally, my songwriting and my singing / expression has allowed me to finally make sense of why I am the way I have always been. I have a use for my deep feelings and for my nature.
I feel music allows me a safe place to be fully myself, with my strengths and weaknesses. It is in regular life that I struggle more with my weaknesses (prescribed by society) and to find my strengths haha.
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
I think we are created to feel and express. I also think it requires great vulnerability, which not all people choose. This is why some music may touch you differently at different times.
We are beings made up of our nature, our experiences, our memories and our tastes and desires. Deep messages may fly by if we are not open to them. However it is also exhausting being a deep feeling human in this world at times.
I think to be aware of the ebb and flow of life and our own capacity of emotions is part of it all.