Saturday, December 10, 2016

Priscilla Vail, Singer/Songwriter, Tells Her Story

As early as I can remember I was enthralled with the guitar. I believe my love of music started in the crib when mother would clap and sing to encourage me to dance. Every time I was asked what toys I wanted, the answer was the same: a guitar. So every year I got a toy guitar and hoped one day a real one would be available for a child my size. Fast forward to the age of 14. I borrowed a guitar with 4 strings from a friend. Intuitively I tuned it to an E Chord and started playing it. One month later I got my first real 6 string guitar, learning some chords from my brother in law and I was set to go.

I spent the entire summer playing every song I could think of on our front porch. I should dig up some old addresses to apologize to those neighbors, but they never complained. Within a few weeks I started performing at local coffee houses and writing my own music. In time, my 3 best friends joined me and “Together Now” was formed. We had so much fun playing gigs and singing our 3 part harmonies. My guitar accompanied me to every function, even to school where I spent countless hours playing in the bathroom where the acoustics were excellent. I started playing the 12 string, familiarized myself with bass guitar, mandolin and the banjo and I even named my guitars. In time our group moved in a different direction and evolved to just 3 girls.

We played gigs throughout the D.C. and Maryland area, did some radio shows and started working with a singing coach who encouraged us to play our original music. He and a Warner Brothers executive put us in a recording studio. I loved the writing and the gigs, but studio work was repetitive and grueling, sometimes 13 hr days. I soon realized this was not a journey for me. We parted ways and I moved to Texas, working as a manager of a guitar shop, teaching in a local music studio and performing my music at local venues.

It became evident that my joy came from inspiring others. In time, we moved to Oregon. I continued performance and teaching but also segued into classical guitar. I found such inspiration from the Baroque era whose musicians created works for ensembles with such contrast and variety.  The consistent basso continuo provided the theme of each piece with a variety of instrument overtones of compatible melodies and harmonies!  I was amazed at the beauty of contrapuntal harmonies. Most harmonies follow a melody line by notes that are a 3rd or sometimes a 5th interval higher. However contrapuntal music is distinctive in that the voicings are completely independent of each other but still harmonizing. If you look at the notes on the staff you would see the musical notes moving away from each other in counterpoint before coming together again. It is lovely and complex. I began my writing my own music in that style.

The more I learned about music, the more intrigued I became. I was in awe that if someone loved a period of art I could perfectly match their taste in music by pairing music and art on a timeline, and randomly picking any composer of that era. I was amazed how long after these composers had passed, their music could uplift me so. I became immersed in the works of Vivaldi, Telemann and Corelli. One humorous experience occurred while I was undergoing a surgical procedure and under anesthetic. As music was being played in the operating room, the surgeon asked his staff if it was Bach. I piped up “No. That is Teleman’s Viola concerto in G major, 2nd movement.” The surgeon later recounted the story and thanked me for the surprise and subsequent laughter.

I found that I began writing pieces of music in my sleep and on waking felt driven to write the words and transcribe the music as I heard it. One personal setback occurred when a failed neck surgery caused my left arm to atrophy and I was unable to play. I became so deeply depressed. A dear friend placed her small harp in my lap for me to play it but I could hardly move my fingers. After some days of trying I was able to manipulate the strings. In time my desire to play actually began to be therapeutic as the vibrations palpated the solar plexus. The harp was healing not only my hands, but my soul.  Shortly thereafter I was not only able to play the harp, but also my growing collection of lovely guitars and instruments, and I felt it was time to turn to the studio again.

My songs were the expressions of many positive things, my code of life as it were, and I wanted to share it with others. They included gratitude for loyal friends, optimism for a friend with cancer, a reminder that our gift of life cannot be wasted, and it must be passed on to our progeny. It is a message that we should give our best to others, but be true to who we are and never, no, never, give ourselves away.

George Frederic Handel once wrote to a nobleman, “My lord, I should be sorry if I only entertained them,” Handel humbly revealed, “I wish to make them better.” Music can have such a profound effect on us. I wanted to produce just one compilation of my music that would give a positive message of hope to others because that is the meaning of music. Despite our challenges, failures and tragedies, in the end, we must always be hopeful, for music can make us better.

This is Week 48 of 52 Artists in 52 Weeks. Thank you for reading and sharing Priscilla's story today. To hear Priscilla's songs and purchase her CDs, please visit her website

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