Erin Dickins: In Her Own Voice
AAJ: Your voice sounds very much suited to "My Foolish Heart" from Tony Bennett's work with Bill Evans.
ED: It's beautiful. I'll tell you what I do off that album and I'm going to record it for my next album: "We'll Be Together Again." It was written by Carl Fischer, who took it to Frankie Layne who wrote lyrics to it.
From left: Tim Hauser, Erin Dickens
AAJ: When it's just you and you're all alone and blue, what two or three songs do you sing to yourself?
ED: My first, immediate response is that I don't want to sing, I just want my dog! It's not so much that I sing to myself. I'll say that again: I really don't. But misery loves company, and so when I'm down, I pick some heart-wrenchers. Jackson Browne has a song called "All Good Things (Got to Come to an End)." That Jackson Browne album I'm Alive (Elektra, 1993), which also has "Too Many Angels," was recorded right after he broke up with Daryl Hannah, and it was the most self-indulgent, bummed-out album, but that's up there. The Tony Bennett / Bill Evans (1975, Fantasy) album. Another song that I really love and which comes into my mind a lot is a Gershwin tune called "But Not For Me." There's something about the way that the melody rubs against the changes that is wrenching.
AAJ: Getting back to Joni Mitchell, do you have a favorite record or timeframe of hers?
ED: I do have a favorite record and it's not what you think it will be. You're going to have to help me with the title of it. It's the one that has "Car on a Hill" and "Help Me" on it [Court & Spark (Asylum, 1974)]. She's an amazing, amazing musician.
AAJ: What did you think of her orchestral record, Both Sides Now (Reprise, 2000)?
ED: When you asked me that question about my CD having a themenow, Joni, talk about a theme, from young love to lost love! I thought you were headed there when you asked that question because Both Sides Now is one of the best themed albums I've ever heard. Her song selection is just fantastic and the arrangements are perfection. A lot of people don't like it because her voice is so shot, but I think it's a masterful recording.
AAJ: Would you tell us about the performing arts summer program you founded, SummerFame?
ED: SummerFame is a program that came out of a partnership with a great friend, Alex Handy. For about nine years, he and I produced great big musical comedy revuesand when I say "great big," I mean 200+ in the cast and crewevery year, to benefit Habitat for Humanity in my little hometown in Maryland. After the last one, we had cumulatively raised enough money to build three houses. There are no words for the feeling that one gets from doing something as passionate as music, what I love most, and seeing it help my community.
We wanted to do something ongoing in our community around the arts. At that time, there were many cutbacks in music and art programs in schools, so we started an organization called the Community Alliance for the Performing Arts. Our plan was to benefit theatre and to keep theatre alive: One of the biggest problems that Broadway has is wondering how they're going to get butts in the seats in the future because we are not engendering a passion for theatre in young people. If you don't inspire the next generation, the art form is no longer supported.
Kids are getting their programs cut in school, yet we know that involvement in the arts, the performing arts in particular, is transformational to kids: It raises test scores, raises confidence, helps them with coping and teamwork skills, and teaches anti-bullying techniques. It is the best thing that you can do for kids.
At SummerFame, we immerse kids grades K-12 in all three disciplinessinging, dancing, and actingand now also in film. We teach them behind the camera and in front of the camera arts and stage craft. They learn costume design and makeup, lighting and stage management. One fun thing we did was, in order to get our younger kids into Shakespeare, we asked them take a verse and put it to popular music that they liked. One of the most successful ones took a few verses and wrote a hip-hop tune for the verses. When we asked the kids to read these verses the first time through, they didn't understand the dialogue; but after we broke it down and they put it to music they liked, they understood it. They wanted to do more Shakespeare.
We work with these kids for a few weeks and they present recitals. Then we have a theatre company that takes these kids and gives them roles whenever possible: Some of the kids work backstage or get involved in other productions or workshops with local community theatres.
I stepped down several years ago, and they've now rolled our program into another children's program with the Avalon Foundation, a very active foundation in the area. SummerFame still exists today, and it's fantastic. I'm proud of it, and when you see the changes in the kids...one year, there was a girl who came in overweight, had no friends, wouldn't talk to anybody, sat in the corner and ate her lunch alone, refused to dance, and didn't want to sing. She was terrified. By the end of her two weeks, she had made a ton of friends and was a lead dancer in a number from Grease, right up front. I was so happy for her it made me cry. Her life had changed.