Loire Colter is a very talented rhythm vocalist from Long Island, New York. At a young age, Loire began with the piano and by the age of 11, she was composing her own songs. It didn't take her teachers long to realize Loire had a special gift for music and she was eventually accepted into The Long Island High School for the Performing Arts. It was at this school where Loire started really expanding her talents by learning about various music genres. One afternoon, while working with her instructor Dave Burns - who was former Dizzy Gillespie sideman - she heard him scat singing and immediately wanted to learn this technique. This was an important event for Loire because now she is a world class improvisational rhythm vocalist herself. Loire furthered her education by receiving a Bachelor's degree in Music at Berklee and a Masters degree in Music Therapy from New York University. Loire uses a mixture of world styles of singing that she has studied through the years to enhance her own unique style of singing which include: Konnakol, Nigunim, Taksim, as well as jazz. Loire has worked with a variety of talented musicians and composers during her blossoming career, most notably Hall of Fame percussionist Glen Velez. I recently chatted with a fellow Long Islander about her career.
R.V.B. - Hello Loire. How are you today?
L.C. - I'm doing great. Everything's good.
R.V.B. - Everything's good over there in New Jersey?
L.C. - Yes. I'm in Montclair right now.
R.V.B. - Not too far from Long Island... not too far from your roots.
L.C. - Well you know how it is... if you're from New York and you move to New Jersey... there's a lot of stigma that goes along with that.
R.V.B. - Do they pick you out right away? I remember when I went to Jersey, they were like "Oh, you're from New York".
L.C. - Well there's definitely a different driving style. (Hahaha) I also got a lot of crap from my family, because I had to change my license. There was a period of time where I had a New Jersey telephone number, license plate, they were like "How could you go around with a New Jersey license plate?" They got used to it.
R.V.B. (Hahaha) You were born in Manhattan - I understand.
L.C. - I was born in New York hospital and the first year of my life we lived in Brooklyn. All of my roots are from Brooklyn... my parents... my grandparents... everyone were for the "Brooklyn Dodgers"... the whole thing. Then my parents bought a house in Roslyn. We moved to Roslyn when I was about one year old. I basically grew up there.
R.V.B. - Roslyn is a beautiful village - with that clock tower.
L.C. - I grew up hanging out there.
L.C. - Yeah, I wonder if it's still there? I haven't been to the old hood in a while. I did spend a lot of time there. There's a duck pond by library that we used to hang out at. There's a movie theater there - I think that's still there.
R.V.B. - It's just so picturesque. So anyway, because you started with music so young, were your parents musical also? Did they guide you towards music?
L.C. - My parents were music lovers - they were not musicians. There was always a piano - maybe even two pianos in the house where I grew up. Music was always playing in the house. I had a great uncle who was on the level of a classical concert pianist. He was also a lawyer. There definitely was a music link. I don't know if it was a genetic link or I just got turned onto beautiful virtuosic music because of him at that young age.
R.V.B. - Did he play around the house?
L.C. - I definitely have some memories of him playing but it wasn't regular enough to feel that it left a huge impression. It became more of a storyline - having an uncle that was a great musician - that there was some bloodline there. I really feel that my connection with music was so instinctive and so natural. Even my teachers quickly recognized that I was drawn to it in a very personal way.
R.V.B. - Did you tackle singing at the same time or did that come later?
L.C. - That came later. I started at the piano and then I started using my voice... because I was writing little songs when I was around 11 years old... in 6th grade. My voice wasn't trained at that point. I would just express myself through the song. I didn't feel 100% comfortable until I was in high school.
R.V.B. - The Long Island high school that you went to... was that a full day school, or a half a day there and half day in public school?
L.C. - I was accepted into the full time school. It was experimental at the time. It was the first year that they were going to allow some students to go the full day, and I was one of those students. I was very, very, lucky. For someone like me, the regular old public education, (haha) just wasn't for my kind of thinking and processing. When I got the opportunity to apply and audition for that school, I jumped right on it and I got accepted. Here in the United States, the majority of school systems are designed for the masses. When I got into the School for the Performing Arts, I quickly began excelling in all of my subjects and discovered the joy in learning.
R.V.B. - It's amazing what the arts can do for a person. It elevates everything about them. The creativeness and the drive... it's very, very, important.
L.C. - The classrooms were very small and the teachers were aware that they were working with gifted students. They understood that they needed to teach us in ways that were not traditional. We were encouraged to think about topics, think outside the box and have dialogues about. We would get into discussions and debates, bring the topics to life in creative ways. In this type of atmosphere, those same subjects that had once led me into major tune-out mode, now became alive and I could be fully engaged.
R.V.B. - What was your primary areas of musical study there?
L.C. - I entered as a piano music major but I was also writing music, so I got into composition. One thing that happened very quick was that I got into jazz. This was because of a great teacher that was there at the time, Dave Burns - he has since passed away. Dave was a great trumpet player, who played with Thelonious Monk, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie... He was one of the session guys that was on a lot of recordings. He also served in the Army band for a while. Dave was based on Long Island - and semi-retired - and just loved to teach. At the time the school was called "Cultural Arts Center" - and he took a job there. He was my first jazz mentor. It was transformative for me. When we would get into some of the jazz changes - and the standards, he would transmit a phrase to me and he did it through scat singing...dudn-du bee-op. I didn't even know what scat singing was when I was 15/16 years old. I didn't know the name for it. It was an immediate feeling of coming home. I said "Dave... what was that you just did?". He goes "Oh that's just scat singing. I'm just showing you the phrase". I said "I want to do that. That's what I'm supposed to do". He was like "Alright... yeah... cool". He didn't think anything of it. Then he started showing me stuff and said "Man you really have a talent for this. You can pick it up really quick... let's get into it". I just started getting into that in full-force. That was my first formal play with the voice as a rhythm instrument. This was rather different than the traditional path most vocalist's take. Dave also saw that I was also quite rhythmic in the way I would get into improvisation. In terms of the voice it was clear cut. One day I heard my teacher scat... and then I just saw my whole life in front of me.
R.V.B. - It's good that it happened because you have an amazing talent with it. Did you nurture your training along in Berklee College of Music? How were your years there?
L.C. - Yes... the same thing. I entered Berklee, and I was still writing but it was more blues, pop, and rock... singer/songwriter sort of stuff. I had classical and jazz training alongside that. There was a parallel life going on - in terms of my music. There was also the music therapy interest which happened for me very young... in high school as well. When I entered Berklee, I had a very clear path. I knew I wanted to continue honing my skills and my craft as a vocalist, doing scat singing and improvisation with voice. I also knew that I was going to continue my studies in music therapy. I wanted to do my jazz and my bachelors first, and really get into the jazz and scat singing. Then I would do graduate work in music therapy. I had great teachers at Berklee, Bob Stoloff who is one of the great educators in scat singing. He was one of the original founders of the "Vocal Summit" group with Bobby McFerrin. They do group scat singing improvisation. I took many improvisation classes with instrumentalists and also percussionists. I took some percussion classes as well. I even got to study with Giovanni Hidalgo for a semester. No matter what I studied, I always looked for ways to apply it to my voice. Just as many instrumentalists reference vocalists interpretations of songs as a way to uncover their most personal sound and phrasing, to make their instruments sing, I would reference instrumentalists in order to make my vocal instrument jam! Being at Berklee was such a beautiful experience.
R.V.B. - There are different areas of music that you mix in with your style... like for example Taksim... and Nigunim... and Konnakol. Did you take these styles and kind of meld them together as a gumbo for your own style?
L.C. - Yes. I would say that those are three very prominent influences... and of course jazz. I definitely spent a lot of time with each of them. In terms of the Jewish influence - I remember when I was growing up being mesmerized by the cantors in the synagogue. I had the opportunity to attend many bar mitzvah's and sadly, quite a few Jewish funerals too, this early exposure to the cantors soulful vocal cry was very moving to me, it is a sound that became deeply imprinted in my musical consciousness. This may have impacted a sense of comfort around music that wasn't mainstream or being played on the radio. Music that's sacred in general - speaks to me. I am sure this early immersion led me in the direction to other music's of the world. So, for example, even though taksim might be more from the Arabic world, there is still so much similarity between that and nigunim. Just as Konnakol is mostly known as a drum language from South India, the intention driving my interpretations are from a sacred place.
L.C. - You are... I appreciate that. I guess when you have a world full of influences - what do you do with it - and how can you bring them together and make music? How do you express yourself and make sense with it in a musical context?
R.V.B. - Obviously you play a lot with Glen Velez, and I find that with just a frame drum and the voice, it sounds like a symphony to me. Where did you meet Glen?
L.C. - I was a professor of Music Therapy at The New School of Music from 2001 to 2008. During that period, the Dean of the program had invited Glen to the school, and said to me "You have to meet Glen Velez. If you don't know him, you guys need to know each other ... (Hahaha) You do all these crazy rhythmic things with your voice and he's the pulse of the planet - you just have to know each other". Glen came to the school and did a master class for the whole department. I went, and we all hung out afterwards. We had coffee and I shared some of my music with him. He had been searching for a vocalist that could sing his music and had not really found anyone that could tackle it. Or come to think of it, maybe he simply couldn't find someone that was obsessive enough to tackle it (haha). That was in 2002 and the rest is history.
R.V.B. - You had a couple of gigs together recently?
L.C. - Yes, we had 2. We had a lovely charity concert on Sunday in Brooklyn for the Institute for Family Health - to raise money for low income families who have children with medical needs. The week before, we were in San Francisco and we did a duo concert there. We've been working on some new material. It's really a very exciting time for us musically.
R.V.B. - I understand you played Carnegie Hall, as well as many other famous venues. Are there any gigs that you've played so far that really stand out in your mind, that may have gave you a "Wow" experience?
L.C. - Yeah - It's interesting that you should ask. When we played at the charity event, it was a very small intimate space. Everyone was so appreciative that we played in such a small place. It wouldn't have even occurred to me that the size of the venue even mattered. The clarity of my purpose and mission in performing and teaching presents a very special connection with the audience and with my students. A few years ago I was invited to perform at a festival in Italy. There seemed to be a loss in translation during the negotiations. We had another gig in Spain during that period, so we were going to be in Europe anyway. All our contact in Italy said was that it was a "big festival." (Hahaha) It turned out to be a an open air festival for over 150,000 people and nationally televised.
R.V.B. - That's a lot of people.
L.C. - It's a lot of people. It's probably more people than most pop stars would play for, because arenas don't hold that many people. This situation was a phenomenon. The festival was called "La Notte della Taranta" and it's for the regional music of southern Italy. People come from all over Italy for this and it's an all night event - it's a happening! I had no idea that it was going to be this monster of an event. What was profound for me was that you can't really prepare for that - except just be who you are and do your art like you would do it anywhere else. What was amazing was the sound of that many people. I could have never of imagined the sound of a crowd that massive. The wave and resonance of it was like being born and hearing my first sound outside the womb for the first time. When I walked out on that stage, it was euphoric.
R.V.B. - Was it that different playing for that many people as opposed to playing to 25 people?
L.C. - I've contemplated that. I definitely had a different experience in myself and felt exhilarated because of the stunning collective energy. I almost felt carried by the audience. Just a week after that event, we went to a small town called Bellows Falls, Vermont to do a workshop and concert weekend with the great cellist Eugene Friesen. The concert portion took place at the church adjacent to the workshop venue. And it was just that, maybe 15 to 20 people in the audience. The concert was thrilling and the chemistry with Eugene, Glen, myself and the audience was one of the most musically poignant moments, something I will always treasure. Having come from 150,000 people into this quaint intimate space was the most beautiful contrast. I was very moved for the weeks following those events, finding myself deep in reflection, feeling immense gratitude to have had the gift of both stages. That week just seemed to round-out my place here on this Earth. I was there last week and I'm here this week and my purpose is still the same.
L.C. - Absolutely! I don't work in hospitals any more. When I started getting opportunities to tour and perform more, something had to give. I had to choose how I wanted to devote my energy. I put in a lot of years working in clinics and hospitals and doing a lot of one on one therapy work. Then I realized I could still do that work through group workshops or masterclass settings, individual coaching and performing. Much of the work I do with students I coach typically crosses into the realm of music therapy. I also do charity work. For me, the power of music is that it can go beyond the real-time connection with the person sitting before you. If I do a concert for 10 people or 100,000 people, I am aware that the energy and the vibration output has potential to transcend that space. There is a kind of inaudible sound that goes beyond the venue.
R.V.B. - I even felt the energy through the YouTube channel.
L.C. - That's amazing because that's a hard thing for us to get our heads around. What happens live in our music is so difficult to translate any other way. The overtones and multidimensionality of the acoustic sphere is greatly diluted.
R.V.B. - Music in general is always better to see live.
L.C. - Absolutely. I want to believe that there really is that possibility to go beyond yourself and beyond the stage... out of the microcosm and into the macro. But then on a very basic level, it is a remarkable wonder to see music in action. I think there is a shared universal understanding about the therapeutic value of music in our lives. Music may uplift someone's spirits during a concert, or a ritual, just as music can be an effective clinical tool in medical settings.
I have worked with people who have had strokes- who had become aphasic, lost their ability to speak. I would use rhythm and scat syllables - in a clinical way - engage them into singing words again, which I would gradually slow down the singing speed into the speed of speech. New neurotransmitters would develop and they could learn how to speak again. It's just incredible.
R.V.B. - It's amazing what music can do.
L.C. - Yeah! When I started out with music therapy, nobody knew what that was. It wasn't a household name. It was still kind of a new age idea. It was like "You're gonna be what???". Now you can't pick up the New York Times without there being an article about music and the brain. It's just beautiful to me, how far the field has come.
R.V.B. - Now you and Glen work very well as a duo, and you often expand with musicians like Nina Stern and Chitravina Ravikiran. You're branching out and you're adding other instruments. Do you have any plans on doing more of that exploration?
L.C. - We're in the middle of making two separate recordings- a trio with Nina Stern and a trio with Chitravina Ravikiran. For the last couple of months we've been in the studio. They're both very exciting groundbreaking collaborations. With Nina, we're doing some remarkable arrangements of Medieval music. I get to do my Rhythm Vocalist style in that genre, which hasn't been done before... to be scat singing and using South Indian Konnakol, and Taksim, in this context.. it's very exciting. We're also creating a lot of original music with Chitravina Ravikiran. I'm also involved with the "New Music" scene. I've been in a show for the last few years called "The News" composed by a great Dutch composer named Jacob TV. The premiere was in 2012. THE NEWS is a multimedia techo-pop opera. Some refer to it as "avant-pop." My role has been as featured soloist and the composer wrote my part around my original style. The Long Beach Opera is producing the next edition this year in June- so I'll be in California for the month of June. The music is original and parts of the score are reminiscent of that awesome Frank Zappa sound. The film and lyrical content is about the news from around the world. It's kind of a video montage with a retro feel, the press often draws a link to the Andy Warhol style - but it's really its own thing and so much more. I often sing in speech grooves with the same effect that would typically be manipulated with electronics and sampling. When the composer heard what I do live he said, "You can do what I composed digitally. You could actually perform it". (Hahaha) We started working together and collaborating. I found a kindred spirit in Jacob and it has been a joy working with him. I've done many shows since 2012, and we've toured a lot in Europe. I'm sorry we didn't meet sooner- we did a concert version of the show at the Met Museum last year, I would have invited you!
R.V.B. - I'll have to get out and see it. I obtained the CD of yours "Breathing Rhythms" and it immediately caught my ear. I also played it for my wife and my daughter and I went "You have to hear this". It's great that you are Long Island bred and raised and the people here should know more about you. There is a Long Island Music Hall of Fame here and I may be jumping the gun because your career is still ongoing.
L.C. - I'm just getting started. (Hahaha)
R.V.B. - You have something very unique and unusual... beautiful sounding, and the sky's the limit.
L.C. - Thank you so much for your quality listening and feedback. I also appreciate your interest to let my fellow Long Islanders know about my work!
R.V.B. - The hub of the area is still Manhattan and it's a good thing that you're on the east coast in the Tri-state area. I wanted to ask you about your singing. Did it take time to develop the speed of your scatting?
L.C. - Yes. The speed of it comes from practicing this rhythm language very slow. The method I have developed is influenced by V bird formations, along with my study of the Glen Velez Handance Method. I also use the traditional clapping patterns from South India, which is an equal part of the vocal art-form. I indicate the pulse and the time cycle through the clapping patterns (or through Handance stepping) while playing around with the rhythm language, embodying the syllables and forming a personal bond with them. The syllables were designed to go unimaginably fast or very slow. That's the magic of the syllables. There is a mysterious quality to KTTKTRKTTK... (she sings fast scat)... if you slow that down - "Ki- Ta- Ta- Ka- Ta- Ri- Ki- Ta- Ta- Ka-"And, you hear is at that very slow speed, it doesn't seem that it is the same phrase you heard fast. They were designed in such a way that when you really spent time with it, and emphasize and embody how the phrases relate to the pulse, they just seem to flow. The speed is not really the art... the art of it, is the synchronization... the way that the breath and pulse come together. If I indicate the time cycle (the pulse), the syllables automatically get energized. They have a different meaning. They don't just exist on their own. They now exist in a relationship to time. Another aspect of Konnakol, by the way also referred to as Solkatu, is that singing the syllables are are so much just fun! We don't have strong associations to the syllables, and this can free us from the constraints of thought activity during music making and move us into a heightened feeling state more conducive to creativity and steadiness to the pulse. Then there is my own sheer passion and love of it. When you love something this much, you just want to hang out with it, a lot. (Hahaha)
R.V.B. - I think the whole sound and the aura that you're projecting is entrancing, mesmerizing and therapeutic. I thank you for taking this time with me.
L.C. - Thank you for taking the time to want to learn about what I'm doing. That means a lot to me.
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
This interview and it's content may not be reproduced in any part of form without permission from this site.
For more information on Loire Cotler visit her website. www.rhythmvocalist.com
Photo credits: Marco Borggreve, Jenna Clark, Alex Amengual, Steve Hockstein, Christian Wurm, Stefan Lillig, Robert von Bernewitz.
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