Jun 28 2011
This week, I’m super excited to have Concert/Recording Artist and Singer/Songwriter Joy Katzen-Guthrie as my guest. Joy is a multi-faceted woman with quite a diverse background.
Welcome, Joy. It’s a pleasure to meet you. You are indeed a woman of many talents and eclectic endeavors. Let me start with your music. How would you describe it to someone you just met, like me?
Thank you so much, Molly, for your gracious invitation to this interview. They say artists should describe their work in one sentence. HA! That’s the greatest challenge for an artist! I would tell you I create music to empower, transform, and inspire insight into self worth. I see that music as beyond genre, with an intention to soothe, heal, uplift — kind of like emotionally massaging the listener’s mind with a feeling of well being. This week, someone called me after receiving a gift of one of my CDs. She mentioned she is chronically high strung — but since listening, she’s never been so relaxed. This is a comment I hear often. My lyrics are about becoming, discovering, sharing common life experiences, connection to a higher power within.
Please, tell us about the evolution of music in your life, how you have evolved as an artist, and where you want to go?
I began creating melodies at the piano at age four. When I heard music then, I could see the progression of pitches in my head and know where they were in relation to one another. At five, I began lessons, continuing that study through college. The challenge of my life then was stage fright. I would become terror-stricken in front of an audience. It took much perseverance to overcome it. From Stephens College, I went on to receive a B.F.A. in Piano Performance and a B.A. in Broadcast Communications, the latter of which I expected would earn my living, as I loved and excelled at speaking. But within two years of working in radio, I switched career paths to music. My husband, a retired broadcast engineer, and I have operated Tune-of-the-Century Music® with professional recording studios, entertainment, broadcast integration & sound reinforcement services since 1983.
How different is your life now from where a ten-year-old Joy thought she’d be or wanted to be today?
The ten-year-old never could have imagined all the ways in which I would express. As a child, I envisioned a classical concert career, but my life came to merge speaking, writing, and performing into a unique concert experience that encompasses many genres of music. The ten-year-old never imagined the healing, positive genres within which I write, which were inspired through working as a cantorial vocalist and then within Unity congregations. The ten-year-old never imagined teaching, which I have done for a decade for Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) courses in musical theatre, cinema scores, comedy and satire, American popular songbook, sound healing, Eastern faiths, Jewish interest, and much more. These courses combine my interests as writer, speaker, researcher, historian, performer, teacher, composer, and observer of life.
How have you dealt with the frustrations and seeming setbacks of working in the entertainment business/music industry?
Rejection is frequent and sometimes the attacks are barbed. It feels personal; after all, I am the product. I devoted some ten years to the pursuit of a contract with a major label or publisher. The rejection was murderous. On one occasion, I walked down Music Row asking myself why I was still going through this pain, why I didn’t just quit writing songs and take a job behind a desk in some music office somewhere instead? As I asked the question, I felt like someone punched me in the gut. I remember almost doubling over from the force of it. I thought to myself: Oh I get it: I have no idea what pain is until I give up music because there could be no pain greater than that.
What are the challenges of operating/building your own business?
I had to learn where my music fit and what I wanted to do with it. I became the record label, the distributor, the promoter. The greatest compliment I am given is those who purchase my recordings who love them so much they share them with others. My “I Bless My Body” healing card/CD is often purchased in multiple copies. One individual purchased 80 copies to gift. Others have purchased 10, 20, 30 copies each, many purchase several the first time they see or hear it. What an amazing acknowledgement that is.
I watched the Tony Awards, and am continually amazed at the number of entities who come together to create one project. All are connected within a common intention, each equally passionate about the success and remarkability of that project. This is the difference between a business that thinks small and one that thinks monumentally. I would like to be creating recordings, stage productions, and performances of that scale of monumental vision.
From a physical and logistical standpoint, running one’s own business leaves one with little time off. It is magnificent to both take the blame and stake the claim. If there are improvements to be made, one has the power to act, and if there are accomplishments, one is able to acknowledge oneself for them. But there is a feeling that letting go, even for short periods, places the business in peril. Physically and emotionally it is wearing, but the benefits far outweigh the downside.
People I meet have such a different take on what it’s like to work in the entertainment business. Some push their kids head first into it, while others say “No way.” Any thoughts you’d like to share? Advice?
In the early ‘80s as I began my music career, I was informed by someone in the business that “Nobody gets out without becoming a drug addict or losing all his money, and NO marriage can survive the business!” The assumption is that people in the entertainment business are drug addicts, corrupt, greedy, unreliable — yet I have enjoyed a healthy, abundant 30-year career, a fulfilling 28-year marriage … and plenty of rejection and heartache. Today, I feel increasingly connected to scores of fans and to warmhearted, creative music visionaries I admire. Frankly, I HAVE known corrupt and unreliable people and addicts — in every line of work. The profession is neither good nor bad. One’s attitude creates one’s experience of it.
If it is someone’s gift to bring creative expression to the world, it is a travesty to discourage that individual from expressing it. That said, turning one’s art into a business often means never again being able to experience it without analyzing it. Creating for fun and innocence is a thing of the past. I would further warn that to successfully conduct a business in the arts, one must have the ability to ascertain financial needs and constraints of one’s artistry and audience. The artist often tries to be all things to all people. There are billions of people speaking to specific segments of the population. Let those who understand their segment best speak to them. Focus on your own experience and wisdom, ascertain the audience that will connect with your message and your outlook, create for them and be authentic to your own beliefs. If you can do this, you are guaranteed a profound, beneficial artistic career.
(Joy in 1982 as a talk radio executive producer)
In the past several years, you have led Heritage tours, leading groups of people to remote areas of the globe to discover their unique Jewish heritage, in places where one would never expect Jews to have thrived. This sounds fascinating. How did this begin?
Indeed it IS fascinating, one of those out-of-the-blue opportunities. I was recommended to Regent China Tours as a potential scholar-in-residence and Jewish Heritage tour creator, which led me to the astonishing discovery of ancient Jewish travelers, refugees, and adventurers of the Silk Road who were welcomed and invited to create thriving communities in China, never experiencing intolerance or persecution from their hosts. Modern Shanghai, likewise, welcomed some 30,000 Jewish refugees from pogroms of Eastern Europe, the Russian Revolution, and the Holocaust.
(Great Wall, Beijing: first group tour)
I created and led six tours to differing regions of China from 2000-2008 and created Jewish heritage tours to Alaska, Australia/New Zealand, Argentina. I developed a web presence of these communities, with links to thousands of sources and hundreds of my own photographs. I have become a frequent lecturer on Jewish China and remote Jewish communities and have gone on to study of Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism. My life has been enriched immeasurably through experiences in and study of the East.
You recently portrayed novelist Edna Ferber in an original dramatic work that you co-wrote with former St. Petersburg playwright Jan Taylor. What inspired this project? Have you ever done anything like this before?
Actually, Molly, I had never done anything like this. Playwright Jan Taylor asked me to portray Edna Ferber … Magic or Madness?, a one-woman dramatization she wrote. Jan’s script melded remarks from Edna’s two autobiographies as well as her letters and other writings. I was fascinated by the breadth of her work — from her short stories of the early 20th century that portrayed career women dedicated to their work and independence, to brilliant novels like So Big, Cimarron, and Giant, to theatrical comedies created with George S. Kaufman, such as Dinner At Eight, Stage Door, and The Royal Family. And there was Show Boat, arguably the most hailed work of her career. Though only 5’3”, Edna was a BIG woman.
We presented a number of shows for OLLI and were delighted with the accolades. Jan asked me to take over the project entirely, and for production earlier this year, I expanded it from one to two hours to further capture the character and life of this amazing woman. Ferber was fiercely strong, courageous, brilliant — an individual of the highest standard of professionalism and artistic honesty. Her writing was among America’s finest in the 20th century. I cannot tell you where this production will next arise, but I feel certain that more will come of it. I desire to take it to a far more visible level, to honor Edna’s life through it, and to experience many more times the joy of presenting it.
(Joy as Edna Ferber)
What projects are you working on now?
“I Bless My Body” is the first of a line of inspirational card/CD’s, each with songs, lyrics, photographs, guided meditation of a specific theme of gratitude, forgiveness, grief/loss, family love, holidays. Also in progress now are new collections of original positive music, Hebrew music, lectures on The Jews of China, historical American songs and songs of the popular American songbook.
You have one of the most amazing websites I’ve seen. You are certainly a can-do, have-done, will-be-doing woman. Live musical concerts from the piano, music-related lectures and classes, Heritage Tours, Tune-of-the-Century Music, Voice Over Artist, — wow. How did you come to diversify on such a grand scale?
I chuckle over the contrast of what I thought I would create and where life led me. Even as a kid I was interested in many things historical, cultural, musical, artistic, theatrical, literary, even scientific. I find much of almost everything fascinating. Life gave me the opportunities for discovery and the ability to put all that together. We have a specific vision of what we can and should do that limits us. Be open. Each experience creates a ripple effect, and how far it goes we do not know. From even the most far-flung possibilities are opportunities for unimaginable joy.
(Joy and her mom)
What kind of music do you listen to when you are not working on your own?
I love early jazz, Dixieland, swing, also the work of independent singer/songwriters and instrumentalists. A favorite that comes to mind is the amazing composer/pianist Paul Sullivan, whose recordings make me feel I can fly. Reflective, meditative, positive music is a favorite. Lately I’ve been on an oldies kick of obscure tunes from the ‘50’s, ‘60’s, ‘70’s. Classic rock from The Who, Yes, Led Zeppelin, ELP, Queen. Classical solo instruments, baroque, music of the impressionists. Pretty eclectic stuff, like the music I create.
What do you know now that you wish you knew five years ago?
Don’t take it seriously.
Don’t take it personally.
Select an intention — not a goal. A goal is what you feel you need to DO. An intention is what you want to BE and to CREATE.
What do you hope to know in five years that you don’t know now?
The thrill of performing with full orchestra, seeing my videos go viral, enjoying a world tour, hearing concert audiences joyously singing the lyrics of my songs.
I’ve been forever called picky, but I maintain that we’re all picky creatures. What are you picky about?
Over the years, I have refused to create or release something because I picked at it, felt it was not quite ready. In cases, I reluctantly released something because I felt I had no choice but to let it go. I am aware now that if I’m going to hold off doing or sharing something until there are no flaws, I’ll never do or share anything. Sometimes the best recordings and performances come out of the process of just letting go.
Any parting words for the masses? Where can the peeps connect with you?
I love meeting people online. Check out my website, hear the music on CD Baby, Amazon, iTunes. And connect with me on Facebook. Thanks again, Molly … it’s been fun! I can be reached via email at email@example.com.