It’s always energizing to learn about how an accomplished artist in any field improves his or her game. One of the messages that shines through loud and clear, for me at least, is that there’s always another mountain to climb. Great artists get to be that way because they are always learning, always striving, always pushing themselves to go deeper and farther: to say what they want to say more movingly or forcefully. Tennessee Williams, for example, was well known for endlessly tinkering with his masterful plays — trying to strengthen and improve them.
All of this springs to mind because of a story recounted by a friend of the folksinger John Denver. Along with immensely popular ballads like “Annie’s Song” and “Rocky Mountain High,” well into his career, John wrote a song called, “Perhaps Love.” In an innovative musical move, he recorded the song as a duet with the great Placido Domingo. Sometime later, John gave a solo show in which he sang many of his classics. After the performance, his friend commented that although he’d been to many of John’s concerts, he’d never heard him sing with such feeling and touch an audience the way he had that night.
In response, John said that he had actually learned a lot by recording “Perhaps Love” with Placido Domingo, who told him that he worked hard to make every word he sang “feel” different. If he was singing about clouds, he brought a softness and airiness to the notes; if he was singing about steel, he tried to evoke hardness and heaviness. John said he started playing around with this idea and it had a real impact on the way he sang.
Over the years, John Denver must have performed many of his songs countless times; it’s fascinating to think that at the end of his career he could interpret them in a fresh, appealing way because he was alert and open enough to try a new approach. Let’s bring this same freshness to our writing: there’s always something new to learn and a deeper, richer way to say what we want to say.