Creator Spotlight–Siri Vik

By Katelynn Burnett

Siri Vik is a performance artist and professor at Lane Community College in Eugene. She performs music, theater, and more at venues like the Hult Center and the John G. Shedd Institute for the Arts.

Sirivik.com

Theshedd.org

Katelynn:
Hello! For starters, can you tell me your name?

Siri:
Siri Vik.

Katelynn:
Thank you Siri, and thank you for your time today. I wanted to ask some questions about your career as an artist, both in general and in relationship to Eugene. So how long have you been performing?

Siri:
Do you mean like, professionally or in general?

Katelynn:
Whatever that means to you.

Siri:
I would say, with an audience where it’s kind of assumed you are performing, since I was probably 12 in church choir, and a little bit in musical theatre related to school. My family belonged to a lutheran church that did very dramatic classical music, so I was exposed early to a very classical sound to the voice. So that sort of set me off on more study with an operatic kind of vibe. So in high school I started studying seriously with a private teacher and then went off to major in music. Gigs along the way became paid, so there wasn’t this line along the way where it’s like “Now I’m a professional singer” but there was another juncture, maybe in my mid 20’s where I began taking paid concert gigs, or maybe small roles in regional opera companies.

Katelynn:
So at what point in time did that train roll its way into Lane County?

Siri:
Oh, good point! Okay, so I am from Eugene originally. The scene was different back then, there was a lot more music education going on, obviously more funds, but I was active at South Eugene and their choir program and I also did jazz choir there. Then I went away, got my degree and my masters (and about halfway through a doctorate), but I was only 25 and I think at that time I had no idea how I was going to make a career work. Right about that time I also started being more interested in, and being hired in, more avant-garde music. I won this competition that led me to feel inspired to move to New York for a year. The truth is the lifestyle wasn’t for me, so I ended up moving back to Eugene and making a career here.

Katelynn:
That is so cool! What is your favorite part about performing, and what is your least favorite part about performing?

Siri:
Oooo, that is a good one…..hmm. My favorite part is that being on stage and in the moment with the music is the one place where I am the most ego-less? You know, I guess you could say “present.” I’m not there, but I am really there, in a trance-like state.

Katelynn:
And what is your least favorite part?

Siri:
Can I say two?

Katelynn:
Yeah!

Siri:
Okay, so the dread that proceeds that moment is a real thing. It doesn’t translate into symptoms of anxiety that I can’t handle, it’s just a heavy stress – depending on what it is. And it’s scary, ya know. And that is always there before. The other thing I don’t like about performing is that it feels like people you are performing for want to be a part of it, and that is a lot of personality coming at you. It’s really hard to remember that they are just projecting onto you, and sometimes that can be really hurtful.

Katelynn:
I can only imagine. I think I have witnessed that happen for a lot of young artists. The crowd can sometimes tear people to pieces and you can’t help but wonder how much of that is valid and how much is people’s own projection.

Siri:
Especially when there is some kind of theatre going on that involves the audience.

Katelynn:
I think it can be difficult for people to remember that they are there to enjoy the work that someone else has worked really hard for.

Siri:
That is very true. Being a working artist means you don’t really have a wall between you and your audience, and if you want people to come back you need to go and talk with them. And there is always that person that might have something to say they don’t realize is hurtful.

Katelynn:
People don’t always think before they speak, that is for sure. I read a J.P. Morgan quote that said most opinions are meaningless, and those not backed by fact and reason are often dangerous.

Siri:
That is a good one!

Katelynn:
I agree! Okay sorry for getting off track – you are also a professor at LCC?

Siri:
Yes!

Katelynn:
And what do you teach?

Siri:
I teach group voice and individual voice lessons.

Katelynn:
How do you balance your two careers? Or how do you keep yourself in order, if that is an easier question.

Siri:
Hmm… teaching is really grounding. It is exhausting, but it is a routine that balances the chaos of performing. Although it’s more that I have gotten used to the cycle of it, which is that if a big performance is coming up, it gets more and more hard to manage… the center can’t hold, then it takes a while to regroup back. So I try not to perform mid-term. It truly gets harder to balance family life.

Katelynn:
And does all of that hard work feel rewarding at the end of the day? And if so, what is the reward?

Siri:
I have many meaningful interactions throughout the day through teaching, that is invaluable to me. And I have many moments of magic and transcendence through performing.

Katelynn:
That is a beautiful answer. I was wondering what sort of trends you have seen or observed as a voice coach which are common from person to person? Misconceptions – OR for that matter, misunderstandings. Is there anything that everyone seems to just know, or everyone seems to just not know?

Siri:
Yes, there are. The biggest misunderstanding–and I mean this is so pervasive that it’s like… a human thing because we started to refer to frequencies as high or low. It’s a misunderstanding that is not wrong, but that has led to this visualization of the vocal instrument as being like a vertical slide-whistle. So everybody’s instinct is to picture the voice high up. Why that can be problematic–it’s not always problematic–is because you do need to open the resonating chambers that feel high. But why it can be problematic, the short answer is, the voice doesn’t work that way. There is nothing to reach to, so the biggest thing is just to see people going like this Siri stretches her neck so that her face is pointed towards the ceiling like they are speaking to God. And there is something about it that does work and is true, but it’s not the whole truth. That is definitely the biggest misconception.

Katelynn:
Is there anything that is consistently known?

Siri:
Nope. Not that I have seen.

Katelynn:
I find that really interesting, because I feel like it speaks to how many misunderstandings there must be, and what a wide range they must span.

Siri:
Absolutely, I think there is a mystification of the singing voice. Everybody can sing! Everybody can sing, and I wish that everybody knew that.

Katelynn:
What advice would you give the average person who wants to sing a little better?

Siri:
I would also say, if you were told you are a bad singer just know that person was projecting their shame onto you. Singing is just a lengthening of the way we use the voice with heightened emotion. Try just playing with your voice, scream “Weee!” and “Whoaaaa.” Try and make your voice slide from low to high, and high to low. Just see what your voice feels like.

Katelynn:
What advice would you give to someone who knows they want to perform as a singer but is just starting out or perhaps has not even started yet?

Siri:
Well one thing I would say is that my colleague here at Lane, Viki Brabem, said “The reason why we need music as we think of it, as theory, is there is no other way to self-examine, and an artist has to self-examine.” Search for what singing feels like physically, inside your body, rather than listening. If it feels good, if you can honestly say from your throat, to the torso, to your neck, to your head–if it feels good, you are probably sounding good. Abandon listening for a while.

Katelynn:
Another beautiful answer, you are so good with your words. My last and most important question is, where can we find or support you as an artist?

Siri:
Honestly, going to live performances. For keeping vocal art music alive we just have to have an audience. Just come to the shows.

Katelynn:
And where can we find information about upcoming performances?

Siri:
Theshedd.org.

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