By Franklin Abbott

“Everything alive is improvising!” says Rhiannon a master of the art of musical improvisation.  “We learn from nature the beauty of the unexpected.”

Her performances are often completely unscripted. She sings, solo or in groups, drawing inspiration from whatever is around her. She will be in Atlanta Nov. 18 and 19 to perform at Agnes Scott College and to offer two days of classes on her improvisational style of circle singing.

Rhiannon talks about her roots in her memoir, “Vocal River.” She grew up on a farm on the banks of the Missouri River on the Nebraska-South Dakota border. Her father was a farmer and her mother was a homemaker. Both were avid music lovers and both loved to dance. Growing up, she was encouraged with piano and voice lessons. She says she learned from her parents, “beauty and art are necessary to have joy in your life.” Rhiannon knew she would be an artist at the age of ten when she entered a singing competition and found out that it was okay to share her gift of song.

She moved to the East Coast and became an actor. She lived in New York City and says that “the more cultures I have around me the happier I am.” Eventually, she ended up in San Francisco and became part of that city’s improv scene. She studied music and developed a strong affinity for jazz, becoming part of an all woman jazz ensemble, Alive! The group toured for years playing both festivals and jazz clubs. She says they could never crack the glass ceiling in the male dominated jazz world and ultimately disbanded to pursue individual interests. They recently reconnected for 40th anniversary reunion concerts.

Rhiannon continued to perform as a jazz artist and connected with Bobby McFerrin, whose vocal styling brought him to prominence in the jazz and pop worlds. She became part of McFerrin’s famed Voicestra where her love of music and gifts for improvisation grew. She began to perform with others from the Voicestra in several ensembles and more importantly began to teach the art of vocal improvisation around the world. Her year-long course, “All the Way In,” has been a way to share her techniques and philosophy with voice teachers and singers. This led to recording of her album “Flight,” which students can use to learn the techniques on their own, and her book “Vocal River.”  She also hopes to see improvisation become part of the curriculum at music schools.

Rhiannon comes to Atlanta from her home in Hawaii. She and her spouse, photographer Jan T. Watson, live on a farm (she laughs and says she has come “full circle”) on the Big Island. She will be teaching two day long classes on Wednesday and performing in concert Thursday night with Kevin Bales at Agnes Scott College.

Rhiannon’s Atlanta Schedule:

Nov. 18
10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Masterclass for Intermediate/Advanced Singers
Registration: $150 http://www.rhiannonmusic.com/atlanta
Location sent upon registration
Limited to 20 strong, committed singers and vocal teachers who want to be more engaged in improvisation. The day will include physical movement, solo work, small ensemble exercises and group collaborations from Rhiannon’s book Vocal River.

Nov. 19
11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Workshop for singers new to Improvisation.
Registration: $60 http://www.rhiannonmusic.com/atlanta
Location sent upon registration
No audition required
This unique workshop is open to all singers who have solid musical skills, good pitch and rhythm and want to expand their vocal and improvisational experience. Join Rhiannon to create music in a safe and dynamic circle of singers. Meld intuition and invention with skill, heart, and breath to craft the songs within you.

Nov. 19
8 p.m.
Rhiannon in Concert with Kevin Bales (piano)
Agnes Scott College, Maclean Room, upstairs in Presser Hall
Admission $25
http://www.rhiannonmusic.com/Atlanta
Franklin Abbott is an Atlanta psychotherapist and consultant, writer and community organizer. For more information, visit www.franklinabbott.com.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.