Meet Tiffany Austin

How has your relationship with OP influenced/impacted your career?

I was fortunate enough to participate in Opera Parallèle’s Harriet’s Spirit Workshop when it was first workshopped in 2018 (NOTE: the new version is orchestrated.) What was exciting to me about the project is that it fuses all these different elements of classical opera and jazz. The challenge of giving voice to that and seeing it come together was so exciting to me because there has to be respect for both traditions in that delivery.  

To have the opportunity was incredible because I know that OP has such a great relationship with so many really incredible vocalists, so to be trusted not only by Marcus Shelby but also by OP is something so precious. It really meant a lot to me and continues to mean a lot to me.

Are there any personal tie-ins to the Earth Day theme in your Close-Up recital?

Growing up, we really didn’t have much awareness in my household of how important our actions were to the health of the planet and thus ourselves. We really did not have a sense of connection to each other and our intertwined fates on this planet. So as I traveled and gained more maturity, it struck me how important it is to do whatever we can, even if we can’t affect everyone else’s behaviors, to make sure we protect the planet and each other. 

So thinking about the Earth Day theme, I wanted to feel into that and what is important for me when I think about the earth? Of course, it’s water. It flows through our bodies, and we bathe in it every day. It’s something we are in contact with more than earth. We don’t stick our feet into the soil as much as we are constantly imbibing water. 

The symbolism of water is so attractive to me. Being able to adapt, being able to change states when we need to, not being destroyed. That’s one thing about water – water might change states, but water is not just destroyed. When I think about water in this instance, I’m really inspired by that – to just keep flowing to keep moving forward to not stand still. 

There are a thousand songs about water, like Björk’s “Oceana” and the idea that we come from the ocean. That we can be cleansed in our souls “Down by the River Side.” Think about the most immediate access, to remembering that we are all connected, and that water, we’ve all touched it at one time or another.  

In terms of the quarantine and pandemic, have you made any new discoveries about your practice or your work during this time? Has it illuminated anything for you? 

The quarantine really showed me the importance of nature. When everything is closed, and you can’t go see your friends, what can make you feel connected? Nature. So I would just run out and try to find some water, find some green trees or something where I could get some fresh air. Even in the hardship of quarantine and COVID, it really brings into sharp focus what we can connect to and what is important. 

I’ve also found something so weird that windows in my brain have been opening really quite exponentially. In particular, I’ve been writing more because when you’re trapped with yourself, and you don’t have anywhere to run, you have no excuses. You are stuck with yourself. It hasn’t even been a labor thing with me. I sat down one day and started writing, and so I blame the pandemic for that, in a good way. 

This is not a new thing for me, but the other thing it has shown me is that music is what keeps me alive. When I can’t see people, and I can’t run around and be distracted by work, gigs, and errands, when everything is falling apart, what is at the heart of me and what animates me and what makes me a person is music all the time, and for that, I am so grateful.

How have you been spending time during the pandemic? Have you picked up any new hobbies?

I have a thousand musical instruments that I just kind of like to breathe on and pretend to play. I’ve circled back and started to play the electric bass, the ukulele, and piano. 

What are you most looking forward to post-pandemic?

Connecting, communion. So this is kind of my mantra, living soulfully and for me, being soulful is really living in deep, meaningful connection with oneself, with one’s spirit, with history, with your craft, with other people, and with higher power, with the earth. Going through the pandemic and quarantine has left me feeling super isolated and cut off, so i am interested in communion in a meaningful way. Yeah, I want to tear it up at the club but also, I want to get that emotional and energetic connection that I missed this past year plus.

Close-Up: Celebrating Earth Day Song List

All Blues by Miles Davis
Oceania by Björk
Down by the Riverside – Spiritual
I Will Not Stand Still by Marcus Shelby