Lifelong Learner

October 3, 2013 | Borough of Manhattan Community College

Lifelong Learner

One might assume that an artist at the pinnacle of her profession would have little left to learn about her craft. But don’t make that assumption about legendary singer/songwriter/musician Roberta Flack.

“Those of us who have had the good fortune of being students of fundamental music, art and dance, continue to study and take lessons,” says Flack, who performed at BMCC’s Steinway Soiree on September 25.

“I take a voice lesson every week and I intend to keep doing it until I can no longer find my way to the voice teacher’s studio.”

Early start
When Flack set out on her journey to stardom, she was young enough to be considered a child prodigy. By 15, she’d become so accomplished a classical pianist that she was admitted to Howard University on a full scholarship. By graduation, she had changed majors from piano to voice, became an assistant conductor of the university choir, and directed a still talked-about production of Verdi’s opera, Aida.

Of course, the world of music has taken more than a few wild spins since then. “Music students today face an incredible kind of situation, where they have to decide whether to make money or make music,” Flack says. “There are some who are so brilliant they can cross all the lines and do both. But to do that today, you have to acknowledge the amazing worldwide popularity of hip-hop.”

Following Mozart’s model
By her own admission, Flack would have found it hard to embrace hip-hop as a musical form when she was a student. “But at same time, I recognize that music has to evolve,” she says. “Everything creative has to evolve. No one is trying to be a new Michelangelo or a new Mozart. Rather, we have to do what Mozart and Michelangelo did, which is to express ourselves as students of the art that we love in a way that gives us a chance to relate to people.”

Doing that takes confidence, she adds: “You have to know that this is something you’re going to do all of your life.” Age is irrelevant. “I look at someone like Tony Bennett, who’s 87 and still receiving Grammys and making the Billboard charts.”
What is relevant is the vital importance of lifelong learning. It is a theme the amazing Roberta Flack returns to constantly.

“Your education gives you the fundamentals you need to stand on and get involved in your art with all your heart,” she says. “You can never have enough of it.”