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Heart and Soul 101: An Act of Class: Jennifer Mancuso and Larry Adair.
By psychologist Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, a.k.a. Dr. B.L.T., The Rock Doc
Introducing Heart and Soul
Welcome to Acts of Class! Our first musical guests are Larry Adair and his charming 15-year-old granddaughter, Jennifer Mancuso. Together they are known as Heart and Soul.
As I begin to describe these guests and this event, I am painfully aware of the limits of mere words in capturing the emotion, the sentiments and the atmosphere that emerged on that very special evening, the evening of Monday, February 10, 2003, in Room 22, at Chapman University, Sacramento, California.
Grandfathering in Greatness
Passing the musical baton from one artist to another or from one generation to another is the quintessence of the rock 'n role model concept. The graceful, seamless manner in which Larry Adair can be seen and heard passing that baton to his granddaughter, Jennifer Mancuso, and the humble, elegant manner in which she receives it makes these solo class acts and this duo in its collective whole paragons of this abundantly fruitful process.
While she hasn't been nominated for any MTV or Grammy awards yet, Mancuso has racked up her share of music awards in numerous contests she has entered in the Northern California area. As a member of the Golden State Country Music Association, she won Vocalist of the Year, Entertainer of the Year, and Best Song of the Year in her age category in 1998 and then went back to win in all three categories again in 1999. She has performed at multiple functions, fundraisers and special occasions, the opening act for a number of up-and-coming new bands, and the featured performer on the Inaugural cruse of the Dawn Princess Cruise Ship. Her performance at Garbeau's Dinner Theatre in the musical comedy Ole Opry Jamboree was described by the city's premier newspaper the Sacramento Bee as "the star of the show."
The two began the set with a haunting rendition of the bluesy classic “Summertime.” Larry Adair's delicately decisive guitar strumming built a tender frame around the sultry vocals of his superstar-in-the-making-granddaughter Jennifer Mancuso. How easy it was for winter to slip away and the spring thaw to gradually evaporate the pedantic, if barely audible sounds of a neighboring instructor's brittle lecture as it shrilly shrieked through the invisible cracks in the wall.
As profound as the rendition was, the first words out of the mouth of 15-year-old Jennifer Mancuso's mouth following the performance of the song and the subsequent burst of applause were, "I would just like to say before we go on that, as anyone could tell, I'm really nervous." Much to my chagrin, I was among those who could not tell. As a professionally trained psychologist, I'm supposed to be able to pick up on the slightest of verbal and non-verbal cues serving to indicate the presence of anxiety in all its manifold manifestations. Judging by the looks on the faces of my students, most were surprised, if not astonished, that the piece flowed so beautifully, given Jennifer's openly acknowledged state of heightened anxiety. My students have been taught all about the deleterious effects that anxiety can have on one's performance. Many have experienced it first-hand, especially as they anticipated on of my exams, or Mind Expansion Games, as I prefer to call them.
Mancuso went on to explain that smaller crowds actually make her more nervous than larger ones, given the personal nature of such a gathering. With her instant willingness to self-disclose, she set the tone for an even more personal, intimate evening. I was also impressed with her candidness, her overall lack of defensiveness, her vulnerability and her keen sense of reflective self-awareness. All of these attributes are essential to the establishment of rapport with one's audience and thus, represent key ingredients for success as a musical performer and recording artist.
Music psychologists would have a field day examining the relationship between specific attributes of their musical performance and its dramatic effects on the nervous systems of listeners. But as brilliantly commanding as Mancuso's solo and Heart and Soul duo performances can be, her skills are not limited to singing and entertaining. She co-wrote her first song at the tender age of eight and she continues to write great material, though much of her best material it has yet to be recorded.
The song “Summertime” was an apt prelude and served as the perfect metaphor for the relationship between this granddaughter and grandfather. As she explained, In the song, an older person is, "talking to a younger person and telling that person what she has to look forward to in life." The song is imbued with an abundant stream of optimism, "one of these mornings, you’re gonna rise up singin'/ your gonna take your wings/ and spread to the sky. . .your daddy's rich, and your mama's good lookin' so hush pretty baby don't you cry."
As “Summertime” seasonal spine-shivers on the backs of the student body slowly subsided, a student asked, "What is the most important thing that you have learned in your relationship with your grandfather?"
Mancuso replied, "You learn a lot from each generation. I've learned a lot from him and his life, and his stories. It's very important to have a bond with someone from another generation. It's different from being around friends your own age. I have a special relationship with my grandfather and I've drawn a lot from that relationship."
It was clear in observing the two of them interacting together that their relationship was more than musical it was harmonious in every way.
I asked for more questions from the class and got a sea of silence, so I offered one of my own. "To me, the song “Summertime” speaks of potentiality and actualization of that potentiality or expectations for the future, topics of central focus to the philosopher Aristotle. Following along those themes, what do you hope to see in your future and what kind of person and what kind of musician would you like to become?"
Mancuso is a girl who clearly knows who she is and where she is going, She was straightforward and unhesitating in her reply. "I want to put something beautiful into words and music. I look at artists today and listen to their words, words that often have special meaning to me, and I appreciate that so much. I want to put music out there that other people can relate to songs about relationships and the happiness and sorrow that arises out of them. I want to be able to express that and, hopefully to be successful at it."
I went on to explain the casual format surrounding the Acts of Class series. "It's designed to be a relaxed event."
"Maybe you're relaxed!" Jennifer replied, with a broadside bit of mildly mordant wit. It aroused a great deal of laughter from my students. Heart and Soul offered a few more songs, beginning with “Silently Falling,” a song Mancuso wrote with her grandparents several years ago. It started out like this:
“If you could see me like I see you,
then you'd know I feel
I'm silently falling in love with you”
The song and its heartfelt delivery were every bit as graceful as the title suggests. All of the fancy descriptions offered by most advanced of theorists couldn't convey the warm, intimate sentiments offered in this number. All of their technical explanations linking acoustic vibrations and the mechanisms that allow them to elicit specific emotional and physiological responses in the listener fall woefully short of capturing the essence of these three minutes of silent surrender. Mancuso’s vocal delivery reflected the innocence of youth, and Adair’s voice complimented it with the wisdom of a seasoned soul one that, like the branches of the willow tree, has become more flexible rather than more hardened with vicissitudes of time and the gift of age.
Heart and Soul sang a few more songs, entertained a few more questions, and triggered a few more emotional responses. But the enduring emotional impression they left behind was the most significant aspect of their visit. The cold, sterile classroom environment was warmed that evening by a gentle fire; the gentle fire of Heart and Soul. Chapman University will invariably see many more academic years. But thanks to the auspicious visit by the young and exceedingly talented Jennifer Mancuso and her gracefully aging grandfather, Larry Adair, Chapman University, and Room 22 in particular, will never be the same. Room 22 will continue to hold many students, but, thanks to the lingering spirit of Heart and Soul, from now on, it will hold them closer, and more intimately than ever before.
Introduction to new Acts of Class series
Acts of Class is not a review of an unplugged musical performance. It is not an interview. It is not a CD review, it is not a place, although it takes place at a place, in this case a classroom space in the midst of a university campus.
Acts of Class is most adequately described as a hybrid. It is a unique cross between an intimate unplugged performance and a scholarly, if low-key, lyrical and musical analysis. In addition to ushering in live music, Acts of Class engages students in a direct interaction with performers in the form of a question and answer period or roundtable discussion. After being entertained, intellectually stimulated, and emotionally and spiritually moved by a set of tunes presented by a special musical guest or group of guests, the experience affords students an avenue by which they get to respond and make an intellectual contribution. In the process, they will gain an understanding of the basis of their affective and emotional responses to various musical works and the performers who present them. Rather than casting students into the prosaic role of passive spectators, students who participate in Acts of Class play an integral role in actively and energetically shaping the process. It is rock 'n role model reciprocity at its best.
In addition to reaching out
to students and emotionally engaging them, the songs of the artist(s) or
band participating in this phenomenon become the subject(s) of psychological
and philosophical study or inquiry. Such a phenomenon is set up so that
it can be implemented at any university, but Acts of Class does not end
in the classroom. It continues as the experience is shared beyond academic
circles to benefit readers world wide.