SINGING in the KEY of FREE

words EMILIA DAHLIN  |  photography LAURYN HOTTINGER

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“Dun-dun... dun-dun... dun-dun,” the kick drum booms while bass, vibes and guitar swell into an ethereal cloud, forming an atmosphere around me. I feel it in my bones, transmitting sound through me like a lightning rod. I tilt my head back, close my eyes—trust that the right pitch will come, then let fly with melodies that soar, roar, descend and ricochet.

As somewhat of a perfectionist, planner and list-writer, it is here in the creative process of improvisation that I’ve learned to find comfort in
the unknown. Here, I’ve found delight, exhilaration and a profound sense of freedom.

Some nights, I still have nightmares. I’m on stage in my high school musical production, floundering for lines or late for my cue. It’s easy to fear forgetting something that I’ve memorized, but there’s a certain empowerment in singing melodies I don’t know—mistakes don’t exist.

The road to this place meandered for almost two decades, beginning with gut-twisting stage fright at college open mics. Discovering early recordings of Ella Fitzgerald sparked and illuminated the potential of the human voice and catalyzed my own vocal explorations. My jazz-trained bandmates provided a safe space to wander while they played and created from scratch.

Improvisational singing is like painting—splashing the aural canvas with broad strokes, bold color accents, a sapphire wash, a fuchsia splatter—never quite knowing where the brush will land next or what color it might be loaded with.

While improvising, I feel the rare trance-like state of connection to the Creative Force outside of me, floating around like a ghost that only visits when I tilt my head back, close my eyes... and trust.

emiliadahlin.com

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