Photo courtesy of the artist.
Singer-composer Emma Frank uses live performance to document her development the way other artists use the studio. Moments on the bandstand reveal as much or as little of her true self as she’s compelled to share. These days, she’s sharing much more. “I’m just tired of hiding my insecurities from the audience,” she says.
From her home in Brooklyn, the Boston area native challenged herself to track music remotely during lockdown, a process she’d never attempted. “It was a little tricky,” she says. But prolonged self-engagement and reflection gave way to new sound, and a truer understanding of herself and her instrument.
This week at The Jazz Gallery, Frank performs unreleased music and new arrangements of older compositions alongside Marta Sanchez, Grey Mcmurray, Chris Morrissey and Bill Campbell.
The Jazz Gallery: You’re pretty candid with your viewers during livestreams: “I’m still working some of this stuff out, and I might forget the lyrics,” etcetera.
Emma Frank: [Laughs] There are some really great smart and funny examples right now of people who are clearly concerned with the tension of performing, and what’s happening in the performer’s mind, what performance means, what it maybe hides or obscures—all of these questions I think are really interesting.
I found that doing livestreams was painful for me. Physical humiliation was what I felt. So, every time I went live over the pandemic, I was like, “Maybe this tiiiiiime…” [laughs] “maybe I’ll be okay…” And I wasn’t. I guess I just really like transparency and communication. So, I would sign on, do two songs and say, “That felt pretty bad! Hope you’re all well. K bye!”
TJG: Especially now, it seems people are ready for that. Particularly for younger generations, expressions of live personal reflection feel ubiquitous.
EF: Totally. I’m 33. What I’m experiencing culturally is that I’m finding there are people newly in leadership positions, that are my peers. A lot of my women friends, we’re realizing it’s kind of up to us to lead the way in certain ways. I feel like I came out of the pandemic being like, “Nobody’s gonna give me permission to behave the way that I want to, except myself.” We’re all too evolved and too smart and too self-aware at this point to not acknowledge some of the constructs that are happening when they’re happening. Like me feeling nervous on stage—everybody feels it if they’re perceptive. Why not just say, “Hey, I’m nervous. I’m trying to settle my nerves. How are you guys?”
TJG: There’s something 1950s about refusing to acknowledge a shared feeling that’s real and palpable, for the sake of propriety or social veneer, especially in the age of #relatable.
EF: I’m about 10 years older than my [restaurant] coworkers. And I was talking to this very sweet, very ambitious 25 year old [who said,] “I didn’t wanna be in restaurants when I was 25.” And I’m like, Oh, I’m sure you have some feelings about me being 33 and in restaurants. And [I was] seeing people judging themselves and judging me, and seeing myself judging myself—seeing all of that, and wanting to opt out of that kind of hierarchical thinking because I don’t think it’s helpful to anyone, or helpful to me. We are all set up to compete, and to feel bad about ourselves when we don’t get the things that other people get, to feel shame and resentment. Especially in the arts, it’s something that takes some active dismantling.