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Thursday, December 02, 2021

Vocalist doesn’t need words to elicit emotions

Jill Burton pushes her voice through her throat in different tones. It’s soft, then louder, then softer again. It sounds like a didgeridoo.

It can’t be compared to Beyonce, but that’s not the point.

Burton is a vocal performance artist, and for the past 40 years, she’s explored the ways in which the power of voice can affect an audience emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

She doesn’t sing prepared pieces, but improvises a tonal “oh” sound, like a shaman leading a religious ritual. She uses her voice to tap into her listeners and alter their state of mind.

She’ll be joined by three others at the Thomas Center on April 11 for a performance she hopes will be a profound and transformational experience.

“We’re going to invite the audience to go on a journey with us to areas of their own consciousness that they may not be aware of,” she said.

Burton first discovered herself as a vocalist when she was an 18-year-old student at Santa Fe  College. She said her professor, Betty Keig, helped put her in touch with her inner artist.

She’s lived in cities such as New York, San Francisco, Miami and, most recently,  Sitka, Alaska, honing her talents and perfecting her craft.

Last year, she was featured as an artist-in-residence for a month-long tour sponsored by the Improvisor Journal, which focuses on musical improv performance. She was also hailed as “one of the great foundation improvisors of America.”

Burton knows her style of singing is anything but mainstream. Nevertheless, she believes the advent of the Internet and modern advancements in communication have helped bring a worldwide community of vocal performers together.

Beyond her performances, Burton runs transformational voice workshops and teaches private sessions for people interested in learning to sing more than just pop songs. She said most prospective students contact her through Facebook.

She said she’s ecstatic to watch a new generation of vocalists take a strong interest in the art form she’s spent her life exploring and expanding.

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“It’s really exciting to me to see so many young people being engaged,” she said. “It’s very gratifying, actually … being involved in this movement for 40 years … It’s kind of wonderful.”

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