- Melina Paris
Setting the Standard with a Blues Holler
By Melina Paris, Music Columnist
I’ve been preoccupied by two thoughts in regard to music these past few months.
First: Thank God we have “standard repertoires of music.” Standard repertoires are identified by having been performed or recorded by a variety of musical acts, often with different arrangements. Standard repertoires are extensively quoted by other works and commonly serve as the basis for musical improvisation.
Second: Ethnomusicologists seem to struggle mightily when explaining how the human voice, irrespective of the words coming out of a person’s mouth, can evoke very specific and very powerful emotions in those within earshot. Music scientists describe with detail the feelings a sound evokes. Music scientists even recount the history of a sound pattern from when it was first heard. But until you actually experience it, you don’t know what it truly is. That’s what I thought when I first heard Connie Rouse sing.
Rouse’s small stature hides a powerful voice. I saw her sing at the Music for the Soul concert put on by Namaste Church in Long Beach back in September. She got me hooked when she delivered a bona fide holler that made me catch my breath before singing an old standard.
All those months ago, Rouse opened with Baby (You’ve Got What It Takes), by Dinah Washington, and sang standards that were hits by Carole King, Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin. Franklin had died only a week before and the grief was still raw. Rouse performed (You Make Me Feel) Like A Natural Woman and Think with grace and power that were at once emotional and healing.
In my newfound fandom, I wanted to peek into the well from which Rouse’s voice came.
Originally from Chicago, Rouse has lived in Long Beach since 1988. Her singing voice is big, but she speaks softly. She began singing at six years old, doing talent shows and some tap dancing. She sang with the choir in high school, did some musical theater there and in college, and was a member of the South Coast Chorale
Rouse started singing professionally at 25. She has enjoyed performing on several prominent Southern California stages– the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Carpenter Center, Disney Hotel and Orange County Performing Arts Center, as well as Long Beach venues. Locally, she has performed at The Sky Room, Red Barrel and The Paradise.
She landed performances at these venues by auditioning and she also used to sing with the South Coast Choral.
“When the (then artistic director) left the South Coast Choral, that final concert was where I performed, I Will Always Love You with an orchestra,” Rouse said. “After that, he helped me put together the concert at the Carpenter Center. It was cabaret style and it was done on the back stage in an intimate setting with about 250 people. It was sold out.”
She released her first album in 2006, A Love Like This. Then she moved away from singing and began working in the field of human resources. After performing as a guest vocalist at Namaste (her church home), the music director of Namaste invited her back to join Namaste’s music team.
If she could make an album of any material she wanted, she would choose Four Women, written by Nina Simone. It has more recently been performed live in a recording session called Sing the Truth, Jazz in Vienna, 2009 by Simone’s daughter, Lisa Simone, Dianne Reeves, Lizz Wright and Angelique Kidjo. It would also include something by Caro Emerald, a Dutch pop and jazz singer and the arrangement that Whitney Houston did of I Will Always Love You, which Rouse performed that at the Carpenter Center.
About that big holler that she entered the Namaste church concert with, Rouse said. “I just have a big voice. It’s a blessing. It took me a while to learn to like my voice, although I love to sing because I find music very healing. I would compare my voice to other voices so it took me a while to come into liking my own.”
To Rouse, music is healing and she feels blessed to have the voice that she does. Her goal is to not just sing but to share music.
“I know if I can hear a song that truly moves me, then I hope to do the same thing for someone else,” Rouse said. “Music really impacts people. A woman I perform with, she and I go to some of the elderly homes and perform for them and you just see them light up. The music helps them and it’s so needed. It’s a way to be of service.”
You can find her on iTunes, YouTube and CD Baby. Namaste Center for Spiritual Living is at 129 W. 5th St., Long Beach