<bt>Shows like “American Idol” and “Star Search” spotlight this country’s fascination with the stage. Brooklyn-born Verlette Simon, 42, is on a mission to help singers gain confidence, learn relaxation techniques and perfect their “unique” voice.
Jammin’ Java in Vienna provides the venue for Simon’s work in a series of ongoing vocal performance classes. Workshops meet the second Saturday of every month, from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Sessions are attracting beginners and professionals alike, with individuals in their teens to those in their 50s.
Teacher Simon’s music is a mix of genres. She cites some of her influences as Joan Baez, The Indigo Girls, classic Motown and gospel. She is a percussionist, a guitarist and a player of the viola. Always, in performance, Simon emphasizes “soul,” singing that comes from the whole person, his life experiences, his inherent instrument.
SIMON LEFT New York four years ago and is now a resident of Mount Rainier, Md. “I was divorced, came for a visit and fell in love with Washington,” she said. “Thinking that the grass is greener, I moved here, and it was.”
She gained entry into the Washington music scene through association with organizations like SAW (Songwriters Association of Washington). She performs in a variety of venues ranging from festivals to concert halls, on her own, or with her band. “People have money to spend on entertainment,” said Simon. “I’m rarely at a loss for a crowd. The music scene here is thriving.”
In 2003, Simon won the Washington Area Music Association’s Wammie for “Best Urban Contemporary” and “Best Urban Contemporary Recording” for her CD “Elements.” The former lead singer of Buddah, Simon has recorded with major label artists including Fine Young Cannibals and Mony Love. A new CD is due out this year.
Two years ago, Simon met Cary Whaley of Annandale. Whaley, event coordinator for SAW, was impressed with Simon’s “wow” factor.
“I met her two years ago at Jammin’ Java,” Whaley said. “She was doing a tribute to Bruce Springsteen with this Black gospel flavor to it. I was amazed by her.”
Whaley suggested that Simon had a lot to offer aspiring singers. He helps to plan and facilitate the workshops at Jammin’ Java. The first scheduled event drew three responses in advance; on the day of the workshop, 25 people showed up.
Whaley describes himself as a contemporary folk artist who needed some fine-tuning of his own. “I didn’t have confidence, didn’t know how to deal with stage fright. Verlette showed me how to sing in a lower register and stop singing out of my head.”
VIENNA RESIDENT Dianne Lafleur, 51, was also seeking support. A musician since childhood, Lafleur plays guitar and mountain dulcimer in a group called Zen Gospel Trio. As a member of the Folklore Society of Greater Washington and Folk Club of Reston-Herndon, she receives a discount on workshops. “I just had my first workshop,” said Lafleur. “And I’m looking forward to the next one. I want to improve my singing skills, and Jammin’ Java is such a great location for the classes.”
Participants can expect to share their talent and experiences with other students, to gain much-needed feedback. The workshops offer classical voice training, yoga, posturing and cueing in to sound vibrations in the body.
“Verlette was born to do this,” said Whaley. “She channels what she knows as a performer and just connects with people. I’ve seen people’s eyes light up when she asks them to sing.”