Music Black Culture Appropriation

For centuries, black music, forged in bondage, has been the sound of complete artistic freedom. o wonder everybody is always stealing it.

In 1830, Rice was a nobody actor in his early 20s, touring with a theater company in Cincinnati (or Louisville; historians don’t know for sure), when, the story goes, he saw a decrepit, possibly disfigured old black man singing while grooming a horse on the property of a white man whose last name was Crow. On went the light bulb. Rice took in the tune and the movements but failed, it seems, to take down the old man’s name. So in his song based on the horse groomer, he renamed him: “Weel about and turn about jus so/Ebery time I weel about, I jump Jim Crow.” And just like that, Rice had invented the fellow who would become the mascot for two centuries of legalized racism.

That night, Rice made himself up to look like the old black man — or something like him, because Rice’s get-up most likely concocted skin blacker than any actual black person’s and a gibberish dialect meant to imply black speech. Rice had turned the old man’s melody and hobbled movements into a song-and-dance routine that no white audience had ever experienced before. What they saw caused a permanent sensation. He reportedly won 20 encores.

Rice repeated the act again, night after night, for audiences so profoundly rocked that he was frequently mobbed during performances. Across the Ohio River, not an arduous distance from all that adulation, was Boone County, Ky., whose population would have been largely enslaved Africans. As they were being worked, sometimes to death, white people, desperate with anticipation, were paying to see them depicted at play.

Other performers came and conquered, particularly the Virginia Minstrels, who exploded in 1843, burned brightly then burned out after only months. In their wake, P.T. Barnum made a habit of booking other troupes for his American Museum; when he was short on performers, he blacked up himself. By the 1840s, minstrel acts were taking over concert halls, doing wildly clamored-for residencies in Boston, New York and Philadelphia.

A blackface minstrel would sing, dance, play music, give speeches and cut up for white audiences, almost exclusively in the North, at least initially. Blackface was used for mock operas and political monologues (they called them stump speeches), skits, gender parodies and dances. Before the minstrel show gave it a reliable home, blackface was the entertainment between acts of conventional plays. Its stars were the Elvis, the Beatles, the ’NSync of the 19th century. The performers were beloved and so, especially, were their songs.

During minstrelsy’s heyday, white songwriters like Stephen Foster wrote the tunes that minstrels sang, tunes we continue to sing. Edwin Pearce Christy’s group the Christy Minstrels formed a band — banjo, fiddle, bone castanets, tambourine — that would lay the groundwork for American popular music, from bluegrass to Motown. Some of these instruments had come from Africa; on a plantation, the banjo’s body would have been a desiccated gourd. In “Doo-Dah!” his book on Foster’s work and life, Ken Emerson writes that the fiddle and banjo were paired for the melody, while the bones “chattered” and the tambourine “thumped and jingled a beat that is still heard ’round the world.”

But the sounds made with these instruments could be only imagined as black, because the first wave of minstrels were Northerners who’d never been meaningfully South. They played Irish melodies and used Western choral harmonies, not the proto-gospel call-and-response music that would make life on a plantation that much more bearable. Black artists were on the scene, like the pioneer bandleader Frank Johnson and the borderline-mythical Old Corn Meal, who started as a street vendor and wound up the first black man to perform, as himself, on a white New Orleans stage. His stuff was copied by George Nichols, who took up blackface after a start in plain-old clowning. Yet as often as not, blackface minstrelsy tethered black people and black life to white musical structures, like the polka, which was having a moment in 1848. The mixing was already well underway: Europe plus slavery plus the circus, times harmony, comedy and drama, equals Americana.

And the muses for so many of the songs were enslaved Americans, people the songwriters had never met, whose enslavement they rarely opposed and instead sentimentalized. Foster’s minstrel-show staple “Old Uncle Ned,” for instance, warmly if disrespectfully eulogizes the enslaved the way you might a salaried worker or an uncle:

Den lay down de shubble and de hoe,
Hang up de fiddle and de bow:
No more hard work for poor Old Ned —
He’s gone whar de good Niggas go,
No more hard work for poor Old Ned —
He’s gone whar de good Niggas go.

Such an affectionate showcase for poor old (enslaved, soon-to-be-dead) Uncle Ned was as essential as “air,” in the white critic Bayard Taylor’s 1850 assessment; songs like this were the “true expressions of the more popular side of the national character,” a force that follows “the American in all its emigrations, colonizations and conquests, as certainly as the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving Day.” He’s not wrong. Minstrelsy’s peak stretched from the 1840s to the 1870s, years when the country was as its most violently and legislatively ambivalent about slavery and Negroes; years that included the Civil War and Reconstruction, the ferocious rhetorical ascent of Frederick Douglass, John Brown’s botched instigation of a black insurrection at Harpers Ferry and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

Minstrelsy’s ascent also coincided with the publication, in 1852, of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” a polarizing landmark that minstrels adapted for the stage, arguing for and, in simply remaining faithful to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, against slavery. These adaptations, known as U.T.C.s, took over the art form until the end of the Civil War. Perhaps minstrelsy’s popularity could be (generously) read as the urge to escape a reckoning. But a good time predicated upon the presentation of other humans as stupid, docile, dangerous with lust and enamored of their bondage? It was an escape into slavery’s fun house.

What blackface minstrelsy gave the country during this period was an entertainment of skill, ribaldry and polemics. But it also lent racism a stage upon which existential fear could become jubilation, contempt could become fantasy. Paradoxically, its dehumanizing bent let white audiences feel more human. They could experience loathing as desire, contempt as adoration, repulsion as lust. They could weep for overworked Uncle Ned as surely as they could ignore his lashed back or his body as it swung from a tree.

But where did this leave a black performer? If blackface was the country’s cultural juggernaut, who would pay Negroes money to perform as themselves? When they were hired, it was only in a pinch. Once, P.T. Barnum needed a replacement for John Diamond, his star white minstrel. In a New York City dance hall, Barnum found a boy, who, it was reported at the time, could outdo Diamond (and Diamond was good). The boy, of course, was genuinely black. And his being actually black would have rendered him an outrageous blight on a white consumer’s narrow presumptions. As Thomas Low Nichols would write in his 1864 compendium, “Forty Years of American Life,” “There was not an audience in America that would not have resented, in a very energetic fashion, the insult of being asked to look at the dancing of a real negro.”

So Barnum “greased the little ‘nigger’s’ face and rubbed it over with a new blacking of burned cork, painted his thick lips vermilion, put on a woolly wig over his tight curled locks and brought him out as ‘the champion nigger-dancer of the world.’ ” This child might have been William Henry Lane, whose stage name was Juba. And, as Juba, Lane was persuasive enough that Barnum could pass him off as a white person in blackface. He ceased being a real black boy in order to become Barnum’s minstrel Pinocchio.

After the Civil War, black performers had taken up minstrelsy, too, corking themselves, for both white and black audiences — with a straight face or a wink, depending on who was looking. Black troupes invented important new dances with blue-ribbon names (the buck-and-wing, the Virginia essence, the stop-time). But these were unhappy innovations. Custom obligated black performers to fulfill an audience’s expectations, expectations that white performers had established. A black minstrel was impersonating the impersonation of himself. Think, for a moment, about the talent required to pull that off. According to Henry T. Sampson’s book, “Blacks in Blackface,” there were no sets or effects, so the black blackface minstrel show was “a developer of ability because the artist was placed on his own.” How’s that for being twice as good? Yet that no-frills excellence could curdle into an entirely other, utterly degrading double consciousness, one that predates, predicts and probably informs W.E.B. DuBois’s more self-consciously dignified rendering.

American popular culture was doomed to cycles not only of questioned ownership, challenged authenticity, dubious propriety and legitimate cultural self-preservation but also to the prison of black respectability, which, with brutal irony, could itself entail a kind of appropriation. It meant comportment in a manner that seemed less black and more white. It meant the appearance of refinement and polish. It meant the cognitive dissonance of, say, Nat King Cole’s being very black and sounding — to white America, anyway, with his frictionless baritone and diction as crisp as a hospital corner — suitably white. He was perfect for radio, yet when he got a TV show of his own, it was abruptly canceled, his brown skin being too much for even the black and white of a 1955 television set. There was, perhaps, not a white audience in America, particularly in the South, that would not have resented, in a very energetic fashion, the insult of being asked to look at the majestic singing of a real Negro.

The modern conundrum of the black performer’s seeming respectable, among black people, began, in part, as a problem of white blackface minstrels’ disrespectful blackness. Frederick Douglass wrote that they were “the filthy scum of white society.” It’s that scum that’s given us pause over everybody from Bert Williams and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson to Flavor Flav and Kanye West. Is their blackness an act? Is the act under white control? Just this year, Harold E. Doley Jr., an affluent black Republican in his 70s, was quoted in The Times lamenting West and his alignment with Donald Trump as a “bad and embarrassing minstrel show” that “served to only drive black people away from the G.O.P.”

But it’s from that scum that a robust, post-minstrel black American theater sprung as a new, black audience hungered for actual, uncorked black people. Without that scum, I’m not sure we get an event as shatteringly epochal as the reign of Motown Records. Motown was a full-scale integration of Western, classical orchestral ideas (strings, horns, woodwinds) with the instincts of both the black church (rhythm sections, gospel harmonies, hand claps) and juke joint Saturday nights (rhythm sections, guitars, vigor). Pure yet “noisy.” Black men in Armani. Black women in ball gowns. Stables of black writers, producers and musicians. Backup singers solving social equations with geometric choreography. And just in time for the hegemony of the American teenager.

Even now it feels like an assault on the music made a hundred years before it. Motown specialized in love songs. But its stars, those songs and their performance of them were declarations of war on the insults of the past and present. The scratchy piccolo at the start of a Four Tops hit was, in its way, a raised fist. Respectability wasn’t a problem with Motown; respectability was its point. How radically optimistic a feat of antiminstrelsy, for it’s as glamorous a blackness as this country has ever mass-produced and devoured.

The proliferation of black music across the planet — the proliferation, in so many senses, of being black — constitutes a magnificent joke on American racism. It also confirms the attraction that someone like Rice had to that black man grooming the horse. But something about that desire warps and perverts its source, lampoons and cheapens it even in adoration. Loving black culture has never meant loving black people, too. Loving black culture risks loving the life out of it.

And yet doesn’t that attraction make sense? This is the music of a people who have survived, who not only won’t stop but also can’t be stopped. Music by a people whose major innovations — jazz, funk, hip-hop — have been about progress, about the future, about getting as far away from nostalgia as time will allow, music that’s thought deeply about the allure of outer space and robotics, music whose promise and possibility, whose rawness, humor and carnality call out to everybody — to other black people, to kids in working class England and middle-class Indonesia. If freedom’s ringing, who on Earth wouldn’t also want to rock the bell?

In 1845, J.K. Kennard, a critic for the newspaper The Knickerbocker, hyperventilated about the blackening of America. Except he was talking about blackface minstrels doing the blackening. Nonetheless, Kennard could see things for what they were:

“Who are our true rulers? The negro poets, to be sure! Do they not set the fashion, and give laws to the public taste? Let one of them, in the swamps of Carolina, compose a new song, and it no sooner reaches the ear of a white amateur, than it is written down, amended, (that is, almost spoilt,) printed, and then put upon a course of rapid dissemination, to cease only with the utmost bounds of Anglo-Saxondom, perhaps of the world.”

What a panicked clairvoyant! The fear of black culture — or “black culture” — was more than a fear of black people themselves. It was an anxiety over white obsolescence. Kennard’s anxiety over black influence sounds as ambivalent as Lorde’s, when, all the way from her native New Zealand, she tsk-ed rap culture’s extravagance on “Royals,” her hit from 2013, while recognizing, both in the song’s hip-hop production and its appetite for a particular sort of blackness, that maybe she’s too far gone:

Every song’s like gold teeth, Grey Goose, trippin’ in the bathroom
Bloodstains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room
We don’t care, we’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams
But everybody’s like Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece
Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash
We don’t care, we aren’t caught up in your love affair

Beneath Kennard’s warnings must have lurked an awareness that his white brethren had already fallen under this spell of blackness, that nothing would stop its spread to teenage girls in 21st-century Auckland, that the men who “infest our promenades and our concert halls like a colony of beetles” (as a contemporary of Kennard’s put it) weren’t black people at all but white people just like him — beetles and, eventually, Beatles. Our first most original art form arose from our original sin, and some white people have always been worried that the primacy of black music would be a kind of karmic punishment for that sin. The work has been to free this country from paranoia’s bondage, to truly embrace the amplitude of integration. I don’t know how we’re doing.

Last spring, “Old Town Road,” a silly, drowsy ditty by the Atlanta songwriter Lil Nas X, was essentially banished from country radio. Lil Nas sounds black, as does the trap beat he’s droning over. But there’s definitely a twang to him that goes with the opening bars of faint banjo and Lil Nas’s lil’ cowboy fantasy. The song snowballed into a phenomenon. All kinds of people — cops, soldiers, dozens of dapper black promgoers — posted dances to it on YouTube and TikTok. Then a crazy thing happened. It charted — not just on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart, either. In April, it showed up on both its Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and its Hot Country Songs chart. A first. And, for now at least, a last.

The gatekeepers of country radio refused to play the song; they didn’t explain why. Then, Billboard determined that the song failed to “embrace enough elements of today’s country music to chart in its current version.” This doesn’t warrant translation, but let’s be thorough, anyway: The song is too black for certain white people.

But by that point it had already captured the nation’s imagination and tapped into the confused thrill of integrated culture. A black kid hadn’t really merged white music with black, he’d just taken up the American birthright of cultural synthesis. The mixing feels historical. Here, for instance, in the song’s sample of a Nine Inch Nails track is a banjo, the musical spine of the minstrel era. Perhaps Lil Nas was too American. Other country artists of the genre seemed to sense this. White singers recorded pretty tributesin support, and one, Billy Ray Cyrus, performed his on a remix with Lil Nas X himself.

The newer version lays Cyrus’s casual grit alongside Lil Nas’s lackadaisical wonder. It’s been No.1 on Billboard’s all-genre Hot 100 singles chart since April, setting a record. And the bottomless glee over the whole thing makes me laugh, too — not in a surprised, yacht-rock way but as proof of what a fine mess this place is. One person’s sign of progress remains another’s symbol of encroachment. Screw the history. Get off my land.

Four hundred years ago, more than 20 kidnapped Africans arrived in Virginia. They were put to work and put through hell. Twenty became millions, and some of those people found — somehow — deliverance in the power of music. Lil Nas X has descended from those millions and appears to be a believer in deliverance. The verses of his song flirt with Western kitsch, what young black internetters branded, with adorable idiosyncrasy and a deep sense of history, the “yee-haw agenda.” But once the song reaches its chorus (“I’m gonna take my horse to the Old Town Road, and ride til I can’t no more”), I don’t hear a kid in an outfit. I hear a cry of ancestry. He’s a westward-bound refugee; he’s an Exoduster. And Cyrus is down for the ride. Musically, they both know: This land is their land.

United Breaks Guitars

You saw the video, now GET THE BOOK: Looking for a unique speaker for your next event: for case studies and highlights of Dave’s speaking tour.

In the spring of 2008, Sons of Maxwell were traveling to Nebraska for a one-week tour and my Taylor guitar was witnessed being thrown by United Airlines baggage handlers in Chicago. I discovered later that the $3500 guitar was severely damaged. They didn’t deny the experience occurred but for nine months the various people I communicated with put the responsibility for dealing with the damage on everyone other than themselves and finally said they would do nothing to compensate me for my loss. So I promised the last person to finally say no to compensation (Ms. Irlweg) that I would write and produce three songs about my experience with United Airlines and make videos for each to be viewed online by anyone in the world. United Breaks Guitars is the first of those songs.

United Breaks Guitars Song 2:

United Breaks Guitars Song 3: United We Stand on the Right Side of Right




An Interview with French Countertenor Philippe Jaroussky

In a relatively short amount of time, Philippe Jaroussky, 33, has built an international reputation as a leading countertenor. Jaroussky came to prominence in 2004, when his first solo recording for Virgin Classics caught fire. Since then, his light, soprano-like sound, facility with coloratura, boyish looks, and rare dynamic flare have made him equally popular on stage and YouTube.

I caught up with Jaroussky by phone, a few months before he was scheduled to journey to the United States to co-star in the Boston Early Music Festival’s production of Steffani’s mostly unknown opera, Niobe, Queen of Thebes. Our discussion began with the opera project.

An Interview with French Countertenor Philippe Jaroussky

Jason Victor Serinus: Please tell me about Niobe, Queen of Thebes.

Philippe Jaroussky: It’s a very, very exciting project. In fact, I didn’t know the opera at all. Paul O’Dette [of the Boston Early Music Festival] came to Europe to hear me in an opera production with William Christie of Il Sant’Alessio by Landi. O’Dette proposed I sing Niobe, and showed me the score.

I reacted almost immediately. ‘Oh my god, this is beautiful music.’ I was very surprised by the music, and I accepted absolutely in five minutes.

Of course I knew of the composer, Agostino Steffani, because he’s quite famous for his chamber music, and he had a huge influence on Handel. But I didn’t know his opera music. It’s a very special style: very virtuosic and very touching. It’s quite crazy music.

Of course, my part is very difficult. It was written for castrato voice. What I like about my character, Anfione, is that he’s a King who wants to give up his power just compose music. It’s a little bit like Orfeo. In the middle of the opera, his singing is building new walls to defend the city. It’s quite a magical power. His is a very sweet character, and the music for Anfione is particularly beautiful.

JVS: Let me see if I understand you through the long distance and language barrier. You said that in the middle of the opera, he composes music to defend the city?

PJ: Yes. In fact, at the end of the first act, Anfione’s city is attacked by other people. He starts to sing, and his singing starts to build walls all around to defend the city. This is why I compare this part to Orfeo, who convinces the inferno [the underworld] to bring his wife back to life.

Showing this magical power in the production is very challenging. I’m quite excited by it. Also, my character is very fake in a way. He wants to retire from the world just to compose music.

At the end of the opera, he learns that all of his children will be killed by God. He cannot support that, and he kills himself. It’s very touching.

The music is quite complicated. It will take me a full month to learn it. It’s a huge work, with a lot of very challenging music that has me singing in my entire range.

JVS: Are you an

  • alto or
  • mezzo-soprano countertenor, or are you a
  • soprano?

PJ: Oh my god. I have to say that what’s difficult for my voice is that my color is more suited to soprano. I have quite a light voice. But the range is more of a mezzo. That’s quite difficult, because sometimes people think I can sing very high, and propose I sing things that are too high for me.

But we decided to put this part in quite a low pitch that is perfect for me. It’s not too high or too low. It’s really beautiful. And with the color of my voice, I can probably illustrate the weakness of the character as well. I think there is a good bridge between the color of my voice and the character of Anfione.

Of course, on a lot of my CDs and in concert I like to perform a lot of unknown composers. It is really unfair that we don’t know a lot of Steffani. I think he’s a beautiful bridge between Monteverdi and Handel. He was a very original composer who helped to advance the style between these two periods. Sometimes his music sounds like Cavalli, sometimes like the young Handel. It’s very inspiring music.

I was very surprised, because I didn’t know much of his music before this proposal. A year ago, Covent Garden also produced the opera. The Polish sopranist Jacek Laszczkowski sang my role, and French soprano Veronique Gens sang Niobe.

Of course, we plan to do this in Boston first. I haven’t sung the part yet, but I think it will be one of the most beautiful operatic parts in my life. It will probably become one of my favorite parts to sing onstage, along with L’Incoronazione di Poppea by Monteverdi and some Handel parts.

JVS: Was the opera performed frequently in Steffani’s time? Was it famous?

PJ: I must confess that I do not know for sure. The only thing I know is that it’s really clear from the score that the castrato who created my part was probably a fantastic virtuosic singer with a beautiful voice. The coloratura is not simple at all to sing. We can really see that Steffani composed this part specifically for a very good castrato.

When we think of castrati, we tend to think that they were all very good. But that was not the case.

JVS: It’s terrible to think about the fact that a child is castrated, only to turn out unable to sing well.

PJ: It’s a part of the fascination the audience has with the part. You have to do this abomination to castrate young boys to get this sublime voice. We know that only approximately 1% of the castrated boys sang onstage in opera. It was a terrible thing, and we fortunately we don’t do it anymore.

When I face a score like Niobe, I must be very modest and humble. The castrati probably sounded very different. We countertenors are trained to do the best musically, but castrato voices were probably far more brilliant. We have to keep this in mind, and of course do the best we can.

I also think that, for staging purposes, it’s very interesting to have a man sing a male part rather than cast a woman.

An Interview with French Countertenor Philippe Jaroussky

JVS: As a countertenor, do you sing in falsetto, or are you simply extending your full voice upwards.

PJ: Falsetto for me is a terrible word. It’s like ‘false voice.’ I don’t like that expression. It sounds like something artificial.

For me, I’m singing head voice, like a soprano or mezzo-soprano. You don’t say a soprano is singing in falsetto. For me, it’s the same mechanism as a woman. But I don’t think I use the falsetto voice.

For me, all these things about mechanism are not the most important thing for me. I try to keep the natural sound of my voice, and to sing with as much freedom as I can. But I don’t ask myself about the different mechanisms you can use. I’m trained really to keep the truth of what I want to do.

I know for a lot of people, countertenor singing is a mystery. But I think there is no mystery inside. Before the appearance of castratos there were countertenors. And if you listen to a female artist speak, she doesn’t speak like she sings. For me this is absolutely the same thing.

Maybe I think that because I always had a teacher who was a woman. I always worked, not to imitate her, but she was always showing me examples with a soprano or mezzo-soprano voice. She always tried to work my voice in that direction while of course keeping the specialty of my color.

I don’t know. There is a huge interest in countertenors now. I think in part it’s because we dream of the lost castrato voices. But we have to keep in mind that the technique was quite different because the voices were quite different. The castrato had the same vocal chord size as a boy’s. It was different.

JVS: When your voice first changed, were you singing tenor? When did you first sing countertenor?

PJ: I never sang in a boy choir. I was a violinist, and I started to sing at 18, which is quite young. I had this very small soprano voice, like a boy. When I started with my teacher, who is still my teacher 14 years later, she thought I was a good musician who perhaps had the capacity to become a countertenor. I told her, ‘Trust me. I’m sure I will be a countertenor in the future.’

It’s very curious that I said that at the age of 18. But I could project how my voice would sound after I worked on it patiently. Even she was surprised two years after to realize my voice had gotten better and better and had the capacity to sing in concert.

In the beginning, the voice was very light, small, and high. I remember that four or five years ago, I was convinced that my voice would get lower and lower, like a contralto. So I started to sing low parts. Now I realize that my voice didn’t change so much. I’ve kept the high notes I had when I was young, but the voice has changed.

This is why I accepted to sing Niobe, which is a high part.

JVS: Do you know what you’ll sing when you come to Berkeley next spring?

PJ: I’ll be with Apollo’s Fire. It will be a classical program, a mix of Handel and Vivaldi operatic arias. Some of them I’ve recorded, such as Giustino’s aria from the opera by Vivaldi, and “Mi lusingharre” from Handel’s Alcina. I wanted to have quite an easy listening debut for my tour debut in the USA.

I think it’s a good mix: I like to sing both famous arias and others that aren’t well known. What I will do in the USA is sing Niobe in Massachusetts and famous arias on tour.

JVS: Have you sung at Carnegie Hall?

PJ: Yes. It was quite amazing, because I didn’t sing baroque repertoire. I sang French songs of Debussy and Fauré. I recorded some of this on my recording, Opium. The second time, I joined an ensemble to sing Monteverdi, Cavalli, and other composers. Unfortunately, I don’t have another date there at the moment.

As a French guy, I love to sing in my own language, and there isn’t that much in the baroque repertoire in French for me. When I was a pianist, I loved to play Ravel, Debussy, Fauré. I love to sing this repertory. I love the intimacy of singing it just with the piano. I love this very much.

JVS: Do you still practice violin and piano?

PJ: The piano not so much. The violin I stopped to play for many years, but I just bought a violin a year ago to play at home. Once a week I play for myself. It’s difficult for me to learn that I learned music from the violin.

Sometimes people say to me that I’m singing like a violin. It’s a funny thing, but you cannot forget if you learn the music with an instrument, you definitely stay with this violin soul. You can’t cut the connection. The violin educated me.

I sometimes have my own group. Sometimes when I’m conducting artistically, I realize that I was speaking much more through the violin. It’s a part of my history. A lot of my idea about articulation and phrasing come from the violin, because it’s natural for me.

JVS: On the internet, there’s a lot of speculation about your sexual orientation.

PJ: I don’t like to discuss my personal life. I feel in classical music, you don’t have to speak about that. I have many reasons. And there is no correlation between having a countertenor voice and being gay. I think it’s not very interesting.

JVS: You’re from a younger generation. It’s a whole different.

PJ: What is interesting is it may be easier for a countertenor to express feminine emotions. In the past, Alfred Deller was a little bit obsessed to show his children, because he was afraid that people would think he was gay.

JVS: Will we ever hear you sing while you accompany yourself on the piano?

PJ: No, I don’t think so. Of course I do it sometimes at home. Maybe once for a joke.

JVS: You’re so theatrical. I had this image of you sitting at the piano, wearing a hat, singing big band tunes or jazz. It might be fabulous.

PJ: Maybe, but I don’t think it’s my cup of tea at the moment. As an artist, we have to know what you can do well and what you can’t do well. I’ve dedicated myself mostly to baroque arias. I’m really singing what I want. I don’t want to do too many crossover things. I’m a classical artist, and I want to defend all this beautiful music.

Sometimes, of course, I can do things like this, but it’s probably not my cup of tea.

JVS: Do you do a lot of outreach to children?

PJ: Not so much. Even in France, we don’t have much music in the schools. But for me, I started music because I had a fantastic teacher in general school in France. I was 11. The teacher told my parents that I should enter a music school or conservatory. They had never thought this for me before, but it changed my life. It was fantastic.

I don’t know why, but a lot of people are afraid of classical music. They’re afraid that they won’t understand everything. I have a lot of friends who aren’t musicians. When they came to my concerts, they were surprised to enjoy the music, because they didn’t know it at all. They were surprised to be touched by this music. They never expected to be touched by classical music. That’s why as an artist you have to communicate and to sometimes be in front of different audiences than you’re used to.