Starting Wednesday, 12/21 and through the matinee Christmas Eve, Ruthie Ann Miles will join the SFSymphony and Symphony Chorus for seven performances of Holiday song favorites. Following intermission comes the incredibly popular live-action-version of A Charlie Brown Christmas and its evergreen jazz score by Vince Guaraldi.
"I wasn't expecting this!" said Ruthie. "I haven't done a concert in the City yet and wasn't planning on an additional one for this year. But a couple of months ago when my agent said, 'How would you like to sing with the San Francisco Symphony?' - my answer was a great big capital Y--'YES!'
"Everybody loves Christmas music - but I really love Christmas music. Maybe it's because I have a multi-cultural background and have lived in many parts of the country. I've connected with so many traditions. Mom was the Music Pastor at our church in Hawaii. She was in charge of all the Christmas and Easter cantatas. So, the first thing I think of during those weeks is the music - choral music, lots of singing groups and instrumentalists. When I got old enough I started the children's choir and played in the orchestra as well."
On her professional resume, under Special Skills - in addition to flag and rifle twirling - Ruthie lists proficiency in four instruments. Her diverse musical gifts came in very handy when she went on the national tour of Sweeney Todd directed by Adam John Hunter. The gimmick was that Sondheim's orchestrations (re-arranged by musical director David Loud) were reduced to a small number of instruments and assigned to each cast member. Ruthie took on "Adolpho Pirelli" (a tenor role) and played piano, flute, and accordion. Audiences at Davies Hall will be introduced to her knack with the ukulele.
"I'll be singing a lot of personal arrangements, including 'We Need A Little Christmas' from the musical Mame, 'Let There Be Peace on Earth', also a little flavor of Hawaii - 'Mele Kalikimaka' - with ukulele. A definite favorite of mine is 'Santa Claus is Comin' to Town'. That one has a beautiful super-fun swinging jazz feel. We're ending the program with 'Believe' - from the musical film, Polar Express. My 4-year-old daughter just loves this song. She and my husband will be flying-in to see each show a couple of times. I know she'll recognize 'Believe' - and maybe start belting it out herself! I feel all this music so deeply and it makes me emotional. Plus the fact - I'm performing at a venue and with an orchestra that is absolutely adored by so many singers!"
"I have an MA in Vocal Performance [NYU, Steinhardt School of Music]. What we learned there was to find the core voice - the voice you have, who you are. What we did was to eliminate and erase definitions - all that vocabulary about belting, head voice, and chest voice. We looked at those subjects on a sliding scale or like a seesaw. All I'm looking at is good resonance and good airflow. Where is the resonance? In your cheeks? At the top of the bridge of your nose? What if the resonance is a little further back or closer to the front of your teeth? The kind of training I had with Dr. Brian Gill [Palm Beach Atlantic University] was about good technique - neither classical or musical theatre. So, I'm able to work on manipulating my voice to sound like this for that."
That skill set, when combined with Ruthie's innate understanding of how to tell a story, won her the roles of two vastly different characters in two totally separate genres of musical theatre.
"Just before going into 'The King and I' - I did the techno-disco musical, 'Here Lies Love' by David Byrne. It takes place in a discotheque. I had to really rock my voice out! In that environment, you can get into trouble if you can't hear yourself. And that's what happened. I had to have a monitor because there were hundreds of speakers all around and I couldn't hear myself. 'Here Lies Love' followed the story of Imelda Marcos. It begins when she's a young girl. I started off with a pure pop-sounding voice. Eventually her voice morphs as she takes on power. So, that was a deliberate thing I did in developing my character - changing my voice. Not only was I wearing different clothing, changing the way I wore my hair, changing my personality - towards the end, I was belting."
"Bartlett Sher, the director of King and I, came to see Here Lies Love several times and wanted me for 'Lady Thiang'. At the time, my voice was very pop-sounding, very forward. The musical director, Ted Sperling, said, 'We want to take your voice back into a time where we just hear the heart of the woman. Let's explore what this sounds like.' We found her - Lady Thiang's sound. And, hopefully, the kind of voice Rodgers and Hammerstein had heard as they were writing the show."
I share Ruthie's attachment to 'Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town'. The Christmas season Perry Como's original best-selling recording on 78rpm was re-released on LP and hit the charts one more time, I was standing in a long line for my first encounter with Santa Claus. Como's recording sailed through The White House - an ultra charming department store in San Francisco at Grant and Sutter (long since gone). I asked for an iron. He brought me a portable record player instead. And everything changed.
"The first thing I look for when I approach material is actually not the music, but the lyrics. I've sung in other languages in recital settings before. It's easy when you first hear the music to say it's a melody you want to sing. I look at the text first. I got into the business because I wanted to study Shakespeare. I was at Southern Oregon University in Ashland. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is there. All the professors are professional actors and are adjunct to OSF. Theatre is in the air at Ashland. When I decided I wanted to perform, it was because I had done a Shakespeare monologue in competition and had done very well. In about ten years I would love to play 'Lady M' (in "The Scottish Play") and 'Queen Margaret' (Richard III). Many roles I would love to play I'm not ready for yet. So, it means getting ready! There's a lot of work ahead of me even though I might not have the job yet. I keep Shakespeare on my iPad or I've got a book in my purse. It's always with me."
On my Christmas List this year is to see Ruthie play 'Titania' in A Midsummer Night's Dream.
"That's a role I can play right now! Who's doing it?! I would play Titania immediately."
When can we go to iTunes to download her recording?
"That's another thing in the works - an album about what I want to say. I'm talking about it with good friends, with people who believe in me and have a vision way-beyond what I have for myself. I don't want to sing songs just for the sake of it. That's one of the things I think about when I focus on my vision. It's in process. Hopefully, 2017 will show us that."