Our December Larkspur Woman has been there for us since the very, very beginning. She is many things: a once in a lifetime friend, a mind worth tapping, an out of this world voice. At her core she is complete and total soul. We imagine Diana Newman is the kind of spirit that has lived many lives, each and every one with fierce passion and deep love. She bubbles with such wisdom and joy that you can't help but smile.
Today we get an inside peek into Diana's career as a musician and how she creates moments of zen in the midst of her growing career.
Annie & Celene
P.S. For videos and performance details, visit her website!
Walk us through the first 5 minutes of you day.
I am not a morning person so the first 5 minutes of my day usually consist of me fighting for those 5 extra minutes of sleep. On the days when I’m not on a schedule I like to get up slowly and lay in bed for a good 30 minutes before starting the day: gather some thoughts, think about whether I would like to have a coffee or a tea, wiggle my toes around.
You have a super diverse sense of style. Where does this come from and does it connect to your life as a performer?
I actually have never really thought about it before. My style is directly linked to my mood. If I am feeling relaxed I’ll throw on baggy jeans and a white T-shirt (Theory makes the best ones). If I’m feeling sunny and it is sunny outside, I wear a flowy dress with some sandals.
The most fun part of my wardrobe is all the performance wear. Because I’m on stage a lot, I have an entire wardrobe of formal wear…aka GOWNS! I think a lot about what I wear for performances and how my clothing relates to the music I am singing because how I dress impacts how I carry and feel about myself on stage. If I am singing something saucy, it helps to put on a dress that makes me feel that way.
I’m in a line of work where people constantly tell me what to do, including what to wear. Usually the people telling me these things are older men in positions of power and they never take issue with men’s clothing in the same way they do women’s. Aside from the clear misogyny, it bothers me because it’s personal. Style is an artistic representation of who we are just as our taste in music or art is. We all like different things, but it’s not okay to tell someone else that they can’t like something just because you don’t. It might seem silly to think about clothes this way, but I think these little things funnel into our larger views on acceptance and equality.
Diana (left) as Clorinda, an evil stepsister in Cenerentola. Photo Credit: Todd Rosenberg & Andrew Cijoffi
Tell us about your practice technique and how you connect your voice to your body?
The voice is a weird thing. Because I can’t physically see what is going on in there, I have to rely on what it feels like. Every day is different. Sometimes I get up and feel fantastic. Sometimes I feel a little weird. I am convinced this is why so many singers are crazy; there is just so much that is unpredictable and the science isn’t far along enough yet to give every person the tools to cope.
Just like any other athlete I have to stretch. I have 3 exercises that I do everyday. The first thing is called a lip trill (blowing air through closed lips in order to make them flutter.) This one tells me if the air is moving evenly and if I am holding tension in my throat. The second exercise is basically like lion’s breath in yoga. I expand my entire face and stick out my tongue and then relax everything in my mouth. The last one is a little more complicated to explain, but essentially I put my chin to my chest and sing in the lowest part of my range. This exercise really lets me focus on what parts of my body are moving and alive and what parts need to stay passive. If these three exercises feel good then I’m ready for whatever. If they feel weird then I take more time getting ready. When it all feels right it’s kind of like hitting the ball in the sweet spot of a tennis racket—very little effort and big pay-off.
How do you manage the pressure of performing? What do you do to separate your voice, which is so intimately a part of you, from the stress?
The pressure and stress are always going to be there and I think trying to get rid of them just makes it worse. I try to never lose sight of why I do what I do. I sing because music makes my soul happy and fulfilled. The pressure and the stress of this career are never going to take that away from me. So, I try and just let them exist and let myself feel whatever parts of them I’m going to feel. I don’t have control over that stuff so why try and control it? I let my love of this art form guide my decisions.
Being silly in front of her incredible work place!
You come from a family of musicians. How has this history informed your musical experience?
My family has informed my musical experience in every possible way. I think many people would have felt pressure coming from a long line of musicians (on both sides), but that was never the case for me. I can’t imagine having parents who aren’t musicians. Music for us is like an entire other language through which we can communicate. It is at the heart of how we engage with one another. I trust their musical opinions more than anyone else’s and having their advice to lean on is so unbelievably awesome.
I didn’t get the chance to know either set of my grandparents that well, particularly the musicians, but there are recordings of music that they either wrote or performed. Listening to those is so much better than just a looking at a picture or hearing a story. When I listen, I feel like I get to experience a small part of who they were for myself.
You just moved to a new city, Chicago. What has been the best part? The hardest part?
I suppose the best part is getting to explore another city that I know nothing about—a city that is so different from what I am used to. I love exploring all this city has to offer—live music, great food, (though not the Mexican food…don’t listen to anyone who says that good tacos exist here), and tons of summer festivals.
I love sharing Chicago with all my friends who come to visit. I didn’t really know anyone when I got here, so I had to take full ownership of lots of things I hadn’t before. Even things like decorating my own apartment (which I’m pretty proud of!) were big steps for me. It feels good to share my new city and my new life with my old friends.
Being away from my friends and family is absolutely the hardest part. I have an unusually close group of friends that are family. When you live 2,000 miles away you don’t get to have the basic ‘how was your day?’ chats that don’t seem all that important until you aren’t having them anymore.
Celene and Annie taking in Diana's new city.
What’s one thing you do daily to nurture your mind, body, or spirit?
Chicago is a beautiful city and recently I have really enjoyed going for a walk at some point every day. I am close to a great park with lots of trees and dogs. Along the walk to the park are cute little houses and I like imagining the people who live in them and what their lives are like. I love talking on the phone with people back home in L.A. and sometimes I’ll FaceTime them while on my walk so they can see the trees too.
What’s the last thing that inspired you music or otherwise?
With all the horrible crap that has been going on in the world these last couple of weeks, I’ve been reading a lot of news and I came across this letter that a husband wrote after his wife was killed in the Bataclan massacre in Paris. After I read it I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I found it to be a completely inspiring way to look at tragedy. I don’t know that if I could look at it this way if I was put in the same position. I hope I never have to know, but I think the letter conveys an important message about the power that we have in the face of tragedy.
Looking ahead, what do you want your contribution to be to the musical world?
I don’t know how to be anything but myself, especially musically. I think my music has always been the most honest representation of who I am. So I guess that in a way, my contribution can only ever be a reflection of myself.
I hope to be a part of projects that are interesting and new. I hope I get to share music that I love. I’m committed to being an educator one day--not necessarily a voice teacher but a coach of some sort. I want to start a music festival someday, maybe in northern California, where young singers and instrumentalists can collaborate in a more substantial way than they get to while in school.
What do you do before bed?
I would like to say that I read before bed or listen to some great podcast, but I watch TV. After a full day of rehearsal it is really hard to get the music out of my head. It’s like a horrible tape-loop. TV shows help to shut it off. Currently it’s all about Jane the Virgin and Master of None.
In her favorite "gown."
What lessons have you learned from the women in your life?
My voice teacher Elizabeth used to say, “heart on fire, head on ice.” She was referring to singing, of course, but I always took this as a greater life lesson.
My three closest girlfriends are constantly throwing down some serious wisdom, especially within the last 6 months. They know me better than I do, and whether we are talking about karmic lessons or our favorite type of potato chip, they are a constant reminder that I am never alone.
My mom is an exceptional human. I always have a little WWKD (What Would Krys Do) voice in the back of my head when facing difficult decisions. I think the greatest lesson she has ever taught me is how to be kind. My mom is the type of person who knows the name of every waiter at the local restaurant or every cashier at the market. She knows where they are from and what their dreams are. She might not always want to know this information, but without hesitation she really listens to people. Her generosity is abundant and I try to carry that with me. She’s also a great cook and though she has refused to teach me, I recently figured out that if I ask her a lot of questions via FaceTime while I’m cooking, she gives up the secrets.