Jazzy junior swaps science for song
Kathleen Fallon '10 got her first
chemistry set in first grade. She
went to science camp. In her room
are fungus slides and a picture of
her chromosomes. Not so long ago,
she planned to pursue a PhD in
If that was all you knew about her, you might not believe that she's the same Kathleen Fallon-- sometime dancer, longtime pianist and singer--who's established herself prominently on Mayflower Hill's music scene as the Colby Jazz Band's official vocalist and an elder member of the Sirens a cappella group. And knowing that Kathleen Fallon, having heard the voice she can make sultry or sweet or soaring at will, having seen the way her shoulders and feet move with the music as it flows through and from her, how glad certain of us are that she didn't continue down that first path. Recalling her old workload, how glad she is, too.
Most students take 16 credits per semester; during her sophomore fall semester, Fallon (then a biologymusic double major) took 22. Two classes were labs. And still she held on. What made her let go? "It was my genetics exam," she laughs. "I was looking at it, and I was just like, this is not what I want to do anymore."
She thinks, though, that dropping the bio major was "inevitable." A Dijon FebFrosh, Fallon started life at Colby with a jazz improvisation JanPlan taught by Eric Thomas, director of band activities. "After I took jazz improv ... it was like abnormal," she says. "I was so into it. I seriously think I practiced like five hours a day, and I didn't care." A longtime lover of movie musicals, Fallon had always enjoyed jazz standards, but had never been particularly plugged into the genre. Now, she realized, "It was a world I hadn't explored," so she dove in, finding a deeper passion for music in general as one result. "Now I'll get to do something I truly love for the rest of my life, which is pretty darn cool." After that JanPlan, Thomas asked her to start singing with the jazz band and at gigs around town. No matter the size and volume of her accompaniment, she keeps her bewitching voice strong and clear, and hitting the extremes of her range never takes away from her fullness of tone or her vibrato.
"Working with Eric has definitely been a good experience," Fallon says. "He's helping me understand how I'm singing." An intuitive affinity for jazz has long served her well ("It had allowed me to do with my voice what I had always wanted to do, like what I would do with it when I was just singing in the shower, [like] changing the rhythm if I wanted to"), but with Thomas she's improving her conscious grasp of the technique behind it.
For his part, Thomas says Fallon is "tremendous" to work with, "a singer who 'gets it.' The difficulty [of] moving from 'intuitive' singing to 'conscious' control is daunting and one few singers attempt. It's much easier to know where you are in a scale or a chord or a harmonic progression when you're pushing keys or strumming strings than it is while pulling notes out of the air. It takes a combination of intellect, p e r s e v e r a n c e , p e r f e c t i o n i sm, patience and big ears." Adds senior Siren Catherine Woodiwiss, Fallon is perfect for jazz: " l i g h t h e a r t e d , s p o n t a n e o u s , imaginative, and welcoming all at once, while also possessing a personal, introspective nature. She owns jazz music, and whenever we catch her singing it, it's like a light has gone on somewhere inside her." This superlative soloist thrives in groups, too, like the Sirens: a setting that calls not for outshining but for strengthening the women singing beside her. It's as much an emotional contribution as an aesthetic one; the sisterhood of the Sirens is at times nothing short of achingly beautiful to witness, and Fallon's part in it is essential. "Kathleen is the epitome of class," Woodiwiss says. "She's intelligent, witty, kind, sophisticated-- get her in one of her many pairs of incredible heels, and she may as well have walked straight out of a 1940s romantic comedy." After Colby, Fallon, who has interned at the Smithsonian for jazz appreciation, hopes to go into arts administration, maybe at a general theater.
For now, though, it's enough that she gets to sing. "I get giddy, I don't know," the onetime bio major says, grinning. "I heard that singing lets out endorphins. Maybe that's why."