You can’t be what you can’t see
“What will you do when you finish high school?” My singing teacher asks me as I’m about to leave his studio in Nijmegen, The Netherlands.
“Oh, uhm, I don’t know yet,” I answer hesitantly.
He smiles at me and says: “Why don’t you become a singer?”
That’s my secret wish!
Do I really qualify for that gigantic dream?
I used to sing myself to sleep. Much to the alarm of my elder brother, who slept in the attic. And, I’m a member of the ‘hairbrush-team’. Singing in front of the mirror is how I shaped my dream. I’m also the girl who hid her face into her pullover each time she had to speak in school. Flushes of red? I know every shade.
On my way home, I fly.
“Dad, mum, I want to be a singer.”
“Oh, that’s really nice, but that’s no future for you. It’s a tough life. Do it as a hobby.”
As my father is very ill, he passes away a few years later, I do not have the guts to stand up and say – I’m doing it anyway. So I enroll in the Amsterdam University and after some years of total ennui I got my degree in – wait for it – Public Administration.
But the stage keeps calling me. I still take singing lessons.
And I sing in jazz-, funk-, and bigbands. Anywhere.
Then, as I’m about to graduate, I find out about Casablanca on the Amsterdam Zeedijk. It’s a club that hosts a vocal jazz session. Every Tuesday I go. Fearfully at first.
They like my singing. Soon, I’m a regular.
One chilly winter night, as I’m singing “You can say that you’re leading me oooooon”, I suddenly hear that whisper.
“Go for it, Ils. You want to be a singer? Go and give it a try! Just DO it!”
I instantly know this is my heart speaking. I finally listen. The next day I put my name on the list for the Amsterdam Conservatory, and I’m accepted.
It’s a sort of homecoming. How I love the vibrant mood, the dedication to music, the open interaction with my fellow students and teachers. Wow.
You and your smile
I’ve always felt a love for the adrenaline rush of Open Mic nights, and I’m hosting one of them, at De Heeren van Aemstel, near the famous Rembrandtplein in Amsterdam, on Monday nights.
One night in April, my pianist falls ill. I’m searching for replacements, but somehow, nobody is available. Someone suggests Erik van der Luijt, who lives in Leiden (all this takes place in Holland – officially ‘The Netherlands’ – as you may have noticed), but may be willing to come over.
And yes, he does.
The moment he enters the door, our eyes meet.
Two weeks later he moves in with me. Five years later our daughter Ellen is born.
We are still together. We both can hardly believe it.
Almost 25 years… we could write a book about it.
Just For The Record
I’m invited for a tour in Spain, I sing with a close harmony vocal group in Switzerland, perform in France at the Vienne Festival and dream about recording my own album. Erik says I should just do it. He has always been my inspiration and motivator. He writes all the arrangements for the songs I chose.
Out Of A Dream sees the light. No record company to back me up, though I have tried, so I cycle through Amsterdam to distribute my albums myself. It was a bit cold, I admit.
Het Parool says:
“This is the state of the Dutch jazz! A singer with a wonderful voice, a wonderful band and wonderful arrangements has to publish her own CD. We should be ashamed of ourselves. She sounds one hell of a lot fuller and more convincingly than many other American diva. If she would have come up 30 years ago, she possibly would have rocked the world.”
RTL catches on and puts me on the news. Films me cycling on Dam Square with my albums. I’m interviewed by large newspapers like De Telegraaf; KLM puts me on their in-flight list; I’m invited to sing at festivals, clubs, and parties.
Am I on the right way? I guess so. It is fantastic to receive rave reviews. Of course, bad reviews happen too. The trick is to focus on the good. I learned after several years. Good reviews never can be good enough, bad reviews can stick to you…
Now, I’ve recorded 8 albums to date. Performed all over the world. Can’t wait to record my ninth. Because it’s such an incredible journey. Selecting songs, getting drawn into the stories, creating new music, arranging, photo shooting. Trying to get the best out of myself. I just love that process.
And what I find most important; that it is sincere. I’m trying to picture the story and figure out what it means to me, in order to get the words through.
I used to approach singing from a completely different angle – spent hours to polish a certain word. I think I wanted to impress. This is all before our baby was born.
Though, I still could die when I sing out of tune, or when my timing is really bad. I will immediately work on it.
And then, there is your response. Is there music without an audience? Is there more magic than a shared experience? Sharing the songs, and stories, the love for music. Basically, it’s all I want out of life, I guess.
That, and the wellbeing of my loved ones.
So here’s to life, music, and love,