The Music of Amanda Webb
story and photo by Bob Gustin
Amanda Webb is a classically trained vocalist who studied at two prestigious institutions, the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan and the Indiana University School of Music.
But in those the academic settings, she soon realized she was a rogue performer in classical circles because she yearned to have her audience involved in her music, not just hearing it from afar.
So instead of pursuing a career in the opera, she let life take its course.
She met and married Brian Webb, another IU music student who was unsure of how to use his classical vocal and violin training. A series of non-musical jobs followed for both, along with a family of five boys.
In the years that followed, she gave singing lessons, sang contemporary Christian music in local churches, and performed at weddings and parties.
Now, she’s ready to sing the blues.
The Amanda Webb Band has been performing for about a year in different incarnations. It features Brian on guitar and violin, Amanda on keyboards, and both on vocals. They have played at Chateau Thomas Winery, Big Woods, the Brown County Playhouse, and Brown County Inn, all in Nashville. They play blues standards, rock and roll, and, in her words, “whatever makes the party fun.”
Other area gigs are lined up, and with Bloomington-based pianist John Urban, she will use a grant from the Indiana Arts Commission to put on two concerts at the Brown County State Park. The first will be May 5, part of a hike and naturalist tour primarily for home-schooled kids. The other will be October 27 for Brown County High School band and choir students. Both are open to the public.
Amanda grew up in the Washington, D.C. area. She attended a private Christian high school in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where formal classical music was emphasized and “pop ideas were guilty pleasures but the true ambition had to be in classical music,” she said.
But she always wanted to be a pop singer, watching Soul Train and American Bandstand, and dreamed of becoming the next Madonna, Annie Lennox, or Tori Amos. She learned keyboards in order to accompany herself and make her more valuable in a band setting.
“This is the dichotomy,” she said. “I love classical music. It’s rich. It’s deep. It’s intense. There’s a depth of creativity in the composer’s work that can’t be matched with pop music. And yet at the same time, I always have felt constrained by classical music. There are so many rules. It must be done exactly right.”
Re-evaluating her goals, she took a bank job in Bloomington but says it wasn’t a good fit. And she met Brian Webb, a Brown County native who was her neighbor. They became best friends, married in 2000, and moved to the Bean Blossom area where they bought a house and began raising a family.
The Webbs have five boys: Billy 13; Henry, 12; Charles, 10; Robert, 6, and George, 4. She says three of the boys have learning issues, and were not thriving in public schools, so she began teaching them at home.
“Home schooling allows me to focus on their weak points, but also to focus on their strong points to give them more room to excel in the areas that they’re good at,” she said.
To help with the family income, Amanda offered voice and piano lessons to area children and it was once a fulltime job. But she has ended that part of her career, and is ready for the next phase.
“I would just like to be a working musician again,” she said, and she is willing to do a variety of genres.
“Music is the way my subconscious talks to me. “I love to sing. Even now, I will sing anything. I think the physical act of singing makes me very happy,” she said. “It’s not only singing—there’s an individuality that comes across in performing. I like emoting. I like eliciting a response from an audience. My greatest high in performing is when I have an audience that starts interacting with me.”
She hopes to blend her classical training with the joy of popular music.
“Technique is a tool that you use to get where you’re going and make sure you stay on track. But technique can only take you so far. In performance, it’s more about moving your audience.”
Brown County musician Tamara Lane has performed with Amanda in various settings, and is using her as a voice instructor for a church choir workshop. She notes Amanda is technically excellent, but says it is her vibrant personality and engaging voice which define her.
Amanda and Brian have set their priorities. They want to stay married and raise a family, and the best way to do that, she said, is to be in the same band. Together, they’re writing songs and putting together a recording.
Like Amanda, Brian has been in music most of his life, including choir and band at Brown County High School. At IU, he was involved in opera and madrigals and small chorales. After college, he worked for Harley-Davidson and for a bank before joining the family business, Webb & Sons Auto Restoration in Gnaw Bone. And he says he became enamored with the blues after seeing an Austin City Limits concert by Stevie Ray Vaughan.
“At that moment, I knew I wanted to do that,” he said.
You can hear a sample of Amanda and Brian’s music at <www.reverbnation.com/AmandaWebbBand>. Look for their Facebook page “Amanda Webb Band” to learn of upcoming performances.