Parisian at heart, mule in soul and an American beauty for all to see

Jen Fellman ‘08 returns to Muhlenberg

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Jen Fellman '08 sings one of her songs from her debut album, "Forbidden Drive."

The lights in the Red Door turn down, the ETC source 4s burn up and the stage is illuminated graciously as Zach Delecce ‘20 steps up to the plate. Delecce has a Friday casual style, a deep tone and a sincere look in his eyes as his fingers strum his brown guitar. His performance was a part of Muhlenberg College’s Housing and Residence Life “Talent from the Halls” Series. 

Delecce, who opened for singer Jen Fellman ‘08, started his set with a classic: “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” by Green Day. His voice echoed around the room and I felt like I was sitting legs-up by a campfire. I couldn’t help but want to sing along with him. His voice was sweet and light, quite the contrast to his speaking voice. 

Next up, Delecce played an original song. He pulled out his picking skills and his tone quality improved, for his original piece felt more intimate and showed off more colors in his voice that corresponded to the colors in the music’s composure. As the chorus hit, he sang “Run away, let’s go,” and the guitar was strummed at a rate that made me feel like I was running along with him. His song graced themes about love and change, a change that could “save my life,” as he lyricized.

For his next song, Delecce transitioned to the piano. He joked about only being able to see the top of his head, which rang true, but hey, he’s a musician, not a stage actor! The piece he played was “Say Something,” by A Great Big World. It sounded beautiful. His own texture mixed with the trope of A Great Big World’s lead singer Ian Axel. He had a twang, a country feel. Again, I was in the woods when hearing his voice. His music transported us, and Delecce certainly carried the torch for storytelling in our generation of musicians. What I enjoyed most about Delecce’s performance was the emotion I felt in his voice. He hit the high notes and riffs with ease. 

His final song was graciously shared to us on a Ukulele; a tiny, adorable instrument Delecce got a day ago as he just learned how to play. Delecce prayed he wouldn’t mess up…Delecce did far from such. “Over the Rainbow” was his perfect closer. The initial “ooo’s” brought me to my happy place along the beach somewhere paradisiacal. His voice was so savory and connected beautifully with his self-accompaniment. His sweet and innocent face complimented the lullaby perfectly.

“I love performing because it’s the culmination of the hard work you put in with all the practice and learning and being able to share that with people is really great. In terms of my artistic goals, obviously I would love to have a career in performance and music, but that can be very hard to accomplish,” said Delecce. “As long as I still enjoy myself while playing and have fun with it though, then it’ll be worth every second I put into it.”

One star left as another arrived. Muhlenberg alum, Jen Fellman ‘08 is a singer, actor and writer. She is a cabaret performer living and performing in New York City. It was her first time performing at Muhlenberg since graduation. Her biggest goal as an LGBTQ artist is to open the great American love songs to anyone. 

On her returning performance, Fellman said, “Revisiting Muhlenberg was a joy. It always is. I feel at home on this campus. Something about being here makes me feel relaxed and peaceful. Seeing professors and staff who continue to support me and my work is a real gift. I loved having this chance to connect with current students and share my work with them. I was honored to be invited back to perform at my alma mater. To perform again in a space that helped shape and inspire me as an artist was very powerful and meaningful to me.”

Fellman started off with a beautiful tune entitled “They Didn’t Believe Me,” from her album, “Forbidden Drive.” She had a beautiful, classical voice, with incredible vocal control, focused expression and excellent poise. 

Fellman liked to think of songs as road maps: the highs, the lows, all lit up. The road that connects these moments are her songs, and that’s why “Forbidden Drive” is the title of her album. 

Fellman was a fantastic storyteller. Her accompaninest, too, played beautifully. If I closed my eyes, I could see her performing on a Broadway stage in the 1940s. Her Golden-Age tone pierced the souls of students in the Red Door as she sang “Stardust” for her opening number.

Forbidden Drive is a real street she lived on. Her father was a Tobacco seller. One day, in 1948, his sister brought home a record by Peggy Lee. Fellman’s mother shared the record with her, and according to Fellman, the song she loved most was about a gypsy secret to love. Entitled “Golden Earrings,” the song talks about the earrings bringing a magic spell, a spell that casts instant love from those who see a woman wearing these special golden earrings. Fellman then left the mainstage to connect more intently with the audience. 

Her aunt loved the song so much that she would wear golden earrings to every date, hoping she might find love that way, Fellman explains, right before returning to the song and singing out an ungodly high note.

Fellman told the audience that “Showboat” was her very first musical obsession. One song, in particular, caught her eye. It was about a love affair. She said sometimes you can’t help, but love that special someone. She sang, “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man,” from Showboat and I felt the audience relating, especially the singles, longing for their true love this Valentine’s Day weekend. The song transitioned from serious to light, which worked for such a relatable, sometimes difficult subject. During the piano solo, we could easily feel her joy for some person she was envisioning.

Fellman then introduced the musician onstage, Ben Goldstone. Two years ago, Fellman shared that she went through a horrible break-up. Saying how hard it is to grow or learn from a low. She realized that heartbreak taught her to climb a mountain, which she literally did in Europe! She revealed how healing it was “to tend to the body when the mind and heart were compromised” over her ex-girlfriend. She knew she had to reach the top of this mountain to feel accomplished, and the only way she could do so was by staying present. She followed this gorgeous anecdote by singing “Love Look Away” from “Flower Drum Song.” I was tearing up in my seat as I felt the truth behind her solemn eyes. Her voice was piercing and honest, and that’s what made her a phenomenal performer. 

After the performance, Delecce reflects, “My experience was really good. Not only did I enjoy performing a lot but also listening to Jen after was really awesome since she is so talented.”

To hear more from the elegant Parisian-at-heart, download Fellman’s debut album “Forbidden Drive” on Amazon, iTunes or Google Play.

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