I started writing music because I lost someone in my life, and it was the only way I knew to get through it. I picked up his guitar, figured out how to play it, and sang my way out of the abyss. I keep making music because I see how it effects people, helps them tap into their own stories, and find joy in their lives.
We humans are hard-wired to connect. When we turn inward to our truth, our story, and then share that with others in an authentic way, we find joy. My story might have been a tragic one, but I chose to share it, own it, and in that way write the ending for myself.
And that ending was definitely not what anyone expected….
I was always going to be a biomedical engineer. I didn’t really know what a biomedical engineer did, but it sounded right up my ally and I latched onto it. I was a math and science geek at a time when girls weren’t really supposed to be into calculus and chemistry, so I was nudged by a few well-meaning teachers. And I was into it too – it came easily to me. So I capitalized on my ability to extrapolate, interpolate and regurgitate info, and started on a pre-med track at Duke University. Of all my friends, I was the one who was absolutely sure of my plan, my major, what I wanted to get out of University: I was bound for med school.
I graduated from Duke with a degree in drama and a second in chemistry, and I headed down to the FSU/Asolo Conservatory of Professional Actor Training to pursue a very different dream. To quote John Lennon: “Life is what happens when we’re busy making other plans.”
Conservatory kicked my butt. Acting was not in my well-studied wheelhouse. But when I finally re-engaged my right brain, things began to sink in. It was in the theatre that I learned to think my own thoughts and access my own emotions. On stage I learned the craft of story-telling, the art of living truthfully in imaginary circumstances, and I got my first taste of the heady feeling of an audience leaning in to listen, to connect, and to take the ride. I was hooked!
I met Matthew a few years into a successful acting career when I walked into a small theatre in the middle of nowhere Western Maryland to perform a show I’d already done, for money that really didn’t cover my expenses back home…there were a lot of obstacles to me showing up right there, right then, to meet this flat-picking, song-singing man. But show up I did. And my track took another sharp turn…
Matthew played cover tunes at various clubs and bars. I don’t remember when I started jumping up to join him, but, eventually we became a regular thing. I’d sit beside him and wait for the chorus to roll around and belt out some harmony I’d made up. I loved it. I loved the way the harmony vibrated in my chest, I loved the feeling of singing along, of raising my voice with Matthew. So, we kept doing it. And along the way, we found a deeper harmony. We fell in love. We got engaged. And we started planning our future together.
When Matti died, the track shifted so suddenly, it felt like my life had been completely derailed. I was devastated. I’d lost everything I’d dreamed in those years we’d spent together. But then I made a decision. I decided I would hold onto the one thing that Matti had brought me that I didn’t have to lose: music. I picked up Matti’s Martin, figured out how to play a few chords, and because I didn’t know any songs all the way through – just the harmony parts to the chorus – I wrote my own. I wrote my grief into song. And I kept singing. I wasn’t singing for anyone but myself. But the thing about music – authentic music shared from the heart – it reaches people. It effects people. Whether we intend it or not.
One thing led to another (enough things that I’ve written a whole play about it, so we’ll skip through this bit for now!) and I ended up recorded my first EP, “New Shoes”. Someone sent a copy to Billboard Magazine and they gave it “Critic’s Choice for Best Newcomer”. I was astounded. I didn’t consider myself to be a newcomer to music. I didn’t consider myself to be a musician at all. But when the dust cleared from the biggest disaster in my life to date, I found myself barreling down a brand new track…with a handful of songs, and a guitar on my back.
Now, almost 20 years, five albums, a fabulous husband and two beautiful children later, I’ve finally come to own it. I own my story. And I continue to step up to the microphone to share it in song.
If you’d like to hear some of that story, you can click here to listen to my newest record, SING LOUDER, that includes songs written from where I am in my story now, but also includes a remake of one of those first songs: “Fly and Be Free”.
I hope you’ll be inspired to share your own story, own it, and write your own ending.
Thank you for being a listener and for making it all matter.
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