women’s art

Lifeline

At my Gramma’s in Lynchburg, Virginia

Sometimes it helps to read things I’ve written in the past. To be reminded of what is vital, what I may have forgotten, what is integral to where I’m going.

To be a creative artist was born in me — a most slender thread connected to the core of the earth, through my very being and up beyond into the skies — a seriousness of such resiliency it could never be broken and would take all of life to realize.

Whether music, paint or word, whatever the form, if it takes you by surprise, propels itself through you — it is your art, a conscious spiritual calling, and your task to bring into the world.

In the arc of my own creative life, my earliest poems and lyrics came from this unconscious place, without thought — vaguely familial, words hacked out of walls or erupting through an external image — phrases which I instinctively pieced together.  I had grown up surrounded by music, yet my first experience of the truly deep, creative source within myself arrived in dreams and the silence of written words and images.

So it was, through prose poems and lyrics of my first three recordings: When I left loss  became the title of my first album (1999), a singular phrase that arose as I lay still; the dream of a two-story house, pressing unnaturally down upon me, its cover photo.  Another dream, a man kneeling at my feet says Love Flows Like the Blood of a River — words of such import,  I knew they would  be the title for a song one day.  So, too, the title of my second album (2003).

Free-writing, without editing, upon a randomly chosen word or image, provided more material.  Full stories articulated on the plumb line of an external image — a woman wearing a turban on a bus became “Eileen” ; another woman, leaning forward, clutching her purse, the central character in “There is a Silence / Rolling of Time”.

During this period I also began to study voice for the first time — what had been, over years, petrified and buried.

“Talon of the Blackwater and Graces” , title track to my third album (2009), was presaged in a dream I had of black water gushing from a neighboring backyard (a woman’s shelter for those transitioning out of abusive situations) into ours — dark, lyrical material surging out over just a few days.  The title itself came from a prose poem I had written years before.  Was this the image of a disaster erupting from my own unconscious recollections as a child?

It was only during the process of recording Talon of the Blackwater that my poetry, subsumed in lyric, and my voice, fully became part of my music.  I was, in fact, a songwriter and arranger, yet when I first heard the songs on the working demo, I believed someone else must have written them.

Starting in 2008, to my surprise, I began writing pieces for solo piano.  Included in these was the instrumental development of “Aberfan”, a folk song that my mother had written in 1966 following the Aberfan landslide disaster.   My first arrangement of her song was recorded on my second album.  Over the years it has become a full length, modern composition.

Let me tell you the story of Aberfan, which takes me to today.

“I believe that virtually everything that is within a person is revealed in both their speaking or singing voice and their music.  And your music is very paradoxical, as I experience it both intuitively and analytically.  It’s very simple, really almost so simple that I could believe that you had never taken lessons and yet there’s an intelligence about it that’s informed from an interior place which creates true originality and I’m using that word in its true meaning, “emerging from the origin, the source” as opposed to merely being novel or different.  This duality of a simplicity and a uniqueness is very refreshing.”  Joseph Marcello, The Recorder, speaking in an interview with Laura about her work

“Dreamy, visionary, cutting edge.”  Holly Hopple, Herndon Festival

“Siersema brings the power of her crystalline voice and compositional skills to bear on her third release…understated accompaniments are at times brilliant…Siersema takes the traditional spiritual ‘Wade in the Water’ and makes it her own with a ghostly arrangement reminiscent of Daniel Lanois’s work…the excellent 14-minute ‘Along the Fenway’ features cellist Eugene Friesen and is strikingly beautiful.” Progression, The Quarterly Journal of Progressive Music

“We LOVE your music.” Kelley & Cyrus, Yurt Radio, Hampshire College

“While the voice gives Talon of the Blackwater its beauty, her writing is what gives it depth.”  Donnie Moorhouse, The Republican

“Laura’s poems lend a riveting, personal touch to the record, and at times cut so deep the hair on the listener’s skin goes on end.”  Josh Shear, Reminder Publications

“Enthralling and complex music with world-class musicians.”  Sheryl Hunter, Greenfield Recorder

“Her voice beckons mercilessly to the physical world like the bodiless spirit that haunts the mansion on a faraway hill.  Wanderers beware…”  Independent Songwriter Magazine Pick of the Month

“…they should make movies out of music like this.”  Holbrook, Jamaica Plain Arts News

“Experimental, serene and surreal…” Sarah Craig, Caffe Lena

“Siersema has power in her words…Some of the songs begin with her reading poetry, and let me tell you, I could sit enraptured listening to a full album of her simply doing this…it sets up the tunes in a fashion that I’ve never quite experienced before. ”  Mish Mash Indie Music Reviews

“The major labels are always looking for artists who fit in neat categories, to simplify their marketing efforts.  Artists know this, and try to make music that will fit.  But some artists are driven to make music that falls between the cracks, that fits no musical genre very well at all.  Sometimes, there are traces of various musical genres, but combined in unexpected ways.  And sometimes there is no genre that can describe the music fairly.  Always, these artists show a fierce originality.  Some of the best music I have ever heard also defies categorization.  Just as the English language is neither French nor German, but is derived from both, this music is a new language, one that speaks eloquently.”  (Oliver di Place blog on Laura’s work)

“Folk fans should take note, as well as those that like classical music, and Tori Amos.”   Suzie Siegel, Tampa Tribune

“She sings like an angel.”  Gary Lee, Mt. Wachusett Folk Cafe

“A touch Celtic, a touch New Age, she is uncategorizable, a passion rare in folk music today.”  John Henry, WCUW, Worcester

“Laura is an acoustic craftsman, a wordsmith…with the soul and lyrics of a true poet…” Indie-Music Reviews

“STUNNING!!!”  David Weide, KUNV, Las Vegas

A few can carry us beyond….by indenting our souls, effecting change in the soul whereby the mood is retained and perhaps never lost…your music has the power to do just this! You have given a ‘storehouse’ for our spirit’s garden. Places in greatest need of nourishment are thereby fulfilled.”  Vincent Tripi, haiku poet

Jung on the Purpose of Art: The Outlier

The creative artist is an outlier.  

“…the work of an artist meets the psychic needs of the society in which she lives, and therefore means more than her personal fate, whether she is aware of it or not.  Being essentially the instrument of her work, she is subordinate to it, and we have no right to expect her to interpret it for us.  She has done her utmost by giving it form and must leave the interpretation to others and to the future.  A great work of art is like a dream…for all its apparent obviousness it…is always ambiguous.  To grasp its meaning, we must allow it to shape us as it shaped her.  Then we also understand the nature of her primordial experience.  She has plunged into the healing and redeeming depths of the collective psyche, where man is not lost in the isolation of consciousness and its errors and sufferings, but where all are caught in a common rhythm which allows the individual to communicate her feelings and strivings to mankind as a whole.”  Jung, Carl Gustav.  “Psychology and Literature”, The Spirit in Man, Art, and Literature c 1966

“An outlier may be sometimes excluded from the data set (and) can cause serious problems in statistical analyses.”  (Wikipedia)

Laura Siersema is composer of Aberfan (7 pianos, voice and tools of rescue), a sponsored project of New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt organization.  All donations are tax deductible.  Your contribution ensures we can return to the studio to complete its recording.

All contributions, no matter the size, are greatly appreciated.

P.S.  In the quote above, I changed all pronouns from “he” and “him” to “her” and “she”.

ArtSake: How Have Mentors Affected Your Art?

Posted recently at Mass Cultural Council’s blog ArtSake, a place to dig into the creative, innovative work of Massachusetts artists.  Periodically, they pose questions to artists about issues they face in their work and lives. This month, they asked practitioners in a variety of disciplines, Have you had any important mentors? Who have they been, and how did they affect you?

Laura Siersemacomposer
One day after a session with Maggie, walking down Trowbridge Street in Cambridge, I felt something I had never experienced before in my life. As if slightly elevated above the sidewalk, I was enveloped, cushioned in timelessness. I believed it was the Feminine. Maggie was a Jungian psychoanalyst and we had just begun our long journey together, which would last over years, until her death. Guide through the chronicle and cipher of my dreams; attentive to events whose plumb lines captured our attention in the daylight, Maggie traveled with me on an inner way towards my own creative center: where physical, psychological and musical sensations are one. Where, in fact, I co-create with God. To passage between waking and sleep, courier of images and sounds occasionally glimpsed or heard – where beauty is both dark and light, and evidence of trauma transformed. What access to rage and powerlessness, survival and hope, became the necessity of excavating and composing Aberfan, my work about the 1966 coal mining disaster in Wales – the crushing, dismembering experience of a man-made landslide upon a schoolhouse. I can only assume a sympathetic situation had existed within myself from the very beginning: a spontaneous child disavowed.

Laura Siersema is a composer, pianist, vocalist, and poet. Learn more about her ambitious Aberfan, which is a sponsored project of New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt organization.

photo from the process of creating the “Altered Interlude” in Laura Siersema’s ABERFAN.

Women’s Music and Spirituality

Today I came across this email exchange I’d had back in 2003 with journalist Suzie Siegel.  She’d reviewed my first album, When I Left Loss.  In fact, hers was the first review of my music ever done!

“I was invited to present my work for a Spirituality Seminar in the MSW program @ Syracuse University last year. Ever since then I have wondered about this connection between my work and the ways in which other women experience and explore their own paths–for my work is one version of what it is to individuate–and based on the way my heart was racing that day, I thought I had come upon something very important.”

Suzie wrote back:  “Although I was never in the entertainment area of journalism, I often reviewed CDs by women because the work simply wasn’t getting done. Music by men dominates even progressive radio stations, such as WMNF in Tampa. I think women need to hear the stories and voices of other women. Otherwise, we’re always seeing ourselves as reflected by men.”

How good it is to be reminded of something you already knew.

Graphic Design Helene Zuckerbrod

Graphic Design Helene Zuckerbrod