Meet the US songwriter moved to pen a song to pay tribute to the victims of Aberfan – despite having no links to Wales
Thursday, April 9, 2015
Story by Huw Silk
Saturday, April 4, 2015
Story by Richie Davis
Encores & Curtain Calls: “Humility & Conviction”
By Joseph Marcello
Thursday, October 31, 2013
“I haven’t understood a bar of music in my life — but I have felt it.”— Igor Stravinsky
You don’t need to have a bulldozer to go deep; if you know where to find the gold, you can mine the same treasure much more humbly with a simple spade.
Laura Siersema is a singer-composer-keyboardist who prefers the simple spade. Her creations are seldom if ever complex, often rocking us into her dreamland on the seesaw of a pair of simple if dark-edged chords that she often likes to fracture into recurring kaleidoscopic patterns.
True, often her harmonic color choices are unusual — ambiguous and prismatic, avoiding the predictable progressions and vocabularies that fuel much music in the singer-songwriter domain. But, ultimately, hers is a simple and transparent art, calling little attention to itself or its messenger.
In Siersema’s case, the medium itself is the message: a soft, seasoned soprano soaring gently over a hypnotic keyboard mantra, lulling us into an instant alpha — or possibly even delta — wave of peaceful reverie.
There’s a bit of attenuated blues in her soulful, quivering voice and of folk-like lullaby. Whether intentional or otherwise, there is an ambiguity to her intonation, at times falling shy of the mark, at other times wavering through and beyond it. There is a certain vulnerability that one might associate with a young girl who was still learning the wayward journeys of her song.
But, putting all of these virtues, vulnerabilities and variables together, we experience a special space, a warm, welcome “zone” of spiritual comfort and peace which we feel no pressing desire to disturb, much less take leave of.
Nor does it at all hinder her fairy-tale-like musing that the woman herself speaks, acts and moves from out of a sense of inner quiet, of almost shy self-restraint. Indeed, it somehow comes as a surprise that a soul this publicly fragile ever managed to arrive intact on the performance stage at all.
It is doubtful we will ever see her at such as the Iron Horse, or any of a host of too visible or brightly lit Pioneer Valley venues. But, for those with ears to hear and hearts willing to relinquish sound and fury and to surrender to what lies beneath them, the fugitive sound visions of Siersema may be just what the soul-doctor ordered.
Of her work, lovely things have been said; a few samples:
“There are a few who can carry us beyond … by indenting our souls — by effecting change in the soul whereby the mood is retained and perhaps never to be lost … your music has the power to do just this! You have given a sort of ‘storehouse’ for our spirit’s garden. The places that are in greatest need of nourishment are thereby fulfilled.” (Vincent Tripi, haiku poet)
“Her voice beckons mercilessly to the physical world like the bodiless spirit that haunts the mansion on a far-away hill. ” (Independent Songwriters Magazine Pick of the Month)
A recent conversation with Siersema follows. Like her music, Siersema’s choice of expression is spare, chaste and deeply considered, an intriguing fusion of abstemious old New England and mystical New Age sensibilities, framed within a vigilant yet somehow delicate intelligence.
JM: The serenity of your music and your way expressing yourself suggest you’ve done your time in meditation “on the cushion” …
LS: Not meditation as such, but other things that fall in that realm.
LS: Well, bike riding, for one. I think that comes from a tendency to being an interior person, an introverted person, and one who worked with a Jungian therapist for a long time and so I pay a lot of attention to what goes on inside.
JM: That’s a kind of (meditation) “cushion.”
LS: Yes right … right.
JM: How did you stumble into music and creating?
LS: (Long silence) (barely audible) Wow … that’s a big question … I grew up with music all around me and a musical family, so I had that to grow with and I was very much drawn to the piano once I had been given some lessons, but I didn’t have lessons for that many years. I remember when I was a little girl, one time playing my chords, an E-flat chord and moving it up the piano, and I was just fascinated you could move it up the piano and how it sounded as you got higher, even though it was the same chord. That kind of thing really intrigued me. And I remember, when I was little, being taken by one piece by Bartok, even though I don’t remember what it was. There was an element of that kind of …
JM: … angular (non-traditional, higher-tension) harmony?
LS: That’s exactly the word I was going to say, angular and the willingness to step out of bounds. So I think that was something that was resonating, even though I couldn’t have expressed it at the time. In deep retrospect, I would say that.
JM: What kind of music was floating through the air through your childhood?
LS: It was predominantly acoustic music, folk music and church music.
JM: I go out on quite a limb and people have a hard time trusting I mean it when I say 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.
LS: Oh, that’s so fascinating. That’s just wonderful to hear, thank you so much for having the ability to have that perspective and for me of having the opportunity to hear it. That’s really something … quite wonderful.
JM: Yes, there’s this combination of humility and conviction at the same time.
LS: Well, I will tell you, as time goes on, I had been beginning these solo piano works and larger works with voice, which were really a reworking of works I’d had on an earlier album. But, what was being infused into the music now was that modern angular aspect of journey that I could not have done earlier because I wasn’t there yet. It’s almost as if they mark the depth along this inner way, much as these caves in France, which I’ve never been to, take you along some central inner journey. These are my ways to God.
JM: You feel, when you’re performing them, that you’re at your inmost center …
LS: Yes, that’s ultimately where I’d like to be. When I go out to play, it really is to bring out something from the other side, or to bring up something which I have written because those “stillness” variations are very precisely written out and not in any way improvised. There are times in all this when I have gone through some inner door of compositional understanding that you have to be willing to accept, writing down something that you have never heard, that you can’t even question, but just (be) open to receiving.
An author and composer, columnist Joseph Marcello of Northfield focuses on music and theater. He can be reached at email@example.com
Talon of the Blackwater: Laura Siersema
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker
A heady concoction of classical, progressive, and light jazz musics, Talon of the Blackwater is a Renaissance-ish semi-symphonic enterprise by way of Joni Mitchell and a scattering of Paul Winter’s early materials…well before he transferred his world-music sentiments into the New Age. Think, then, of shades of Chuck Mangione’s mellow side during his high period, minus the improv—Land of Make Believe, perhaps, taken down a few notches rhythmically, administered a pensively literate soporific. That should get you through the door.
Laura Siersema encants in a high clear voice simultaneously bright, hopeful, and wistful alongside swirling misty veils of gauze and shimmering fairylands, pastoral heavens sans the traces of canonical dogma. Sharply slanted to the spiritual, mystic Christian a la Bruce Cockburn, the composer cleaves to an experientially informed sentiment fusing existentialism and transcendence, most sharply illuminated, amid her own extremely well composed and lyricized tracks, in the trad chestnuts Wade in the Water and All My Trials. Don’t, however, think of Ramsey Lewis’ much-famed version of the former nor Mickey Newbury’s impossibly piercing take on the latter; Siersema makes these classics completely her own, baptizing them in cool streams of a luxurious healing that indexes perfectly into the flow of reflective soma comprising this entire release.
My Eye This Flower in Julep Runs is a gorgeous Edenic center ground between foggy ballad and melisma while Along the Fenway, an epic 14:35, becomes a spacious rendering taking advantage of the wide soundstage, alternating between delicacy and emphasis for a long intro descending into poetry and the sort of manifestation Joni was heading for but never quite arrived at.
More than once, Annie Haslam’s dulcet tones peek out as well. Of particular note throughout the release, above Siersema’s voice, guitar, and keys, is Michael Farquharson’s bass playing, brimming with imagery and gesture, but expect to hear T. Lavitz (Dixie Dregs) and Eugene Friesen (Paul Winter) in there as well, lending their undeniable talents in a mix well presented by producer-engineer Jay Hovnanian, a synth player texturing the affair with palpably melancholy airs.
Talon of Blackwater won’t fit comfortably within any single genre, but that’s entirely appropriate. We are now, are we not?, in another period of change and renewal, and the arts, as always, are holding the door open. Siersema’s disc is one among a small group emerging to hold the new mid-ground and stabilize landscapes as the next giant step is taken.
|All songs written by Laura Siersema except Wade in the Water
(trad; add’l lyrics: Siersema) and All My Trials” (traditional).
The Recorder Arts & Entertainment Feature: Plunging into “Blackwater” Laura Siersema
looks deeply into herself & lives to sing about it
Story by Richie Davis
June 18, 2009
Laura Siersema’s musical production business is called “Vault of the Valley Music,” which seems an apt description given the 13 months she spent locked away in her attic studio writing songs for her latest recording, “Talon of the Black Water.”
Siersema, who lives on Abbott Street in Greenfield, will be performing songs from her third recording — which she says is a departure from her earlier works — at New Salem’s 1794 Meetinghouse on June 28 at 4 p.m.
A singer-songwriter who’s basically shy and who has always performed alone, accompanying her high, wispy
voice on keyboard, Siersema has turned out a more packaged — some would say “produced” — recording this time, with percussion, bass and cello accompanying arrangements inspired by a fusion of jazz, new-age and other genres.
All of the songs on “Talon of Black Water’ — with the exception of two traditional spirituals, “Wade in the Water” and “All My Trials,” plus Paul Stookey’s traditional-sounding “This Train”— were written by Siersema, who was taught from about 5 years old to play ukulele, piano and guitar by parents who performed folk music around much of the South. Siersema, who received some formal piano training, remembers accompanying a singer friend at state competitions and somehow, uncharacteristically, she got involved in high school cheerleading.
But as for any singing of her own, “I was horribly, horribly shy, in a wounded way, so there was a lot to take care of.”
When she went off to the University of Florida to study nursing, Siersema’s discovery of an available grand piano there was like rediscovering an old friend and she’d play for hours at a time.
“I kind of re-met the thing that really loves to play,” said Siersema, who at around the same time began writing free verse and tried writing songs — lyrics scribbled onto paper napkins — that she’d tuck away.
“It was something I knew I was going to do at some time; I just didn’t know how or in what way,” she recalls.
Siersema was a psychiatric nurse and then a hospice nurse for about seven years in New York City, sometimes singing at open mics at Folk City or other venues. She wrote her “first really good song after getting mugged one night” and began to feel that songwriting and performing was what she was meant to do.
“It was always in my life — it just took time to be ready to come out and do it.”
Finally, she set off in 1987 for Boston’s Berklee College of Music.
“It was always just so close, but it was the hardest thing to come to,” she said. “That was my leap forward.”
While studying songwriting at Berklee, Siersema had a major breakthrough studying voice with a teacher from New England Conservatory of Music.
“It was essentially like therapy for me, a breaking down of all the physical habits and tensions that had asserted themselves as a way of protecting myself,” she recalls.
With a voice and a vocal style that’s a little reminiscent of Joni Mitchell, Siersema began singing around the Boston folk music circuit a few years after graduating Berklee in 1990, and by 1998, had began opening concerts for John Gorka, Cheryl Wheeler and other singers.
Siersema moved to Greenfield in 2002 and the following year issued her second CD, “Love Flows Like the Blood of a River,” which left her with the seeds of what she would turn to in “Talon of the Blackwater.” Around that time, she also was approached at the Waltham church where she played piano, by Jay Hovanian, who liked what he heard enough that he wanted to produce her next album.
Having a producer to arrange backup musicians was enough of a departure for the solo performer, but the immensity of the 13-month writing period was something different in itself.
The line “Talon of the Blackwater” came from a prose poem she’d written in reaction to a National Geographic photo in 1990. But, the “black water” image came to her while recalling a dream one night while she was cloistered away writing. In her dream, black water rushed out from a pipe next door, from the building that used to be a shelter for victims of domestic violence.
“It was pouring into our backyard,” she remembers. “The symbolism of that for me, what it means for my own story, was spoken in the lyrics of the song.”
“Somebody pulled the hair right out of my head
something so small
’bout a quarter-size
not me that’s pointing a knife
admit that you’re wrong not to matter —
Don’t you remember anything
Denting the car, the machete
Stealing bread and meat under your jacket …
Hurling shotgun shells at a wedding party
Brother half-cocked at the pulpit
Nausea always skimming just beneath
What’s cheating you
It’s all coming up …”
With collected images dredged up and fragments of words she’d collected, Siersema found herself in the middle of the 13-month period “writing like mad. It was incredible. I would stay up late; it was such an imperative that I work on that and complete it.”
Almost always beginning with imagery that developed into a lyric, with music composed at the piano later, Siersema says her inspiration for free-flow writing are images that are “vital” and an important part of the Jungian psychotherapy she’s done.
“This is what I come up with; this is what comes up through me,” she explains. “I believe we have so much violence in this world, there’s so much tacit violence, and we’re surrounded by it in very, very subtle ways.”
The lyrics flow with images driven by what a friend calls “the language of dreams.” She adds, “If the imagery can truly connect you to the unconsciousness, this is where I believe I go as an artist. I consider it divine.”
A father in front of Green Fields Market on Halloween night grabbing his daughter by the wrist and kissing her face melds in the lyrics of “Along the Fenway” with another real experience — Siersema walked along a Commonwealth Avenue underpass in Boston one day as a couple of kids stole someone’s wallet in front of her.
“What relates is the emotional content,” says Siersema, who had known “Along the Fenway” would be the title of a song, but wasn’t sure what it would be until the “emotional content” of those two witnessed experiences gelled together for her.
What the song relates is the emotional content of feeling the mixed message that children wrestle with, between love and violence. “This is my own journey,” Siersema says, as she tries to explain the pain and redemption that flows through her songs as much as the piano-driven rhythms and melodies. “I think we begin with a certain experience and we essentially revisit it the rest of our lives. I have had a good deal of sadness, but in doing this, I’m meeting the sadness and holding it there until something comes of it. It’s a spiritual connection to the universal experience.”
The practical dilemma for Siersema of enlisting a pool of talented musicians for the recording — including cellist Eugene Friesen of the Grammy Award-winning Paul Winter Consort — means that she’s had to round up musicians to perform with as she takes the material on the road.
After posting notices seeking a percussionist, fretless bass player and other musicians at Berklee, she began in January auditioning prospective collaborators and finding a wealth of talent to help get around conflicting schedules.
At New Salem, she’ll be joined by African-inspired percussionist Steve Leicach and bass player Wim Auer, both based in Brattleboro, Vt., as well as Boston-based cellist Ayumi Hashimoto — who’s classically trained yet plays with a rock band in Japan.
Going from a career as a soloist, and from her long-term solitary experience of composing intensely intimate songs, to exploring the musical possibilities as part of an ensemble is “phenomenal,” Siersema says.
“I find it incredibly freeing in a sense, because all I could hear are the sounds, as if I were lost in it,” says Siersema, who hopes to lose herself in the musical experience and let the songs flow as they will.
On the Web: http://www.LauraSiersema.com
Senior reporter Richie Davis has worked at The Recorder more than 30 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (413) 772-0261 Ext. 269.
Staff photographer Paul Franz has worked for The Recorder since 1988. He can be reached at email@example.com or (413) 772-0261 Ext. 266.
Progresson: The Quarterly Journal of Progressive Music
Talon of the Blackwater
Style: Jazz/Folk/Art-Rock/New Age
Inspired by church singers and jazz greats like guitarist Pat Metheny, Laura Siersema brings the power of her crystalline voice and compositional skills to bear on her third release. Fluid, poetic vocals ride high in the mix. The performances are mainly the product of Siersema and Jay Hovnanian (producer/engineer/synthesizers), but are augmented by T Lavitz (Dixie Dregs) and other skilled players.
The 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 Lanios’s work. “My Eye This Flower in Julep Runs” brings to mind Mahavishnu Orchestra’s “Smile of the Beyond” vocal section, an indication of the timbre and clarity of Siersema’s voice and the album in general. The excellent 14-minute closer “Along the Fenway” features cellist Eugene Friesen (Paul Winter Consort) and is strikingly beautiful.
The pace of these compositions is slow and deliberate, and tunes like “Who Will Pass this On veer toward lounge music. But the stream-of-consciousness quality of Siersema’s lyrics trumps this album’s minor shortcomings.
by Rick Tvedt
Friday, February 13, 2009 • 12:00 AM
Laura Siersema’s Talon of the Blackwater
By Ryan Duffy
Currently based out of Greenfield, singer/songwriter Laura Siersema offers her third album. According to her biography, she loved music as a child, attempted nursing school and dropped out, and fell back into music—not exactly the worst move, in her case. Siersema clearly has a lot to offer with her sonorous singing and her agile playing.
Many of the songs on this CD are not far removed from some of Kate Bush’s more subdued ‘80s output, which means flowing, ethereal vocals, murky, fretless bass, jazz piano, subtle synthesizers, some strings, drums and even bouncing marimba on one track. The record makes good use of silence and space at times, creating a fairly minimalist setting, circling and entrancing rather than forcing its way in.
Lyrically, the album uses cryptic poetry to evoke moods, rather than providing the listeners with cheap, cut-and-dried imagery. I liked this bit from “Along the Fenway,” the 13-minute closer:
I saw the future in somebody’s hand
They’re gonna steal a wallet
What does it matter when you’re in-between
the black sheep and the chosen one?
Or how about, from the title track:
Hurling shotgun shells at a wedding party
brother half-cocked at the pulpit
nausea always skimming just beneath
Not sure exactly what she’s alluding to, but anyone who can wield strong lyrical ability while avoiding pretension and tired clichés scores points with me.
Lead track “Mother Mary Rose” slowly floats along, buoyed by watery and delicate guitar work, but the vocals cut through the mix, creating a disembodied ambience. Siersema’s take on the traditional tune “Wade in the Water” is carried by clomping congas and is lit up like a jazzy old torch song.
SIERSEMA WARMS TO THE SPOTLIGHT
When folk artist Laura Siersema was a kid growing up in Amherst, Va., near Lynchburg, she took piano lessons from a Mrs. Tinsley.
One day she noodled out a simple ditty of her own.
Writing a song for the first time—even a childishly simple one—was a life-changing experience.
“I thought I was doing this incredible thing,” Siersema remembered this week in a telephone interview. “I loved it. I remember being very surprised that I could do that.”
As a small child, she played piano, ukulele and guitar. And she wrote poetry.
Writing was her real love. At first performing her music live was something of a necessary evil—a thing that simply had to be done to have her songwriting reach audiences.
“I’ve become more and more comfortable doing it, she said. All the while she’s been “growing consciously as a person—as a woman,” she said. “I realized what I’m doing is not performing so much as being myself in the spotlight.”
Siersema said she had to learn to be comfortable on stage in order to “pass on what it is that I’ve discovered about the interior world, the roots for everyone’s life.”
Her brand of folk music is inflected with both jazz and classical flavoring, but is focused on lyrics.
In spite of that focus, her music has more of a visceral effect than one of evoking images.
“Maybe it’s the feeling that comes across more readily than any clear picture,” Siersema said.
“I’m growing more and more in the sense that I want to write what pours out rather than chop at it,” she said.
Siesema now lives in Boston, after graduating from the Berklee College of Music in that city.
Her first album, “when I left loss” is getting airplay on college and public radio.
Love Flows Like the Blood of a River
She sounds like a young Judy Collins but don’t expect traditional fare from
this young singer-songwriter. While she covers standards like “Shenandoah”, her own material falls closer to the writing of Tori Amos. Simple arrangements with piano, acoustice guitar, light percussion and vocals cradle each song. Every original song seems like a collection of short stories, with vivid images strung together with Siersema’s airy soprano as narrator. Her lyrics are refreshingly creative and free of cliches. Interspersed with the songs are short spoken word pieces that sometimes serve as an introduction to the upcoming song. Thankfully, they are short which makes
for better repeated listening. The highlight of this CD is a hauntingly beautiful version of “Five Hundred Miles”, sung over a rolling piano and cello. Eugene Friesen’s cello is wonderful here, especially the stunning solo in the middle of the song. There’s an intimacy to the productions of this release, as if she’s sitting in the room with you. This is a fine second CD from this New England based singer-songwriter.
Laura Siersema – ” Love Flows Like The Blood of a River “
ISWM INDIE PICK OF THE MONTH – (review)… THE CD: Her voice beckons mercilessly to the physical world like the bodiless spirit that haunts the mansion on a faraway hill. Wanderers beware….
WHY IT WAS SELECTED: Spookiness that sucked us into its ethereal perspective.
SUMMARY: Not that Laura meant to create something with a sinister quality to it, but this CD gives the impression that we are being followed by spirits whose main goal is to somehow change us. The reason, unknown. We can sense that the changes may not be warranted or wanted…yet we are powerless to their advances.
Singer Finds Her Inner Voice
By ADAM ORTH
GREENFIELD — The phrase came to her in a dream 20 years ago: “Love flows like the blood, of a river.”
These words have a significance — in part because of who said them — that Laura Siersema may never reveal. No matter. It’s enough to know that, after years of searching, she has found both the voice and the courage to sing them.
Indeed, they form the lyrical backbone for the title song of her second CD: “Love Flows Like the Blood of a River.” Recently released at TurningStone Coffeehouse, an intimate performance space on Greenfield’s Main Street, the CD arrives at a time when Siersema has all-but made her peace with the creative forces that drive her.
A person committed to plumbing the depths of her unconscious, Siersema taps its creative energy with poetry, songwriting, and piano playing. Her crystal-clear voice and skill at the keyboard entice the listener into a journey both reflective and emotional.
It wasn’t always that way.
Raised in Amherst County, Va., Siersema was one of four siblings born to parents who performed in a folk music group called the Hon-o-lees.
Naturally, she was singing, playing ukulele, guitar and piano at an early age. She and a friend would be called out on stage during events headlined by her parents, such as Hootenanny Night at the Lion’s Club. Then, at 11, her father’s job was transferred to western Florida. The family followed and, somehow, Siersema lost the courage for music. She became a cheerleader, the good student.
“I think, in ways I don’t really know, leaving Virginia was very hard for me,” she said. “It just went way inside.”
Unbroken was her interest in piano, a musical thread created with lessons from her mother. She took a year of classical piano lessons. But, other needs called. After graduating from high school she went to college to become a doctor.
“It was doing was what was expected of me, because I did so well in school,” said Siersema. “It was a desire, in many ways, to please my parents. To give them something of obvious worth.”
She was in her second year at the University of Florida, in a zoology class, when Siersema realized she could not make herself truly like being a doctor. She called her parents.
“I remember crying when I told them I couldn’t do it,” she said. “I knew I would never be what they imagined I could be.”
Siersema dropped her pre-med studies and instead became a nurse. She moved to New York City. The seeds of change had been sown, however. She’d written her first lyrics on a napkin in nursing class. In New York, she had a piano in her apartment. She started learning about different types of singing. She met the first of two therapists whose help would prove pivotal. She continued to capture her dreams in a journal.
In all, she would spend seven years in nursing, either in hospice or in psychiatrics. Nursing did not trouble her — it just wasn’t enough.
“Just because you’re good at something does not mean that is who your crucial self is,” she said. “It was the best way I had, at the time, of surviving.”
One day, Siersema’s lack of fulfillment built up enough for her to set her sights on the Berklee School of Music. It took a while, but one day she dumped her nursing books into her apartment’s incinerator. They dropped seven floors. She left for Boston.
Siersema continued to do nursing in the summers to pay the bills while in school. But the main thing was the music. It was at Berklee that she found her voice: as a songwriter, a poet and a singer.
Her singing voice, says Siersema, was the most deeply buried of her creative energies. Professional singing lessons helped it emerge, yet offering it up publicly continues to tax her courage.
“To discover the full range of my voice was an entirely phenomenal and necessary experience,” she said. “It’s the most vulnerable thing I can do, sing.”
It was at Berklee that Siersema made her first attempt to build a song from the phrase “Love flows like the blood, of a river.” It didn’t work. She felt forced by the deadline of completing school work. She wasn’t yet adept at plumbing her unconscious.
“I think true creativity comes from the unconscious. I don’t think it’s something you are deliberate about except in that discipline of waiting for things to appear,” she said.
“I could never think of the poems that I’ve written,” she added.
“Turn us into ashes
and sycamore in bold stroke and mentor of your fire
so that I can sing across days fitful and plain like you would
my letters to the dead and ranting.”
— Poem that starts “Love Flows Like the Blood of a River.”
Free-association writing opened the door to Siersema’s unconscious. She discovered its power at Berklee and got in the habit of picking a word or phrase — sometimes by pointing at a newspaper — and then seeing where it took her.
“Our culture doesn’t promote that way of doing things, or even that process, that slow, untimed process,” she said.
Siersema keeps these fragments, waiting for them to come together into a finished work. Her graduation from Berklee was about two years distant before she captured the phrase that would become the first lyric of her CD’s title song.
She remembers waking up in bed, reaching for the paper. It was dark, yet there was enough light to see. She still has that original paper. The words on it are all-but identical to the lyrics in their final form.
“It was really exciting, because I hadn’t written like that for a long time,” Siersema said.
Here is that first verse:
“He stretched the strings of his guitar
drove his demons kicking
against the walls of a closing March
indifferent to his heart —
love flows like the blood of a river.”
Siersema met her partner, George Touloumtzis, during her first year in Boston. She started playing coffeehouses. She was also building material for her first CD, “when I left loss.” She performed with a vocal ensemble and began doing solo work in churches. She took on students and started teaching voice and piano. One of them, Emma, was clearly an artist. “I knew she would have a difficult time because of that,” Siersema said.
It was Emma who provided the second verse.
“Emma you look angelic and you’re watching me
It’s not so hard —
when you’re used to shells and poppy seeds
picking them apart —
love flows like the blood of the river.”
Siersema looks for beautiful sounds, both in her songwriting and in her music, and lets that guide her creativity. It was the second lyric that alerted Siersema to her emerging song.
“When I realized I could say ‘love flows like the blood of the river’ with either, that’s when I realized I could put it together,” she said. “It’s not something to be thought about until after the finish.”
Siersema listened to the song, and let it direct her where to go next. “It seemed what I had was a man speaking and a story about a woman,” she said. “I had two expressions that I was making into one. Both from a musical point of view and maybe from a male/female point of view.”
Here is her third verse:
“His hand reached out and touched her hip
as the traffic died in the distance
the heater hissed and the blanket worn
from footsteps overhead
we slam the doors and we curse the other, we try too hard —
love flows like the blood of a river.”
Siersema, who released her first CD in 1999, started recording for her second CD, “Love Flows Like the Blood of a River,” in 2000. It wasn’t released until early 2003.
She co-produced it with Doug Hammer of Dreamworld Studios in Lynn. Steve Wilkes plays percussion and Eugene Friesen plays cello.
There are several original songs and poems on this CD, including one written by Siersema’s mother. There are also several remakes of traditional songs, like “Green Sleeves,” “O Sinner Man,” and “Shenandoah.”
It’s this reworking of traditional songs that interests Siersema these days. She hopes to put together a third CD by taking such songs, which resonate deeply with her, and altering them.
“That has been the coolest experience,” she said. “I never would have guessed I would be so driven.”
But, meanwhile, she must sell her second CD. Siersema, who moved to Greenfield in September, ordered 1,000 of them. “It came to my home in late February,” she said. “It arrived in 10 boxes, in the snow.”
Her CD party at the TurningStone Coffeehouse was attended by a small group of enthusiastic family and friends. She’s sent about 200 CDs to different venues in hopes of getting it reviewed or aired. WUMB in Boston, which she calls “The Boston station,” is playing her songs and so is at least one station in Worcester. A review of her CD, in “Sing Out!” magazine, is set to hit newsstands Aug. 8.
The CD is on sale at TurningStone, at Boswell’s Books in Shelburne Falls, at Amazon.com, and on her Web site — http://www.laurasiersema.com. Her Web site also has music files of her songs, including “Love Flows Like the Blood of a River.”
She’s also looking for local venues to perform. She played Cafe Koko and is among the performers in the July and August lineup for The Station, at the Greenfield Energy Park.
“What I do is solitary, but the message is meant for everyone or anyone and the only way I can have people hear it is to sing it myself,” she said. “I guess that’s one of my main questions now. Where do I go to be heard?”
Here is the fifth, and final, verse of the title song:
“Whatever you might have been looking for’s
in the shadow of the Tobin Bridge.
love flows like the blood of a river.”
You can reach Adam Orth at:
or (413) 772-0261 Ext. 265
During this spring’s Jamaica Plain Open Studios, I had the pleasure of having Laura perform live at my recording studio. It’s always interesting to discover what someone you heard live sounds like on an album (and vice versa). Throughout “when I left loss,” Laura Siersema sets the stage for an intimate conversation with her listener. Her beautiful, smooth alto, pleasant vibrato, and rolling, romantic piano playing underscore the carefully considered stories she sings to her audience. Most of the 20 selections on “when I left loss” are accompanied only by piano; however, this album feels not at all underproduced. The whole disc creates a lovely mood of contemplation. The uncluttered arrangements leave the listener plenty of room to appreciate Siersema’s considerable skills as a wordsmith and lyricist, as well as a pianist and arranger. Short, spoken poems introduce many of the selections. Her voice is sincere and warm. She’s not performing; she’s talking to a friend.
“when I left loss” was produced by Doug Hammer and Ms. Siersema. Doug recorded and mixed all the tracks at Dreamworld Studios in Somerville, MA, and did well to keep the mixes open and let Laura’s softly commanding voice enrapture us from center stage. My only recording/production nit-pick is that the piano tones are often dwarfed by the richness of Laura’s voice. Perhaps one of our generous readers has a nine-foot bosendorffer languishing in their drawing room that they would like to donate to Laura’s next recording?
There is a song here for anyone who has felt the moment of clarity after a good cry. If you are so unfortunate as to have never experienced any of life’s pain, you may find it difficult to appreciate the curative power of “Dr. Laura’s” melody prescription. That’s OK, go out, get jilted, dumped, sick, whatever–Laura will wait. She’s like the lovely, talented aunt you never had, who wheeled her piano into your hospital room to sing for you when you had a broken arm, and ended up curing the entire ward. They make movies about music like this. But there’s no need to wait until disaster strikes to fire up “when I left loss.” I imagine a cross-country driving trip would serve as a delightful backdrop for listening to these songs.
Her subject matter is drawn from that rich mine of life, love and loss, although, as the album title suggests, the overall mood is one of the spirit’s triumph over the void of loss and darkness. She seamlessly blends traditional songs and arrangements with her original compositions; her style is sometimes more jazz, sometimes more traditional, and sometimes a bit theatrical, but always lulling, graceful and sincere.
During this season of holiday craziness, give yourself a present and pick up a copy of “when I left loss”. It just may cure your holiday blues.
Pianists help listeners get back to basics on their new CD release
Much of the music that seeps into our lives has elements we take for granted: multiple guitar tracks overlayed on each other, big production sound and feel, and synthesized drum beats.
Meanwhile, some artists are keeping it simple. Laura Siersema’s 1999 album “when I left loss” is an example—19 tracks that include Siersema’s voice, many of them; the piano, and one more that has the piano and some strings. The strings were played by Doug Hammer, who also produced the record.
In other words, Siersema put together a record that required total of two people. In fact, it took as many people to take the photos for the insert as it did to record and mix the record.
Siersema’s sweet, dark voice mixes easily with her piano parts, especially on songs like the title track and My Mother’s Keeper.
She also tackles classics like Where Have All the Flowers Gone? and The Water is Wide.
What really gives the album a special touch, however, are the spoken word pieces.
Read almost in a whisper, the short prose and poetry selections written by Siersema lend a riveting, personal touch to the record, and at times cut so deep the hair on the listener’s skin goes on end.
Heck, try it for your self. Read, slowly and softly, the selection (sanctuary): “Under ground bark, colored fish and many suns I peer through construct eyes into a sanctuary of miniatures already cupped and beautiful, hurled by ;my relief into the beating heart of sure footing and mingled accents wild”.
Siersema’s words carry that same breath—and breadth—throughout the album.
As a beautiful closing touch, Siersema does an a cappella version of the lullaby “All the Pretty Little Horses”.
Laura Siersema ~ When I Left Loss
July 4, 2001
Quote: “Her mostly contemplative, melancholy tunes are songs about a sense of place, human emotion, relationships and situations.”
With the soul and the lyrics of a true poet — Laura Siersema will tug at your heart with her words and her voice. Playing soft, yet dramatic and inspiring keyboards, Laura is an acoustic craftsman, a wordsmith whose verses are real-life vignettes that could be paintings on a wall. And her soft, slightly smoky voice (with just a trace of Tori Amos) wafts gently through each song, riding each keystroke and word like a feather.
Her mostly contemplative, melancholy tunes are songs about a sense of place, human emotion, relationships and situations. There are even a few old traditional standards (“The Water is Wide”, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” and “All the Pretty Little Horses”).
Laura does several spoken word selections as well. Those are just as descriptive and real: “Scattered among the relics of a crumbling house house I find a baby’s spoon and faded plastic flowers…in this old house lies tucked away…all the dreams that I ran after and must have missed.” (from “Relevant”)
and from “Provoked”: “What better way to kick your sister in the shins than say “you’re ugly — it’s your fault you have no breasts and who winks at you?”
Every tune, not just the ones listed here, is full of vivid, descriptive imagery. Laura brings you into each scene; each vignette is yours. She somehow draws you into believing you created the photo album she is flipping through…
Another good example is “Old Rustburg Road”, with these words: “She lived alone beneath the railroad trestle in an old converted barn — candles stuck on the windowsill that flicker when it storms — now the crows in the corn are acting up, she’s not a youngster anymore down Old Rustburg Road…”
“When I Left Loss” is just full of tunes and poems like this — all written by a woman with an artist’s eye, a craftsman’s skill and the heart of someone used to looking at all life has to offer — and sharing it with the world.
Laura Siersema’s “loss” is our gain
Almost 20 years in the making, singer/songwriter Laura Siersema’s life work is now available on the CD “when I left loss”.
“My soul needed to do it. I’ve had to be protective of my voice because I never got nurtured for it and I was never really ready,” said Siersema, who performs in concert Sunday at Bodles in Chester. “It was my time to bring it to the world; I hope people can be still for a moment and realize that silence is not weird—it is where you find the richness of meaning in life.”
“This CD is an example of what happens when you go inside and listen to your interior voice.”
Born in Farmville and raised in Amherst County, Va., Siersema grew up listening to her parents perform in their own folk-music group, the Hon-o-lees. Her father played upright bass and the saxophone and her mom played the piano.
”That’s where I learned”, Siersema said. “I was singing and playing the piano, ukulele and guitar when I was small. I played the guitar with a girlfriend of mine—we were sort of a duet.”
Before Siersema began junior high, her parents decide to move to Florida. Siersema wouldn’t sing again until college.
“There were probably a lot of reasons why I didn’t sing, but I think it was more because I was self-conscious, because I didn’t know anybody,” Siersema said. “For me, it was unknown territory, and I was petrified.”
She attended the University of Florida with the intentions of becoming a nurse. However, her priorities eventually shifted.
“I wrote my first lyrics on a napkin during a class at UF and began writing phrases in my journal and decided to go back to school to study classical voice,” Siersema said. “I needed to work through what scared me.”
While attending the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where she eventually settled, siersema discovered that she also could write poetry. Some of her poems have been published, while others are used as transitions on the CD.
“The album was written over years of time; some of the poetry on the CD is from ’91 and ’92,” Siersema said. “I use them as introductions to songs because there are a lot of emotional threads in both the music and the poetry that link the two together. It’s another way of looking into the interior.
And she’s been looking into the interior for quite some time.
Siersema wrote “January 17th”, her first song, in 1984. Other songs from the CD were simply phrases from the past, compiled ideas at the moment batched together.
“Whatever is in my body, I remember. Sometimes a phrase will just crop up, but mostly I hear ideas at my keyboard or when I’m on the bus—I’ll write things down in my pad,” Siersema said. “Writing is much less self-conscious for me. I can tell when things are meant to be lyrics and when they’re not.”
Her voice sounds angelic, and a majority of the 20 songs are accompanied by only a piano. Songs focus on love, loss and life, and the CD is more an intimate conversation with listeners than a performance.
“When I perform, it’s a flowing experience rather than a foot-stomping one. It’s very contemplative.”
Mish Mash Indie Music Review
Issue #22 September 2000
The quiet and reflective style of Laura Siersema is like a lilting lullaby. Her piano and voice mix together beautifully, creating a calm and relaxed landscape of sound. 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. Her interpretation is thoughtful and precise, and it sets up the tunes in a fashion that I’ve never quite experienced before.
As a songwriter and poet, her words remain the center of focus throughout. The most inspiring moments come in short phrases: “She broke a toast to the wayfarer and edged a way to the door” (Abigail Child) and “Sara called St. Louis her home and her divide / studied architecture for plans of some exactness.” Even her treatments of traditional folk tunes like Pete Seeger’s Where Have All The Flowers Gone sound fresh and alive.
Siersema has power in her words, and they shine clearly with only the hushed phrases of the piano in the background. It’s a simple approach that has an unexpected depth.
MISH MASH Mandate: Piano poet.
The Tampa Tribune
Friday, November 5, 1999
Laura Siersema, when I left loss
Laura Siersema sings and plays piano with strength and precision on “when I left loss”.
Her delicate phrasing details struggles, opportunities lost, loneliness. Her voice is wistful and ethereal, sad and soothing.
In this old house lies tucked away/all the memories long forgotten now/all the blues and greens and laughter/all the dreams that I ran after/and must have missed, she sings on “This Old House”.
Prose poems break up the tracks. Most songs are original, but her version of “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” will stay in your mind like pressed petals.
Siersema, a graduate of Berklee College of Music, works as a classical vocalist and accompanist. Perhaps that’s what gives this CD a certain formality. She sings with such control on songs such as “All the Pretty Little Horses”.
Folk fans should take note, as well as those who like classical music—and Tori Amos.
New England songwriters roots are grounded in Amherst County past
Folk artist Laura Siersema may have become a fixture on the Boston area coffeehouse scene, but she traces her musical roots to her Amherst County childhood, where her parents played in a local group called the Hon-O-Lees back in the 1960’s
“My dad played the upright bass. There were two women in the middle who wore the same dress—one of them was my mom,” recalled Siersema, who recently released her first CD, “when I left loss”. She describes her music, which includes songs inspired by her childhood, such as “Old Rustburg Road, “ as original folk.
“I grew up playing the ukulele and guitar. Mom taught me piano when I was little,” she recalled.
Siersema’s parents moved to Amherst when she was a year old. She has fond memories of performing in talent shows in the old Amherst Elementary School, on the site of what is now the Amherst County Administration Building, in a duo called the “Lora Lees” Her father worked for American Cyanamid before being transferred to Florida in 1968.
She attended high school and college in Florida before moving to Boston in 1987 to attend the Berklee College of Music, which she said has the only contemporary songwriting degree program in the world.
“I made a switch in my life. I was initially writing poetry, so it took me a while
to get into that songwriting mode. I was studying classical voice and I started to work in churches and do some recording…for the last two years I’ve been back on the circuit as a singer/songwriter. The coffeehouse scene is really strong in New England.
Siersema performs as a solo artist, “Just me and my keyboard.”
After writing the lyrics for another artist’s song, she tried her hand at recording her own work.
“I started recording for this project in January of ’98.” Siersema recorded the album in Somerville, Mass. With a fellow Berklee grad. She is entirely a one-woman show, even doing her own publicity. Fans can listen to an entire song from the album by going to http://www.laurasiersema.com .
She has been told she has a voice like Judy Collins, very mellow or laid back, in her words.
“A lot goes into the lyrics…lyrics can be awfully specific about a scene, like my grandmother’s house on Old Rustburg Road. I went down that road when I was home and it’s all grown over now. She hadn’t lived there in a long time. The house is still there, but can’t even see it, “ she said.
The project hasn’t made money for her yet, but she says her goal is always an artistic one.
“I try to make all my decisions based on a real internal process…I don’ t care anything about videos or commercial success. What drives me is to take care of my voice, be
writing the best way that I can,” she explained.