Raised in Amherst, Virginia, I grew up listening to my parents sing in their folk music group, the Hon-o-lees and the church choir. From the time I was little, I was playing ukelele, guitar and piano, hearing music live, and performing, too.
But I didn't know music was my life's purpose until I went away to college--by then our family had moved to Florida. During classes at University of Florida I wrote lyrics on napkins and, in-between classes, stole away to the auditorium to play the piano for hours. I even played piano for my nursing class graduation, which felt like the most natural thing in the world for me to do.
For the obligatory year's worth of medical/surgical experience after graduating as an RN, I worked on the ophthalmology unit at the teaching hospital at UF. The following summer I left Gainesville to work in a summer sports camp in the Berkshires, and that fall moved to New York City--14th Street and 7th Avenue--where I lived for 7 years, working as a nurse, first on a psychiatric unit at St. Vincent's Hospital, then in hospice at Cabrini Medical Center.
In fits and starts I made it out to open mikes, or sat in at the piano at a local bar. I wrote my first really good song after getting mugged. Standing next to the bar inside a dimly lit Folk City one night, awaiting my turn to play, an epiphany came and lingered for a moment: "This is where I belong." Music was a low simmering desire that seemed to take forever to establish itself in real life. I bought a piano, gave lessons, accompanied New York Women's Chorus for a few years... and took my first classical voice lessons with Natalie Burgess the year before going away to school.
In 1987, after throwing my nursing books down the incinerator just outside my apartment door and getting the piano into a Uhaul, I moved to Boston with my two precious cats to attend Berklee College of Music for songwriting. It was there I discovered I was a poet.
It was also that first summer that I met my partner in life, George Touloumtzis.
Despite performing when I was a kid, I had become petrified as a teenager--my voice, in all its forms, had gone into hiding. Knowing I had to recover her somehow, through my very body, I began studying voice while also at Berklee. Luckily, John LaBella, a New England Conservatory grad, was a genius for teaching. We worked together for 7 years. He taught in the bel canto tradition--here I experienced for the first time the full range of my voice, with all its blessings and vulnerabilities--a coloratura soprano to a soprano belt. I sang with his ensemble, New England Vocal Arts Ensemble, got church jobs and did a lot of auditions. Later I studied briefly with Phyllis Curtin.
During this time, a second and third epiphany came--each while I was in a church choir. One Sunday, when singing as a "ringer" (paid substitute) with the choir at First Church in Boston, I sat listening to a soloist whose voice was so beautiful and pure, something within me said clearly "I want to sing like that." The next occurred during a choir rehearsal at St. Peter's Church in Weston where I was director of the children's choir and soprano with the adult choir. Whether it was Mozart's Requiem Mass we were rehearsing or not, I'm not sure, but what I remember so vividly is the transcendence I felt singing that high, floating soprano line.
After Berklee, I worked as a choral and theater production accompanist in the Newton school system; I was soloist at Eliot Church in Newton for 4 years--I loved to sing a capella spirituals from the balcony. My poetry was published in national journals. Deep down I knew I was bound to be a songwriter, but when? And how would I adapt this long sought after voice to my own material?
Only when asked to write lyrics to Jenna Drey's music in 1996 did I realize how much I wanted to write my own songs. Beginning in 1998, I was out on the folk circuit. I opened for John Gorka, Connie Kaldor, Cheryl Wheeler, Dana Cooper, Brooks Williams and Lori McKenna and played at art festivals scattered around the country. My first album, "when I left loss", was released in 1999. The second, "Love Flows Like the Blood of a River", in 2003. Beginning in the summer of 2005, writing over a period of 13 months, followed by 21 months of recording and production, I worked on what would become "Talon of the Blackwater.", my third album. Only as we recorded did I really feel like a songwriter and arranger. When I first heard the songs on our working demo, I believed someone else must have written them. My poetry and my voice had become fully a part of my music.
I love...Pat Metheny, Joni Mitchell, Villa-Lobos, Michael Hedges, Messiaen to name just a few...just sitting down to play at the piano...Rilke, George Eliot, the writings of Helen Luke and Carl Jung...riding my bicycle...my life with George...our home in the beauty of western Massachusetts.