Monday, July 30, 2012

LadyMama of the Week: Sarah Dukes (Composer + Pianist!)

I first met Sarah Dukes at a mutual friends birthday party and thought she was so sweet (and beautiful). How amazed I was when I found out that she was an accomplished composer and pianist who was working on her first album! When she was ready to release her music, I was very honored when she contacted me to write the press release (read it here!). Nothing is more rewarding for me than being a small part of a woman's journey to exposure and success.

I don't know about you, but I do not know many mothers who are classical pianists and compose their own music and actually release albums! And did I mention she is a practicing PSYCHOTHERAPIST? Talk about inspiring—Sarah is real proof that there is a way to actualize ourselves and contribute to the world in more than one way and grow our talents and follow or dreams. 

What's amazing about Sarah is that she feels her music so, so deeply. When she talks about it, there is this real sense of awe and fragility. It's not just something she does—its her essence

My favorite songs on her album Finding Forever are "Wings of a Butterfly" and "Troubled Thoughts." I basically put "Wings of a Butterfly" on repeat and get lost in its interchange of deep and high notes places so delicately...and feel like I am cacooning into a new, more thoughtful, more sensitive and vibrant person. I can't say that about most, if any, of the music I listen to. To genuinely feel transformed through hearing music is a rare and astounding experience. 

I believe Sarah is able to accomplish this because of something I appreciate most about her: she is a perfectionist! If one tiny little something is off in her music, it must be worked through a million times to reach the exact sound and emotion that is in her head. I even interviewed Yaron Garshovky for her press release and he expanded on how sensitive Sarah was to the nuances, and how she would make him play parts of songs over and over again until it resonated exactly the way she intended it. Personally, I find this so refreshing because so many people are overconfident with their skills and don't necessarily take the time to perfect it and essentially honor it in the way that will give it the wings it needs for both the artist and the listener. But Sarah seems to have this down. 

And this definitely comes through on her debut album, which is filled with stunning and stirring original songs that will make you cry from the sheer beauty. Sarah's music has the ability to touch everyone's heart. The soul just seeps through. They are sometimes brooding, usually hopeful -- but always mesmerizing. They just pull you in! When I first started discovering her compositions, I kept on playing her music when I was working on the computer but had to stop because it wasn't good background music—I had to keep interrupting what I was writing so I could focus on where it was taking me! It's that rare type of album you have to turn on and focus and meditate and let it relax and elevate you. Seriously, your heart and soul and mind will just open up. 

Do yourself a favor and check out Sarah's music now! 

Below is Sarah's just-released song, "One" -- dedicated to Leiby Kletzky. 
Grab a tissue, because you're sure to re-experience the emotions we all shared in watching our 
people come together as ONE to search for this beautiful young boy. 

And because Sarah's life and essence is the wonderful undercurrent to all her music, I interviewed Sarah so you can all learn more about this incredibly soulful, original and inspiring woman that we will no doubt continue to hear more about as she grows and expands her musical reach! 


LADYMAMA: When did you decide to go from playing recreationally to actually producing an album? And what have you learned from that process?
Sarah Dukes: Since I am from N.C., I went away to a Jewish school when I was 13. Being a teenager is emotional enough, but I suppose being away from home at such a young age added to the 'tumultuous' emotions. I took piano lessons throughout my years in Pittsburgh, but I also used the piano as a way to express myself and release my emotions. I didn't know what I was doing when I was composing. I never took composition lessons. Yet it felt so freeing to have a way to get my emotions out. I composed my songs and shared them with my classmates and friends. I was so surprised to hear that they all loved it. I never understood why-to me, they were my complex emotions recorded in a physical way. To others, I just thought it was nothing more than a 'scribble' like tune. I even had a classmate who was a trained pianist and she said I inspired her and she is jealous of me. I couldn't believe that my songs that I composed would be anything to be 'jealous' over! SHE was the one whose fingers flew across the piano! My friends continued to shower my songs with praises and even chose to use one in one of the school productions! They always told me I need to make a CD but I thought they were crazy. I felt like my songs are no where close to being "CD quality". I felt their sincerity and truly appreciated it, but never thought it would ever happen.  I continued composing throughout seminary and university and found more and more people who connected with my music. All of them said that I should make a CD, and begged for me to make one. I still was uncomfortable with the idea also because my compositions started getting more complex in my mind, and I was limited with how I could execute it. I didn't have the skill to play the melody as it is in my mind, so it would come out in a more simple form. People loved it that way, but I knew that that wasn't my REAL song in its complete form. I then started feeling uncomfortable and self conscious because I felt like the song sounded 'boring' compared to what it was in my head. This continued until after I got married. I eventually told myself that there's no way all these people can be wrong and I'm the only one that is right. It makes much more sense for ME to be wrong and everyone else to be right. So, I put my own ego aside, and decided to try it out and see if it would work for me to find a way to get my complete song out onto the keys. We saved up and tried one song, me giving Yaron the version of me playing it, the transcription, and dove into the challenge of expressing exact directions/instructions as to any edits, changes, of dynamics, keys, tempo, etc. that I had in my mind. After hearing the final version, I LOVED it--and mainly because I felt like it was still my creation! Once that happened, I felt much more comfortable continuing the CD process.

The process was a humbling one for me. I had to put my ego aside. I had to learn to trust others. I had to learn to make myself vulnerable and take myself out of my comfort zone. I learned that ANYTHING is possible! Even the dreams that seem furthest from your reach. You just have to START and do it. The other big thing I learned is how important it is to surround yourself with people who believe in you and what you can achieve. I owe it all to my friends who kept pushing me. I also owe it to my husband who was super supportive and encouraging and excited for me! :)

Where do you get most of your inspiration from?
My inspiration could come from an event that happened, it could come from a sudden wave of emotion, it could come from feeling an intense emotion, it could come from listening to a song, or it could come from just sitting at the piano and having my fingers just play.

How do you FIND the inspiration and time to explore it when you're a busy mother?
I don't really think I find the inspiration. More that IT finds ME. It's interesting. I can get a 'wave' of inspiration, and something will just draw me to the piano. Just out the blue I could get this strong yearning to go to the piano. There are definite times when this 'flash of inspiration' are missed due to me taking care of my family responsibilities. Then there are other times (usually most often then not) when I will quickly distract my kids with a video or something and rush to the piano to 'release' this sudden emotion or inspiration. Most of the time when this happens, I am unable to finish the song, and that's when the problem arises because once I get up and leave a song I am working on, it is very very difficult to tap back into that original inspiration or emotion that I began with, and often it will take me months to finish a song because of that. There are so many quarter or half written songs that I have that I just have to wait patiently until the same inspiration finds me again :) I'm also thankful to my husband who often has to take over when one of my waves of inspirations comes at a more hectic time.

I feel that it is really important to make time for myself and do things that 're-energize' and 're-center' me so if I find that I am not able to do it enough during the week, I will hire a babysitter for an hour or two so that I can focus on myself. I don't feel guilty about this or think of it as selfish because this is allowing me to have more more energy and be more positive and happy for my family.

How does your work as a composer affect your work as a Psychotherapist? 
I really believe that my clients have so much to offer and I really encourage them and challenge them to believe in themselves and show them that they CAN believe in themselves and have them prove to themselves how capable they are and what they can accomplish.

Tell us about your new song for Leiby Kletzky. How long have you been working on it? How does the music relate to your feelings about the tragedy? 
What happened with Leiby was horrible. I would show my kids his picture that was hanging up on the signs on the street and say tehillim with them for his safe and healthy return. We even made hachlatas for him and until this day, my kids say their kapital of tehillim every day. The emotions of those few days were so intense- fear, sadness, confusion, anger, ....a whole range of emotion. I began composing and an interesting thing happened... I found that my thoughts and emotions switched in the middle and I found myself thinking about how everyone came together and united for Leiby's search. People from all over worked day and night to find him-whether it was with the actual search, printing signs, hanging up signs, learning and davening for him. I had this strong feeling of unity and love and pride - to be part of this eternal bond. The ahavas chinam that I saw and felt was so tangible and powerful, that that is what the song turned into-the power of ONE, and how we ARE one, and that we had ahavas chinam and can continue doing so.

Describe the process of putting emotions into songs. Do you ever fear being that vulnerable? 
As mentioned above, I compose a song when I get a strong sense of emotion or force that pulls me to the piano. I don't think when this happens. I just feel. Sometimes I am aware of what I am feeling and other times I'm not, and still other times I don't really explore it. Whichever way, whatever is coming out is coming from my inner self. It is because of this reason that I feel like I am making myself vulnerable every time I share a song. I feel like I am exposing a part of myself. It is difficult for me to just 'give out' a song to others to listen to or for some guidance etc., and if that is the case, I only share it with those that I feel 'safe' with or that I trust. When I release a song to the public, it is a big and 'scary' step for me. It's like I am opening myself up to the public. It's almost like I have to jump into a pool with my eyes closed. I am giving the world a part of myself and have no idea how it will be received or accepted.

Have you ever run into resistance with your music career simply because you're a woman? 
The truth is I was concerned that my music would not be well received because I am a woman-for fear that many people are under the assumption or have the impression that a woman's work is not up to par or compare to that of a mans. However, I was (and continue to be) super surprised to see that this is not the case at all. Not only have I been receiving so many positive reviews and feedback about my music, but I feel respected as well-not only because of my talent but because I DID something with it! This is an incredible and empowering feeling and motivates me to do more.

What do you want other women/mothers to know about pursuing their talents and following their dreams? 
Being a woman or a mother doesn't mean that we don't have dreams or talents, and it definitely does not mean that we are not capable of doing anything big with our dreams or talents. G-d gave us unique skills and talents and WANTS us to use them! Our families may be our first priority, but it certainly does not mean that nothing else matters or is not important. In fact, you will find that specifically doing things that you love or are passionate about will actually energize you and make you feel better about yourself, which will ultimately result in you being a better woman/wife/mother.

Thank you Sarah for opening up your heart and soul through your music 
and for your candor in addressing these questions which will no doubt 
I-N-S-P-I-R-E and E-M-P-O-W-E-R women everywhere! 

4 LadyMama voices:

Fashion-isha said... [Reply to comment]

Beautiful post! I love this concept of your LadyMama of the week...great women should be celebrated!

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Loved this interview! Sarah sounds like she is a unique individual. Love hearing about interesting women!

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

This is incredible! I love the music, please keep up the great work!

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Very nice sweet title Ladymama! What a beautiful open heart you bring to healing of the world, showing the true meaning of inspiration. Allowing the Light of Creation to shine on all through your music, just lovely and full of Spirit and Breath. Thank you!