Samantha Rowell Postcard
Dear SFGC Colleagues and Friends, As Development Director for the SF Girls Chorus, I handle all of the efforts made to raise the necessary funding for us to do what we do so well. But I am also a lifelong artist, with two degrees in music and theatre, and a certificate in acting from ACT. Like many of our choristers, I grew up performing as a child – I sang, conducted choirs, and wrote a few plays with original music. These days, poetry is my primary form of artistic expression. I sometimes experience a little "writer's block" and by happy coincidence, the SF Girls Chorus shook loose a major case of it for me recently.
Rewinding a bit...in September, I had the opportunity to fly to Istanbul, Turkey for an amazing collaborative project. I wrote some poems and composer Pieter Snapper set them to music. Peter recently won a 2016 Donizetti Classical Music Award for Best Recording (see picture), and founded various robust programs in Turkey for music composition and sound engineering. Pieter was the first person I felt truly "got" my style and tone, even my most raw, eviscerating work. When we found each other and decided to collaborate, I felt truly heard and understood.
Creating poems to be set to music was a different way of working – I had to write FOR something, and with some basic parameters like length and tone. I was a little stuck, frankly, when I began this project. And a little intimidated. Writing for me has always been about expressing something very personal, just for myself. I often try to distill images down into their most elemental form.
Pieter asked me to express a kind of creative desperation arising from inner turmoil and conflict, in the first person. We were also writing for a particular singer - the incredible soprano Juliana Snapper, who happens to be a Girls Chorus Alumna! I couldn’t believe it! Juliana and I grew up and sang together, and she would be recording the songs that my poems would inspire!
I sat down to write at my computer in the morning after receiving my first directives from the composer, but felt powerless to respond. I sat staring at a blinking cursor and leaned on the space bar, creating sheaves of blank pages.
That evening, as I dreaded returning home to sit in front of a blank screen some more, I attended an open rehearsal of the Girls Chorus. The premiere ensemble sang one of the pieces they were preparing for their trip to perform for the New York Philharmonic's Biennial. The piece, Theo Bleckmann’s “Final Answer” sounded like thousands of pecking birds...all of the voices overlapping in such richness and cacophony. It was a beautiful asynchronous conversation in song. Standing there and listening, I was suddenly struck by how similar their voices sounded to my own voice during many conversations and arguments as a child when I sang with (and sometimes disagreed with) my dear friend Juliana Snapper.
And that did it. I was free of my writer's block. I went home after rehearsal and wrote in a frenzy - a flood of words spilling out on the page.
And it got me thinking about the creative process, and how elusive and fickle the creative impulse can be. What do you do when you are feeling as if you can't rise to an occasion in your own life? When you are unsure that you can push ahead, and complete a project in front of you, what is your method for relaxing into the work at hand? Are there specific things that you do to get yourself unstuck? And, like I found in my collaboration with Pieter, what does it take for you to feel truly heard and understood?