“Joni Mitchell Made Me Realize That I Can Write Songs”

by Chris Laguna

Occasionally you come across a situation so unexpected that it prompts you to reexamine your worldview. Perhaps this has happened to you this year. For me, such a moment occurred earlier this month (October) while reading an AMA. An AMA (Ask Me Anything) is a concept that was introduced by Reddit involving someone, usually famous, responding to questions (about anything) asked by any common forum-goer. This time, the host was Regina Spektor, the talented Russian-born singer-songwriter and pianist. The full AMA can be found here https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/5600u0/im_regina_spektor_ask_me_anything/

Regina Spektor is best known for her genuinity, good nature, and positive worldview. Her wholesome lyrical content (for example, a song about finding a wallet and returning it to its owner) and spontaneous use of experimental vocal techniques (check out the lip-trills in Lounge, off of the album Songs) highlight these characteristics. My favorite of her work is Songs, an album she recorded on a single day (Christmas day) when she was 21 years old. Generally, she’s one of those people whose existence reminds you that there’s a bright side of humanity that’s alive and well. If you read her AMA, you’ll see what I mean.

She’s also had a huge influence on me as a musician. Her song structures, exaggerated vocal expression, and fluent tempo imparted on me the importance of breathing life into your music. And each of her songs served as a clear example of how to accomplish this.

Reading her AMA, I stumbled upon her response to the question “Who inspired you to do music?”. She answers: “i think all the music that i heard as a child really made me want to be a part of that world- like mozart and chopin and bach…. but it was really hearing Joni Mitchell that made me realize that women can write songs… I was always listening to male bards, and it just never occurred to me… after i discovered her songs i really wanted to write my own… and after that hearing Ani DiFranco and Tori Amos cemented the idea that i can just sit and make up songs and share them with people… Then Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald made me only want to sing like jazz, and then Bjork came along and exploded my mind, and after i stopped sounding like all of them, i was able to start finding something that was like my own voice… i LOVE music… Oh and of course there are a ton of male musicians too, but it was the women that made me realize i can write my own songs…”

This startled me. How could it possibly be that someone did not realize that women are capable of writing songs? Especially when that person is one of the most creative people I’m aware of? To me, it seems so obvious. Clearly not so to a child who doesn’t know of any women songwriters.

Female role models empower young women to dream big and give them reason to believe in success. Without female role models, young women may not even imagine what’s possible. Women have much to contribute to our small but growing world of music technology. Spreading awareness of music tech is on us, and to best grow our field, we need to expose young women to prominent women in music tech. Such role models could include artists/musicians (e.g. Wendy Carlos and Helen Thorington) and researchers/technologists (e.g. Bebe Barron, Daphne Oram, and Rebecca Fiebrink), though the line between artist and researcher is often blurred. Let’s strive towards a future where all children understand their potential and have equal opportunity to pursue excellence in the field of their choice!

Author Bio: Chris Laguna is a Master’s student at Georgia Tech studying Music Technology with a focus on audio digital signal processing. He is interested in both research and software development, and he has worked at Google and Dolby Labs as an intern. He spends all his free time writing music, playing chess, and running in circles.

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