Folk Alliance International’s 2021 Folk Unlocked Virtual Conference: Part 8 of 8 – Linda Marks
This article is the final of an eight-part series covering Folk Alliance International’s 2021 Folk Unlocked Virtual Conference, dedicated to Linda Marks and her festival performance.
Linda Marks is a Bostonian singer-songwriter. On the evening of Thursday, February 25th (CST), Marks livestreamed an hour-long, twelve-song set at her home in Waltham, Massachusetts.
Singing and playing her 120-year-old Ivers & Pond upright piano, Linda Marks drew from her 9-LP discography to put on a vibrant, rousing show. Overall, her performance was characterized by the light, graceful aspects of her soprano vocals, as well as by her heartfelt, earnest tone and highly purposeful, emotionally-charged lyrics. Marks also imbued her particular brand of folk with a unique, almost cabaret-like quality, causing her set to take on a more grand posture, and making me feel as though I’d been transported to a Broadway theatre.
Linda Marks generously emailed me answers to a few questions I’d sent her. Read on to see what she had to say!
Note: this interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Image courtesy of Passim.org
Ben: Given that you have so many albums, do you feel as though you have gone through different stylistic eras?
Linda Marks: I have always identified as being a singer-songwriter. As a piano player who crosses many genres, it has been hard to be properly “boxed” for the genre boxes the music world looks to find. Piano players are rarely classified as folk. And as a soprano, even when I sing in lower keys, my vocal quality is light and elegant and not the kind of raw, gritty alto one expects in folk or even jazz. That has been something I have wrestled with my entire career.
The singer-songwriter/folk genre was where I fit best in the mid-late 1980s. Then I was out of the scene for a couple of decades, and as I crept back, the jazz world seemed more welcoming of a piano playing soprano than the folk world. I got involved in the cabaret world, where both my cross-genre passions and my light and elegant soprano voice were more welcome. But the cabaret world focuses on singing other people’s songs…and as an arranger, it was fine to arrange both my own originals and other people’s songs…but it is also less common to play piano for yourself when you sing in that world…and that got to me. I had only played piano on my originals, and did not want to change that. My second album, from 2014, Heart To Heart, only has 3 originals, but some of my later albums have only originals.
I have always used a wide variety of instruments in my arrangements, from violin and cello to flute and saxophone to banjo… My 2019 album, In Grace, included banjo, harp, bass, drums, piano, vocal harmonies, guitar, saxophone, cello and violin. But another one of my albums, Songs At The Heart Of Life, has only string instruments besides my piano tracks and lead vocals. As I have written my 2021 album material, some of my jazz roots are creeping back in. One song for my 2021 album, Home, is pure Latin jazz.
As a creative who draws from inspiration, I never know when a gospel or an Americana or a jazz influenced song is going to be birthed. That is some of the fun of the creative process. I would say my albums are organized more along themes than genre styles, even though one could say my 2014, 2015, and 2016 work had more of a jazz flavor…and my 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020 work was more contemporary folk.
Ben: You’re a Yale and MIT-educated psychotherapist, too, among other things. Could you please talk a bit about how these various components of your life fit together?
Linda Marks: Music was my first language. As a toddler, even though I did not have a piano of my own, I would magnetically be drawn to pianos and start figuring out tunes. I bought a guitar at age 11, and started writing for the guitar until I could afford my own piano at age 13. After that, I never looked back. I taught myself everything I knew up until music school. I got my degree in Music from Yale, with honors and distinction, and with a focus on songwriting, while most of the other music students were classically trained and pursuing classical performance.
My minor was Psychobiology, which I could not complete because I would not take a mammalogy class that would have required that I dissect a cat! I actually developed a heart-centered body psychotherapy method in my 20s, which is what I have taught and practiced my entire career…and I came to realize it came from the same source as my music. Everything I do is anchored in the heart. And both of my professions are expressions of the heart…designed to empower, heal and help people connect with the heart. Music reaches deeper than words and connects us all heart to heart.
When I used to do trainings and retreats (both in the US and in Europe), I would always incorporate music as part of the choreography of the workshops because the music helped people work with their hearts. I also found that I enjoyed helping people find their voices and learn to use their voices-—both musically and in life, since our voice is truly who we are. It is vulnerable and scary to connect with and express with our voice…yet it is also incredibly empowering and fulfilling to authentically sing or speak from the heart.
As an introvert who loves one-on-one contact with people, but who needed to learn to be an ambivert (how else could I public speak or perform), the balance of the music and the heart-centered body psychotherapy really feeds me. I can also add that even though I was a pioneer in my body psychotherapy work, it has been a way I can make the living that allows me to dive into my music without having to worry how I will put food on the table. It allows me to be as creative as I want and not worry about the “package” that will sell…It allows my musical voice to remain authentic and from the heart.
Ben: Lastly, is there anything else in particular that you’d like our readers to know about you?
Linda Marks: My experience as a single mom, who through the undertow of life had to step away from music for several decades because I just could not take care of a young son, financially provide for us, and then care for my mom as she aged with Alzheimer’s, made me aware of the many challenges women in music face. We can’t have it all or do it all—at least not all at once. This led me to co-found an intergenerational artist-alliance group about 3 years ago called Women In Music Gathering.
Before the pandemic, we gathered together in person to support one another personally and professionally. We also produced and performed in group shows, many of which were benefit concerts for good community non-profits. The pandemic led us to start monthly online meetings, Just last weekend, we did a virtual benefit concert for our one of favorite charities, Buddy Dog Humane Society, featuring 11 female music artists who are mostly based in New England. I have always had a strong sense of service, and have been involved in founding and sustaining different artist-alliance related groups my whole life.
I also ran an intimate house concert series called The Music Salon from 2014 (when I moved into my current home) until the pandemic shut the world down in March 2020. The Music Salon was dedicated to building community through music and art. We began with a potluck dinner, had a featured visual artist or poet, and then moved into the musical segment of the evening. I ran it as a community service and all proceeds went to the guest artists/musicians.
I am also a LadyLake artist. Cindy D’Adamo curates a national roster of musicians who are not only talented, but also good people committed to service and uplifting others through their music and work.
This concludes Big City Folks’ coverage of Folk Alliance International’s 2021 Folk Unlocked Virtual Conference. Hope you enjoyed the series!