Quick Q and A with Sharon Goldman

Sharon Goldman has blossomed into one of the most unique voices in today’s singer-songwriter scene.  Her gentle, yet powerful, presence brings the listener into her world and perhaps into a brand new world of their own. Music is such an exciting way to learn and appreciate different perspectives and Sharon’s music exposes us to a wide and wonderful world of bold and beautiful ideas.

Learn more about Sharon here.

Here’s a video of Sharon singing the title song from her latest recording.

Sharon will be participating in “Steady On: Celebrating Lilith Fair at 20” along with Sloan Wainwright, Lara Herscovitch, and Amy Soucy on Septenber 8 at the me&thee coffeehous ein Marblehead, MA

You’re the driving force behind “Steady On: Celebrating Lilith Fair at 20.”  Who are your s(heroes) from the tour twenty years ago?  What is it about their music that speaks to you? 

Personally, in celebrating the spirit of Lilith Fair I’m celebrating the entire trend towards powerful, successful female singer-songwriters from the late 1980s to late 1990s that culminated in the Lilith Fair concert tour of 1997-1999. These were women who were topping the charts and winning awards with deep, thoughtful, unique songs — and there were so many of them! For me, Suzanne Vega was my earliest s(hero) of that period. Certainly, I grew up hearing songs on the radio by Joni Mitchell, Carole King and Carly Simon, but I was just a kid. As a teen and young adult, when I first saw Suzanne play at my college — solo, live, with just her acoustic guitar — it was very powerful for me. There was no band, no sexy clothes, no dancing. Just an intimate show with vulnerable, personal, poetic songs that touched everyone in the room. Looking back, that was a profound moment for me. How I wished I could do that! It didn’t take long for so many other artists that ultimately performed at Lilith Fair — Sarah McLachlan, Shawn Colvin, Indigo Girls, Tracy Chapman, Fiona Apple, Patty Griffin  — to take their place front and center in my CD collection.

I understand that your knowledge of the original story of Lilith from the Bible also helped to inspire you to do this tour.  For those of us who aren’t familiar with the story of Lilith, fill us in and help explain the connection between her and the original tour of all female singer-songwriters.

I grew up in a traditional Jewish community, where I never heard about the story of Lilith. As a young adult, however, I discovered this fascinating figure of Jewish mythology. According to folklore, Lilith was Adam’s first wife, before Eve. The legend says that Lilith was kicked out of the Garden of Eden because she would not obey Adam.

In doing some research on the myth of Lilith for a song on my most recent album, KOL ISHA (a Woman’s Voice), I discovered that there was more to the story. After she left the Garden of Eden, Lilith transformed into a demon, in the form of a night owl. Ancient cultures believed Lilith would come to their homes in the middle of the night and steal their children or seduce their husbands. Many would wear amulets around their necks to protect them from the evil Lilith.

Over the past decades, Lilith has been re-interpreted and embraced as a feminist figure — who did not submit and was not subservient. That was Sarah McLachlan’s inspiration for calling the all-female tour Lilith Fair.

Your album KOL ISHA (A Woman’s Voice) has received rave reviews. You used the stories of Biblical and mythological women and incorporated unique musical themes and contemporary lyrics to express your own perspective. Do you remember how those stories sparked your imagination and helped you to conceive of the theme of the album?

The truth is, KOL ISHA (A Woman’s Voice) was not a theme I consciously conceived of — instead, it was an organic outgrowth of a deep, personal exploration of my childhood and young adulthood in an Orthodox Jewish community that I found confusing, conflicting and complex. That is, one where I chafed against mixed messages regarding gender roles; was raised to believe Israel was “home”; and in which the horrors of the Holocaust were central to identity.

I had already disconnected, almost completely, from the religion of my youth by the time I started becoming a singer-songwriter, and rarely spoke about my deepest feelings about it to friends and acquaintances. But, not surprisingly, those issues kept bubbling up in my mind because I had not fully dealt with them. I began to write some songs that did use stories of biblical and mythological women as creative inspiration, as well as memories of prayer and ritual; Hebrew refrains, and traditional texts. I got such amazing responses and feedback on these songs from people who really understood the universal spirit of candid reflection and transformation that was happening. So, I just kept going. I didn’t even see the many connections between the songs until I was much farther along. Once I did see a theme emerging, I did write a few of the songs with these ideas in mind.

I’m fascinated to learn that the concept of “Kol Isha” is part of some Jewish communities where women are not allowed to sing in front of men.  Did that tradition allow women to express themselves more frankly and honestly in front of other women when they sang together?

Yes, “Kol Isha” does not simply mean “A Woman’s Voice” in Hebrew, but refers to the traditional concept that women are not supposed to sing publicly in front of men — as it is considered improperly “stimulating.” Today, the vast majority of Jews know little about this, but in Orthodox Jewish communities it is taken to various levels of extremes, on a definite spectrum. I grew up on the fairly modern, liberal side, actually. In the synagogue I grew up in, women and men sat on separate sides, with a divider in between. Women certainly sang in the background, but were not permitted to lead prayers and girls were not permitted to have Bat Mitzvahs where they read publicly from the Torah in front of the group. In my Jewish high school, girls could sing in a choir but there were a lot of discussions about whether a girl could sing solo, such as in a talent show. I have a lot of memories about wanting to do more than was permitted, but not knowing why it bothered me so much. It was empowering to take the concept of “Kol Isha” and turn it on its head for this project — I truly found my voice through this artistic and personal creative journey.

As far as the second half of your question, I certainly think that in many Orthodox Jewish communities there is a greater emphasis on women expressing themselves in front of each other in a way that is frank and honest and builds sisterhood. People often ask me about this, and I try to explain that it’s not like these women are victims, they are often comfortable with this way of doing things. But for me personally, I never was able to really interpret it in a way that was anything other than feeling like a second-class citizen — especially since I am now a performing singer-songwriter!

Tell us a bit about your own songwriting process.  Do you set time aside to work out lyrics and musical ideas?  Or do you go running for your guitar when inspiration strikes at any time of the day or night?

For me it’s really both, depending on what’s going on in my life. I’m not someone who sets aside time every day or week to write, but I do respond very well to deadlines. So, over the years I’ve often attended songwriting groups or participated in songwriting challenges that require me to set aside time to finish something. On the other hand, there have been many times when lyrical or musical ideas have simply bubbled up and even if I want to go to sleep I have to follow the muse.

I do tend to get musical ideas first — even if I have an idea of something I’d like to write about, it takes sitting down with my guitar, or at the piano, to noodle around until I find something that connects. I’m really not someone who carries a journal around and comes up with poetic ideas on the fly. But, once I sit down with my instrument the magic often happens. Not always, for sure — there’s always the fear that the muse won’t return!

What can we expect to hear from you during this tour?

I’m thrilled to share take the lead on songs from Indigo Girls, Suzanne Vega and Sarah McLachlan during the show — some of my favorite tunes! Also, I’ll be playing a supporting role on piano during the show, on songs by Patty Griffin and Shawn Colvin, as well as some of our original material — I’m excited to play the keys on the beautiful instrument at the Me & Thee!



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