Creative Spotlight Series featuring Roberta Schultz
Welcome to the first installment of the “Creative Spotlight Series” – a series of interviews with inspiring and creative people who share insights into their creative process and work.
I'm thrilled to introduce Roberta Schultz of the folk harmony trio, Raison D'Etre. I first met Roberta at a music conference (SERFA, or the Southeast Regional Folk Alliance) where I heard her perform with her fabulous trio, Raison D'Etre, from Kentucky. She recently released a solo CD “One Small Step” and a poetry chapbook “Outposts on the Border of Longing.”
Q: When and how did you discover you were creative?
A: I have to credit my kindergarten teacher, Donna Mader, for encouraging me to create. She believed that all human beings were naturally creative, so she had us bring in one of our fathers' shirts to wear backwards as an artist smock while we finger painted and even set up easels for us to simulate the artist experience. We played rhythm instruments in a band, and sang along to our efforts. I never wanted to leave kindergarten.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
A: I have always performed in some kind of ensemble involving harmony singing. When my dad bought my sister Violet and I guitars for Christmas when I was 12 and she was 9, we started learning how to sing and play together–which we have never really stopped doing. She and I are in Raison D'Etre together with her college roommate and best friend, Vickie.
In college, I trained to teach English, which I did for many years on the high school and college levels. All the while, I kept playing music, and even minored in voice so that I could study some theory and sing with the concert choir at my university.
Q: What are your creative outlets/projects?
A: I sing, play guitar and 6-string mandolin for Raison D'Etre. I help arrange our three-part harmonies, although we all have a hand in that. I also write some of our original songs and research any of the period music we play.
Raison D'Etre started out as a three-part vocal trio devoted to country folk like the music Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and Linda Ronstadt recorded as Trio. But since Vickie was doing some part-time first-person interpreter work at Cincinnati Museum Center, we were asked to learn Shaker music, pioneer music, Swing era music, and Civil War tunes for various exhibits at the Museum. So, over out 25 years together we have developed our specialty shows for historic venues and general audience shows that combine our originals with selections from our historic covers and folk songs.
Besides Raison D'Etre, I am a Teaching Artist for the Kentucky Arts Council, sometimes teaching songwriting at schools. But I probably spend more time working with senior groups on HealthRhythms wellness drumming. HealthRhythms is an empowerment drumming protocol developed by neurologist, Dr. Barry Bittman, that can be adapted for troubled youth, drug rehab, wounded warriors, seniors, dementia patients, church groups, and even for general recreational drumming. I drum with a rural senior center every other week and I also demonstrate this drumming at arts festivals and wellness fairs.
Another project has been reviewing books for a public radio station in Cincinnati. I post my reviews on my blog at braverself.blogspot.com and try to post about my individual creative life there when I get the time.
For several years, I have attended a regular women's Practice of Poetry group that emphasizes poetry as spiritual practice. This year, I decided to submit some of the poems I had been workshopping in group to a publisher. The result is my first chapbook of poetry, OUTPOSTS ON THE BORDER OF LONGING which is largely about my childhood in Grant's Lick, KY and how that place affected my growth as a person.
Q: Can you describe your creative process for us?
A: When arranging other's work for a historic venue, I strive to make the song sound like Raison D'Etre. Like it would fit right into our set list. So sometimes that would entail making Stephen Foster's “Beautiful Dreamer” sound like a Roy Orbison song.
I write both songs and poems from prompts and love having that stimulation. So, being part of a retreat group or a poetry circle is important for my process.
I let whatever else I am doing feed my creativity in other areas. When I am leading a drum circle, there are steps in the protocol that could use a song. So, I go home and write a new song for the “Shaker Share” step so that we won't always have to use existing songs for the step.
For poetry, I start out with a free write or journal piece, and then try to carve a poem from the mass of words using what poet Cathy Smith Bowers calls “the abiding image.” That's an idea that seems to hang around the subconscious, waiting to be expressed. For years, I wrote piece after piece about my Grandma Babe until I finally wrote some poems and songs from those free writes and journal pieces.
Q: Where do you get your ideas?
A: Certainly, I get many song ideas from prompts. I have been attending a songwriter's retreat in NC called SoLaTiDo for many years where we come to the mountain and do this:
- Get a prompt at 9 am
- Go write until 11:30 am
- Share our songs-in-progress in circle at 11:30 am
- Eat lunch
- Spend the rest of the day arranging parts, consulting on the song, getting it down.
Repeat for two days. Then record the songs with our arranger/consultant.
Perform the songs for the writers who also have a workshop on the mountain that week.
I never fail to come home with three new songs.
I also get many ideas while driving. Today the words “old wood” kept popping into my head in relation to my creaky joints. While running errands, I received the hook to my new “old time” song about string bands. I came home and wrote down some words. Still working on it, but I love when that happens. When a song is a “bolt from the blue.” A gift for paying attention to the abiding images we hold.
A: I am always inspired by listening to and viewing the creativity of others. I read a lot of poetry, listen to all styles of music, enjoy visual images. It is also very inspiring just to be in the company of folks who create. Even my daily scroll through Facebook offers a tapestry of thought and image I would not experience otherwise.
Q: What do you do when you’re not feeling creative?
A: I do chores like laundry, walk around the lake, take care of seeing projects through their less glamorous details–I just live. Writers of fiction always say that they are still working when they are talking to you or socializing because something you say may trigger a character's action or dialogue. I kind of feel that way about poetry and songwriting. Everything I do has potential, so no task is not relevant to me. I once wrote a poem about how seductive my rental car was. I had to spend long hours on the road in that baby before the poem percolated up in my consciousness.
Q: Do you have a schedule or routine for creating?
A: When I am not in a poetry group, my routine is less structured. Our group takes a break from December through March, so right now, my writing is not as routine.
For Raison D'Etre, we rehearse every Wednesday night, so I tend to prepare things for them with that in mind. I guess I treat my creative life more like homework. When is it due? When is that submission deadline? When do I have to have a poem for craft group?
I do try to get mornings to myself whenever possible. Then, I know I will do something. And I keep one guitar by my desk for when I am working on an idea.
Q: Do you consider yourself to be a night person, morning person, or something else?
A: I am not a true morning person, but I know that I write better melodies in the morning. I know this because of my songwriting retreat. One morning at circle I brought in a song that one of my friends in the circle loved. By afternoon, I had forgotten the original melody and tried to play the song for her again. “That's almost it,” she said. “But now, it is too normal-sounding.” The next morning, I remembered the stranger, better melody. So for creating, I think mornings are better for me as my right brain access is better then. By afternoons, I am way into editing mode. I noticed this over my teaching career as well. Grading was how I spent afternoons. Planning was always better in the morning.
Q: Do you have any creative tips for others?
A: I once heard a woman give a talk at NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) about allowing yourself the time to create. Not to think of it as luxury, but as the rich experience of being present to life. I'm not sure what her actual words were, but after all this time, I know I feel more alive and present because of music, song, and poetry. I think we must make room for that, being present in our lives.
Q: What artists/creative people inspire you?
A: There are many famous folk I could name, but I am inspired more by those who create something for the joy of it. Because they must, because they can, because they improve the lives of others.
A: Yesterday, I would've told you that I was “on break” since I had some role in shepherding a 9th Raison D'Etre recording, “So Dear,” my own solo recording “One Small Step,” and a chapbook of poems all in one year. Plus, I researched the music, learned the music with Violet, and performed the music and sound cues for Falcon Theatre's production of “Twain by the Tale” from December-January. But since I wrote the first draft of a song this morning, I guess that's not true anymore.
This year I want to put some energy into celebrating Raison D'Etre's 25th year. I want to put some planning into making that an event or project of some kind. And I will continue to submit poetry to journals. Plus work on my solo performance skills.
Q: How do you juggle multiple creative projects?
A: I keep a big calendar nearby for that so that all aspects of my projects are scheduled and planned as much as possible. I guess it hearkens back to my teacher plan book.
Q: Where can we find out more about you and your work?
A: I'm pretty active on Facebook on my personal page, facebook.com/robertaschultz1, and I administrate the Raison D'Etre page at facebook.com/raison3. But you can read about my solo work at raison3.com/roberta and on my blog, braverself.blogspot.com.
Q: Is there anything else that you’d like to mention – about you, your work, or on the topic of creativity?
A: It's never too late to get published! 🙂