Family theme is music to their ears


Award-winning duo say performance at Oakland Mills is all about community

May 04, 2007|By Janet Gilbert

Oakland Mills resident and singer-songwriter Joanne Juskus was wondering how to respond to the e-mail she had received that asked: "How would you like to play a concert in your own backyard?"

"I started thinking, `What about chairs? What about restrooms?'" she said.

Laughing, she recalled that when she telephoned the sender of the e-mail, Mary Kate Murray, a member of the Oakland Mills Revitalization Committee, the situation was quickly cleared up. Murray meant "right here in Oakland Mills, at The Other Barn."

Juskus said yes immediately, with a caveat: Children 12 and younger accompanied by a parent or guardian should be admitted free.

"For me, Columbia is about families," said Juskus, who has lived in her neighborhood since 1992. "I wanted it to be a situation where families could hear live music together." Proceeds of the show will go toward the Oakland Mills Revitalization Project.

Juskus will be performing with Adrian Bond, the other half of her duo - known simply as Joanne Juskus - tomorrow at 8 p.m. at The Other Barn. They will be performing their eclectic mix of music Juskus describes as "electronic folk."

"It's really three different kinds of music," Juskus said. "The first is original songs, using a laptop to create rhythms, with Adrian on electric guitar. In this case, you're hearing very much the sound of the CD."

Juskus is talking about her 2006 release, "See Your Face" and her debut album, "Joanne Juskus," which was released in 2001 to accolades, including a Silver Prize in Adult Contemporary Music in the Mid-Atlantic Song Contest and several "Wammie" nominations from the Washington Area Music Association. Juskus was named one of the "top unsigned bands in the northeast USA" by Amtrak's Arrive magazine last year.

Juskus described the second type of music she and Bond will be performing as "electronic improvisation."

"It's very ethereal," said Juskus," very rhythmic and driven."

Finally, there is a segment of their work she describes as Celtic, acoustic and unplugged.

What these seemingly disparate styles of music have in common is Juskus, an artist who imprints her conversation and her singing with a vulnerability and passion that connects not only her various styles, but also her audience.

Consider the lyrics from her song "Missing You": "A photograph, an epitaph/ the pealing echo of your laugh/ the driving rain, the endless pain/ of our incomplete refrain/ How could a love come so undone/ when two hearts were joined as one."

Now imagine a clear, fluid voice pouring wistfulness, perhaps a dose of regret, maybe a dash of anger and pure undiluted heartache into those lyrics.

"I feel a lot. If I couldn't put it into music, I'd probably ... " Juskus said, her voice trailing off.

"I think artists and writers and musicians, we're given a higher sensibility, and we're given the job to express it, on behalf of all of us."

Juskus began expressing it at age 7, when she wrote her first song. It was called "Springtime," and it was, she recalled, "not very good."

Juskus sang a few bars. It wasn't all that bad for a 7-year-old composer. But Juskus could probably break into "Three Blind Mice" and leave you looking for a tissue.

"When I was a little girl," she said, "we constantly had music in our home. Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell, the Beatles." Juskus counts all of them among her early influences but said that she doesn't want to be influenced by other people at this point, wanting her work to retain "some amount of originality."

An only child, Juskus described music as a companion of sorts. "It kept me company," she said. She first had one of those early "baby" type grand pianos, then graduated to a chord organ. She remembers well the day her parents had a real piano delivered to their home in Newburgh, N.Y.

"I was at a friend's house," she said. "I ran down the street after the truck."

Juskus wrote songs and performed with friends in living rooms and coffee houses but worked and expressed her creative side visually as a graphic designer. Then, in the early 1990s, she took a performance workshop with Anne Louise White, a popular folk singer. The program culminated in a performance, to which Juskus invited all of her friends and family. When it was her turn to perform, Juskus froze.

"My heart was pounding," she said. "I had never heard of `cotton mouth' until that night. I went on, but I'm sure I was just awful."

Juskus put performing out of her mind for a while but continued to write songs. She wanted to create a CD for a friend's birthday, and went into the studio to record it. It turned out to be her debut album.

It was time for Juskus to address her stage fright. "At first I quit [performing], but then I said, `I've got to get through this.'" Juskus said she often wondered why it wasn't enough simply to make music in her living room.

"I realized it felt incomplete without sharing it," she said. "I get a tremendous amount of nourishment from the audience."

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