Songs of Susannah: Music is my first language


It's a question I've been asking myself for decades. People have often told me that my music doesn't sound like anything else out there, so where does it come from? Who influenced the development of my unique musical style?

Growing up in the early 1980s, the radio stations we listened to were Q102 (WKRQ, pop/rock) and WEBN (rock and heavy metal), along with several folk music records (mostly Peter Paul and Mary - In The Wind) and children's records (mostly Disco Mickey Mouse and Sesame Street Live, and a foot-high stack of vintage children's 45s that I insisted on playing both sides of every single day). My mother's lullabies were a combination of folk songs and folk covers of everything from Rock 'N' Roll oldies to Showtunes to Big Band. Having never heard the originals, these were among the first songs I played by ear. Writing music is, essentially, playing music by ear that you've only heard in your head, so it stands to reason that I would combine elements from all these genres into my music.

When I was 3 or 4, my parents bought a Farfisa Royal Artist chord organ at a yard sale for $15 (it sounded like an accordion). Within a few days, I was playing familiar tunes by ear and making up simple melodies. My best song from that era is River Swans, and it's not substantially different from the melodies that I write today. By this time, I had already been making up songs for a couple years, and singing them a cappella.

My neurology also influenced my music (see Autism).

When I was about 4, we had a cassette recording of Water Music, which I instantly loved. The first cassette tape I ever bought was called Favorites of the Ballet (performed by the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra), when I was about 5 or 6. For a couple years, I insisted that I only liked classical music.

When I was about 7, we discovered a new college radio station, WNKU, which played a lot of acoustic singer/songwriters, folk music (especially Celtic music), and what is now known as Indie music, and I listened to this station exclusively until I was almost 17.

Meanwhile, when I was about 9, my sister started listening to a lot of alternative rock while doing her homework, which I heard every day through the wall between our bedrooms.

After I started taking piano lessons, my favorite composers were Lynn Freeman Olsen, Dennis Alexander, David Carr Glover, and Beethoven.

I wrote my first piece of sheet music (The Train) when I was 8, using everything I had learned from having taken about a year of piano lessons. My sound really took shape when I was between the age of about 10 and 14.

By the time I was 14, I had fully developed my musical style, yet I'm sure other artists have influenced me subtly since then. Sometimes, when I compose a song in my head, I hear someone in particular singing it, for example, Understand has percussion like the song How by The Cranberries; If Nothing Else sounds similar to Suzanne by Leonard Cohen; I hear Hold On as performed like Cherub Rock by Smashing Pumpkins; the bridge of The Lost Library sounds like Coldplay in my head. The list goes on and on.