Smartists: Nora Jane Struthers

Published on Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls

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Nora Jane Struthers was waist-deep in her career as a high school English teacher and working on a graduate degree, when “the slow trickle of suspicious dissatisfaction that had been dripping in the back of my mind for years turned into a gushing realization: I was being successful in building the life I had set out to build but there was still something deep within me that was unfulfilled,” she said. Then, Nora Jane decided to be brave. In true Smart Girl-y fashion, Nora Jane “sold most of her stuff, packed her minivan and drove to Nashville” and is now a rising songbird in the country-folk world.

Nora Jane Struthers was born into a loving family in Ridgewood, NJ, a suburb of New York City. She spent a lot of time playing in the woods and singing harmony with her dad, as he played banjo or guitar. “I’ve been singing my whole life,” she said, “I picked up guitar when I was 14.”

Music came easy, but school was challenging. When she was four, Nora Jane was diagnosed with dyslexia.

“I knew I wasn’t stupid…I just had to work a lot harder than most of my classmates to understand and retain new information and processes.  My parents later recalled that my reading specialist told them I would never go to college,” she said.

Nora Jane attended NYU for undergrad, and earned a B.S. in Secondary English Education with a minor in Africana Studies. (She showed that reading specialist!)

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The cover to Nora Jane Struthers’ newest album, set to be released February 24th.

After college, Nora Jane taught English at a charter school in Williamsburg, Brooklyn for three years.

“I really loved teaching, especially working with teenagers, and in my third year of teaching I had been promoted to the position of English department head. I was 23 years old.”

But still, a part of her was screaming.

“I had always wanted to be a musician but until I started connecting with traditional music communities in the south I did not see it as a viable career option.  I decided I had to make a change and take a risk while I was still young and unattached… it wasn’t long before my fear of failure was dwarfed by my fear of regret.”

The rest is history. Nora Jane has been touring non-stop for five years, and has released two, soon to be three, recording projects.  Her newest album ‘Wake’ is dropping February 24th.

“It is the best album I’ve ever made,” she said.

Nora Jane writes all of her own music, and describes her creative process as a sort of intriguing  math equation: “solitary mornings+coffee+emotions and/or intentions+luck=songs.”

Much of her work is inspired by the powerful story telling and singable melodies and holds high women’s point of view.

“My last record, ‘Carnival,’ was a collection of my original story songs, all from the female perspective.  Inspired by my heroes Gillian Welch, Hazel Dickens, and Ollabelle Reed, I wanted to bolster the canon of American folk music and try to balance the P.O.V. scale a little.”

Nora Jane isn’t singing protest songs necessarily, but she does use her music to give a voice to generations of women left voiceless, and challenge the standards women are held to in society.

“One of the themes in my new album ‘Wake’ is the de-objectification of self.  I am 31 years old and I am very grateful I made it through my teens before social media was a pervasive part of our culture.  Culture has always shaped identity and our culture has always objectified women.”

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Picture by Todd Roethe

She goes on to show how this focus comes from a personal place, too, when she tells me about her considerations of her own body and privilege.

“I spend a lot of time thinking about are the societal expectations attached to the body in which I happen to reside.  I’m 5’9, blue-eyed, naturally blonde, 150 lbs….  I think about Carrie Underwood, Faith Hill, Miranda Lambert, Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears…I know these are all talented, hard working women. I respect them.  I do not know the extent to which they have called the shots in their careers, but from where I’m sitting, it feels like there are a bunch of men in suits telling them what songs to sing, how to sing them, what to wear, what to say, etc…I just really want to be a role model as a leader and a decision maker and I resent the likelihood that I will be grouped into this category of, for lack of a better metaphor, music-business-barbie-marionettes. I write my own songs. I play guitar. I am the bandleader. I run my own record label. I pull my own strings, damn it.”

Nora Jane is entirely and unequivocally herself, and wants to encourage you to do the same, “…spend time doing whatever it is that makes you feel like there are sparks bouncing around your sternum,” she says.  In other words, pull a “Struthers”, follow your heart, and never look back.

Watch this (amazing, feminist, kick-butt) music video of the song ‘Let Go’ by Nora Jane Struthers & The Party Line!

New disease, more prevalent than ever

In this world, there is something more infectious than Ebola and AIDS put together, and most of us are completely oblivious of it. This mystery ailment runs rampant, and causes symptoms of “not caring” and an immense aversion to anything substantive. It is common for sufferers to care nothing about elections or race politics or psychology or international relations or education or sexism, but to still have misguided opinions on the topics. It is also common for them to express very backwards beliefs, be stunted in their ability to empathize with those from diverse backgrounds, and to possess an uncanny love for the Fox News Channel. This ever-evolving, multi-symptom disease is known as Ignorance.

“Ignorance’s onset can be sudden and surprising, or hereditary. Yet still, many consciously, intentionally do not seek prevention or treatment,” said Don Andonier, a doctor who’s seen many cases of this illness and studied it extensively.

He assures me that, despite it’s overwhelming prevalence, Ignorance is very treatable. “Sometimes, the cure is as simple as giving them a stimulating book. Other times, it’s trickier,” said Andonier. “For those cases we have to get creative.”

Andonier went on to describe how he’s sent many to the local university for treatment, and required them to sign up for at least a year’s worth of classes. He also says he requires them to read more than one news source, have discussions with people without going on the defensive, and signs them up for a year’s worth of counseling so they can explore why their gay nephew or their black sister-in-law is so threatening.

His diligent work has made a difference, but more and more, people are refusing treatment. In one of recent study, evidence showed that Ignorance sufferers, once considered pariahs, are now embraced, even worshipped in society.

As one ignorant man told us, “I love that I don’t have to give a f**k about anything, and that I can pass all of the world’s problems on to the future generations, or pretend they don’t exist all together. And people think I’m a “chill guy” for it. It’s helped me achieve what I’ve been striving for most of my life—to be a boring, passive, waste of space kind of guy who’s good with the ladies.”

“Before there were just so many sufferers, and we didn’t have anywhere to send them… they had to be cured,” says Andonier, “and then people began to find ignorance amusing, cool, even valuable in society…that solved that issue. People choose to live with it now, they like being ‘checked out.’”

He didn’t know what brought this change about, though he did have a few strongly worded suggestions that seemed necessary to omit from this news. His many would-be patients are happy about their newfound acceptance and freedom.

When left untreated, it isn’t uncommon for Ignorants to develop accompanying issues. These include an inability to be anything but a cog in the massive corporate wheel, a hatred for art (postmodernism specifically), and bibliophobia, a fear of libraries.

One survivor described her fear of education as “dehabilitating. I look at words longer than four letters and faint. The same happens if I use the correct form of “your” or read more than four lines of Shakespeare. I am terrified of being eloquent and well-educated.”

Like true survivors, this sufferer and many others like her find a silver lining in their very curable, extremely ridiculous, forced stupidity—a life of endless America’s Next Top Model reruns, PBRs and obliviousness. How can we do anything but applaud them for it?

-Alexa Peters

Starter Stories: My Berkeley Shoebox

In the last year, I graduated university, left a romantic relationship, quit my job and moved a thousand miles away from the place I grew up. It’s been a gigantic transition. But, the size of this transition is hilarious in contrast with the space I now call home—a tiny 18×12 one-room studio without running water, a closet, an oven, or bathroom. This is the story of my (very) humble abode, for the Urban Compass Starter Stories project on first homes.

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I live in the right side of this studio/garage. The sliding glass door is my entrance.

Maybe you’re shocked that I would choose to live like this. A lot of people are.  But, I should add that the studio comes as exchange for my work as a nanny to the eleven-year old boy that lives in the main house, and it’s entirely MINE.  I can always go in the house to use the bathroom or oven if I need, I save the $1000 per month most people pay for rent in Bay Area (which, I might add, is one of the most coveted places to live in the world), and I don’t have any roommates to contend with. As a single woman just starting out on her own, this set-up is a godsend.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of constraints. It’s taken a cocktail of thrift purchases and ingenuity to make my little Berkeley shoebox home sweet home, but here the issues I’ve had and how I’ve addressed them.

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Rainbow order, ya’ll!

1) The studio is tiny and storage is a huge issue. Luckily, when I arrived in Berkeley, my apartment was fully furnished with the basics as well as as much space saving furniture as she could fit (all of which purchased from thrift stores or IKEA), so most of the shelving I needed was already supplied to me. There was a big issue, though, and that was clothing storage: I had no hanging space and I have a lot of clothes. Like, a lot of clothes. I filled my dresser in a minute. Luckily, I had just enough space free at the foot of my bed for an adjustable hanging structure I found at Target. My own little touch was color-coding the hanging clothes in rainbow order, to make the structure functional and decorative. (Hint: this is cool for books too!)

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It wouldn’t be home without maps and literary magazines.
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My writing desk, complete with my record player AKA the best thing I’ve ever purchased. Talk about livening up a room!
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Books, pictures and knick-knacks, oh my!

2) The studio is literally a rectangle with white walls and very little natural light. So, how I’ve decorated the space is 100% of what makes it interesting. Adding color and visual interest anywhere I can makes the space feel bigger and brighter. I’ve arranged my bookshelves with little knick-knacks to add personality and put fresh-cut flowers around to add cheer. I especially love the look of maps: they are visually interesting and keep my wanderlust a-kindled! So, I have pinned the ones I’ve collected in my travels to the walls. (Maybe I’m crazy, but I think having the whole wide world on my walls makes the place seem larger than it actually is!) Then add all the postcards, pictures and other art I’ve plastered to the walls and you’ve got a surplus of Alexa-ness. Plus, to make the space feel less like a poster-covered dorm room, I’ve gone to salvage yards and thrifts sorts and purchased cheap frames for certain little pieces. Frames are fun and make things look much more Martha Stewart approved.

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This is my kitchen counter. Hanging the cups and using the magnet for the knives saves a ton of space.

3) Clutter makes big spaces feel tiny, and this tiny space feel like being buried alive. I have to keep the space as clean and contained as IMG_4584possible, or else I feel like I’ve joined the cast of TLC’s Hoarders. The space just isn’t big enough to be messy. Of course, I get busy and leave things out, but I can’t do that for too long or it begins to swallow me up. Hence, I have to clean and stay on myself about getting rid of things (especially clothes, shoes and books—my vices) if I am going to buy something new. I have to remember I don’t have the space to accumulate, only to replace.

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The fridge should be as full of personality as it is of food.

These are the main ways I make this space my own and keep it livable. That isn’t too say that rain doesn’t sometimes come in through the makeshift window, that the hotplate doesn’t blow the circuit breaker, or that people don’t accidentally see me in my underwear through the gaps in the curtain that acts as a front door. These things happen. Nevertheless, I love my little Berkeley shoebox. It’s like me: quirky, scrappy and a little impractical. It’s as small as I feel entering into the adult world on my own, and yet, it’s huge to me. It’s my Starter Story. Because of that, it will always hold a special place in my heart.photo 3 copy

Smart Girls in the Arts: First Aid Kit

Published on Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls!
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“I’m a master pretender,” wafts from the speakers of my record player as I listen to First Aid Kit sing a track from their newest album, Stay Gold. Yet, after a brief phone chat with these soulful, real-deal sisters, it’s clear they’re doing anything but pretending.

First Aid Kit is sisters Johanna and Klara Soderberg. They grew up in the suburbs of Stolkholm, Sweden in a home steeped in the arts.

“Our mom is a film professor, and our dad was a professional musician in the eighties,” Klara said. (Their father was a member of Swedish rock band, Lolita Pop.) “We were always around culture and we always knew we wanted to do something creative,” Johanna added.

As they grew, their love of singing and telling stories together forayed naturally into songwriting.

“There isn’t a time I can remember when we weren’t singing together,” Klara says, “and when we were 13 and 16 we started singing in harmony and writing together.”

The girls attended The English school of Enskede (which accounts for their very American-like accents), but you’ll be surprised to hear that they are not formally trained in music.

“Our parents offered to pay for lessons, but we were self-taught and learned by being around music growing up,” Johanna said.

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“[With songwriting]”, Klara says, “[we believe] there are no rules, its about emotion and…go[ing] with your gut and hav[ing] a lot of imagination…We get to make what we want to make…we think it’s important for people to know we [aren’t formally trained but] got good because we do it a lot and we love practicing and singing. ”

Passion and hard work brought them to where they are now, and authenticity to themselves and their artistic vision has earned them a devoted fan base. Being one of those fans, I can vouch for it: listening to First Aid Kit’s is like hearing my own mercurial, poignant existence put to music.

“We want our music to be honest, that’s why we’re so drawn to country and folk. You don’t need to be a goddess with a huge production crew, you just need to feel and be who you are,” First Aid Kit says.

Here, First Aid Kit is especially talking to you, my lovely Smart Girls. The Soderberg sisters are serious when it comes to supporting and inspiring other women to do what they love, a credit to their “hardcore feminist” mom, they say.

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“She is really amazing…very honest and outspoken; a no bullshit kind of woman,” they said. Johanna and Klara definitely take after her.

“…[If you want to do something] just do it. You need to sit down and play and hone in on your craft. Don’t think you can’t do it because you’re young or a girl… In our culture, men are told to stand out and women are told not to take up too much space. But, as a girl, you should feel that what you do is valid and know that someone will find it interesting. Dare to share it,” Klara said.

“Even if people don’t take you seriously, don’t let it stop you. Look at how far we are. We showed em’!” Johanna adds with a giggle, exemplifying that down-to-earth charm these Soderberg gals have so well. (Further case and point:  “At some point, we want to get dogs and buy a house on a farm.”)

Johanna and Klara say they are extremely happy about where they are now: touring all over the world, meeting their idols (like Jack White, Bright Eyes, Emmylou Harris) and making adoring fans. Plus, it looks like these determined Soderberg songtresses will be sticking around a while, giving you permission to continue (or begin) your addiction.

“We want to keep doing this for a long time,” First Aid Kit says. “In a way that’s comfortable to us…When it comes to our music, we’re very determined to do what we like and follow our vision. No one, not our label or manager, can get in the way of our vision.”

For more information on First Aid Kit and to catch them on tour, visit their website or like them onFacebook.

Smart Girls, Meet Kind Campaign

(Published on Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls)

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Let me begin with two confessions.

Confession #1: I was bullied viciously and relentlessly from the fourth to the sixth grade, and, I once participated in bullying someone. Both being the victim and the bully left me feeling nauseous, and though difficult for me, these experiences helped me write a line of my personal manifesto: Always be kind. 

Confession #2: I was one of the millions who visited and accidentally crashed the Kind Campaign website after Aaron Paul mentioned it in his Emmy acceptance speech this year (oops!). Within minutes of reading about Kind Campaign—a movement created by Lauren Paul and Molly Thompson to spread kindness and fight bullying—I knew these women and their cause needed to be unveiled to our Smart Girls community.

What exactly is Kind Campaign? Kind Campaign is an internationally recognized movement, documentary, and school program based upon the powerful belief in kindness. Kind Campaign’s programming brings awareness and healing to the negative and lasting effects of what Lauren and Molly call girl-against-girl crime. The campaign was inspired by Lauren’s own experience with bullying as a girl, and her work as an intern for Tom Shadyac during the making of his documentary, I Am.

“Throughout seventh and eighth grade, I went through a pretty traumatic experience with a group of girls. That experience put the issue of girl-against-girl bullying on my heart at a young age and since that time, I had known that I wanted to do something to start an honest conversation about this topic that had been swept under the rug for so long… [and then interning with Tom] inspired the depths of my soul and I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I needed to make a documentary about this topic,” Lauren said.

Lauren then pitched the idea to her friend, Molly, who she met her junior year at Pepperdine University.

“The two of us had a ton of mutual friends throughout our first two years Pepperdine, but we hadn’t crossed paths until that year.  I remember, the very first time we met, she was sitting in the film & communications building cafeteria and I sat down at her table with a mutual friend and showed her the ‘Leave Britney Alone!’ video on Youtube … [After being inspired to create Kind Campaign] I sat down with Molly and pitched her the idea of the film. She immediately connected, having gone through her own experiences with bullying during high school … Thank the universe that we ended up in each others lives because our relationship and how we run Kind Campaign as a team is absolutely perfect. I know that none of this would exist without our friendship and the way our brains create things together,” Lauren said.

During the process of creating the documentary, the vulnerable and heartbreaking stories they captured on camera led the women to take their cause even further—to create the non-profit Kind Campaign with the purpose of developing anti-bullying school programs and curriculum.

“Kind Campaign has grown immensely since our founding in 2009, where it started with this idea of a documentary and quickly grew into a school program, club curriculum, and online movement. Now our film, Finding Kind, screens in schools almost every day of the school year while we spend as much time as possible on the road with our assembly program watching real change take place right before our very eyes,” said Molly.

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Since the founding of Kind Campaign in February 2009, Molly and Lauren have personally spoken in about 300 schools with their assembly program, their documentary Finding Kind has screened in thousands of schools and venues, and Kind Campaign has become the premiere anti-bullying program for girls across North America.

You’re in love? Me too. I’m obsessed with these ladies and their mission. Lucky for me, it seems the Kind Campaign gals are just as in love with Smart Girls and our mission to change the world by being yourself.

As Molly said, “[Kind Campaign stays true to this] one hundred percent. (P.S. I am obsessed with that motto!) This is a common theme throughout many of our talking points in our assembly and discussion and something that we strongly believe in.  We celebrate embracing your individuality, while also discovering what it is that you’re passionate about so that you can go after your dreams and accomplish your goals.  We also encourage grabbing a friend to come along on the journey because you really can change the world with your friends.”

“One of my favorite quotes was said by Howard Thurman. It reads: ‘Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive,’” Lauren adds.

“I deeply believe in that motto. There is nothing better than a person who comes alive when they tell or show you what they do or what they’re passionate about, whether that’s being a teacher, sailing, working on wall street, collecting stamps, making bread at a bakery, acting, working in construction, or being a librarian. You will be the best you if you find a way to do what you love and/or love what you do,” Lauren says.

The girls are the embodiment of their own mottos and ours–two authentic, inspired, generous women putting their light into the world.

Both of them have learned “more than [they] ever imagined… about filmmaking, non-profits, and business… we have learned priceless life lessons and have had the privilege to get a peek into the lives of hundreds of thousands of people that we’ve met on this journey.  We have learned not only how broken so many girls across our country are, but more importantly how resilient and ready to create change they are as well.”

With the help of Aaron Paul’s recent Emmy shout-out, they are able to reach more girls than ever.  It’s provided them with incredible momentum going into the new school year, and is enabling them to continue spreading change in auditoriums across the country.

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“Aaron’s Emmy shout-out was incredible. Although we have been well established and active within thousands of schools over the last six years, because of Aaron, hundreds of thousands of new people now know about Kind Campaign. He is always using every opportunity he can to help.” As Kind Campaign enters into October, they also enter into their sixth annual national anti-bullying month tour.  The girls will be speaking in 28 schools throughout the month and “cannot wait” to meet the amazing girls in each of the schools that they’re visiting. Lauren added that last year, Aaron hosted a fundraiser for Kind Campaign, which coincided with the series finale of Breaking Bad. The fundraiser raised enough money for Kind Campaign to provide these school programs free of charge this entire year–fulfilling a dream the girls have had since beginning the organization in 2009.

Thank you Lauren and Molly (and Aaron Paul), and all others involved in Kind Campaign for being about something positive and nurturing for all the Smart Girls in the world! By the powers invested in me and Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls: I now pronounce you Officially Awesome.

To support Kind Campaign (do it!) or learn more about their October Free To Be Kind anti-bullying tour, please visit www.kindcampaign.com!

Smart Girls in The Arts: Michelle Johnson

Published on Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls!

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It’s no secret that opera, a four-hundred year old craft known for amazing voices and intricate plots, has struggled in wooing audiences in recent years. Early this year, The Metropolitan Opera House announced that they “brought in only 69 percent of its total potential box office revenue last season…the lowest in recent years”. At the mention of The Ring, most people under forty would think of Frodo, not Wagner. Yet, new talent like soprano Michelle Johnson, are threatening this trajectory by renewing opera with youth, originality and breathtaking talent.

Known for her “extraordinary breath control and flawless articulation,” with a “voice…velvety and pliant–a dulcet dream,” this graduate of the prestigious Academy of Vocal Arts is dazzling in appearance and aria, and just a joy to get to know.

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Born in Texas into a long line of educators, she was nurtured in an atmosphere of hard work and success. “…Education was essential to my career,” Johnson said, “My father is a Baptist pastor and my mother is an owner and director of an early childhood learning center, and my two older brothers are both in education as well.”

Johnson thought of being a teacher, but life had another plan for her—opera. When she was just 8, she saw Madame Butterfly on PBS. Johnson remembers becoming captivated by the high drama, the costumes, make-up, and the combination of song, music, and acting.

“It was nothing like I had ever seen before…I did not grow up in a house of frequent opera supporters. I grew up singing gospel in church, musical theater at school, and hip hop, R&B and alternative with friends. The opera world was a new world that I could not wait to discover,” Johnson said.

So discover she did. Instead of following in the footsteps of her family, she auditioned for music school. She was accepted to New England Conservatory of Music. Her education there was followed by a stint at Boston University’s Opera Institute. Eventually, Johnson arrived in Philadelphia, PA to attend the prestigious Academy of Vocal Arts.

“While at AVA, I was able to really focus on taking my craft to the next level. Nothing can take the place of being in your craft’s environment everyday with some of the most talented beings. I had two choices, grow or quit. I chose to grow,” she said.

Though it was the more challenging decision, to grow, it gave her a philosophy on her life and craft that’s worth sharing with you, my darling Smart Girls.

“[In opera,] I have learned…it’s always best to be honest with yourself… It’s too exhausting to try to be anyone other than myself. It’s also too uncomfortable. I am in a field where one is dealing with other’s opinions on a daily basis.  I’m playing characters that have been portrayed for hundreds of years. It’s always important to take in other’s critiques and advice but in the end [remember] it’s just me on the stage. I always respect what the composer has written but I always have to add my own color and flare to the piece that I’m presenting.”

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She means to add her own color literally, too, as a black woman in an art form that tends to tip-toe around and avoid the discussion of race.

“Many of the soprano roles I play are not black women…Most of the time the race of a character is not important to the storyline one bit. I find it very strange that many people find it very acceptable to perform a make-up transformation on a male that is not of color so he can play ‘Othello’ but it’s very seldom that one is eager to perform the same transformation for a woman of color to play ‘Desdemona.’ I am willing to take any challenge that comes my way.”

But there are a couple of women in particular that she acknowledges helped clear the way for her.

Firstly, it is opera legend, Leontyne Price. “I can not put into words what I feel when I listen to her perform. I just feel such an emotion in my gut. She’s brilliant and I hope to walk in the path that she has opened for black singers.”

Secondly, Johnson credits her mother Zelda with inspiring her and keeping her strong in who she is. “…That brilliant, intelligent, strong, classy lady [hangs] in there with me. I feel I can always ask for advice or a listening ear and she is always there. She truly was a great example of being comfortable with who you are in spite of other’s opinions.”

Johnson’s passion, originality and support system have brought her this far, but she is adamant about continuing having a long, healthy career. “Of course I would love to sing all of the grand diva roles right now,” she said, “but I know I, and my throat, would hate me after five years of unnecessary pressure being placed on my vocal chords and self.” She stresses that it’s great to have drive and passion, but that in the end it’s just as important to “have fun, enjoy life and be kind to your body.”

Johnson is gracing the stage in many upcoming performances. Right now, she is preparing to make two house debuts this season with the Kentucky Opera and the Sarasota Opera as “Minnie” in Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West and “Elisabeth” in Verdi’s Don Carlos. If you’re inspired by her story and nearby, get out and hear this Smart Girl sing!

Smart Girls in the Arts: Gracie and Rachel

(published on Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls)

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What do doe-eyed vixens, melodically-driven indie pop and Brooklyn, New York have in common? Gracie and Rachel, of course. This up and coming piano/voice and violin duo are stealing hearts from coast to coast with their original music and inspiring outlook on the act of creating art. Their (fabulous!) debut album “Go” is set to release August 26, and the least I can do is shine the Smart Girl in the Arts spotlight on this deserving pair.

Gracie Coates and Rachel Ruggles were both born and raised in Berkeley, California. They met their junior year at Berkeley High School after each was asked to play music for the dance program. The pair became fast friends and continued to play music together afterwards, discovering that their differing musical approaches were complementary.

“I started playing violin when I was 6 and was raised in a very classical environment. My parents are musicians and really stressed jazz and classical in the house. From the age of six until eighteen I was going through many programs and studying at the San Francisco Conservatory, often studying away from home during the summer. It was very rigorous.” Rachel said.

Gracie’s musicality, on the other hand, grew less out of structure and more our of a love of free improvisation.

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“My dad is heavily involved in theater, so I grew up in the theater and around a range of avant garde styles music. I started taking classical piano lessons when I was six, but was more excited about the idea of inventing [my own] stuff…I started singing and songwriting around [thirteen]…As a preteen I had feelings about life and wanted to put them into song,” Gracie said.

Once it all comes out in the wash, the girls dovetail beautifully.

Rachel explains, “Gracie was around people who were very unique and pushing boundaries. Conversely, I grew up in a more formulaic environment. She gives me freedom and an outlet for personal expression, and I give her more structure.”

After the girls graduated high school and were accepted into different music schools, (Gracie went to Berklee School of Music in Boston, while Rachel went to Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University), they were unsure if their collaboration would survive. But, the pair weathered the distance like champs, flying out to each other to play gigs and writing over the phone and internet.

“We managed to rehearse over Skype and often we’d call each other and play into our phones to avoid delay on our computers. After graduation we were like ‘let’s choose a city with a music scene to live in together.’ We settled on Brooklyn and we’ve been there about a year and a half,” Gracie said.

As a songwriting team, the two are comfortable with each other and accustomed to keeping the other in mind throughout the whole process.

“We’ll bring each other little doo-dads or musical ideas and [that will become the theme.] It expands from there. We’ll play something for each other and the reaction is so key…if Rachel doesn’t react then I’ll throw that idea out. But if she reacts right away and gets her violin out then we’ll finish a song in a day. We’ll know where we both want it to go,” Gracie said, adding, “We don’t really talk about it—there’s just an intuition there.”

Rachel chimes in, “[It helps] that we live together, we’re roommates and friends…we’re pretty involved in each other’s lives. When you live with someone it develops different aspects of creating together. It helps develop that intuition.”

Since reuniting and moving into their shared apartment in Brooklyn, the girls have been immersed in this creative process at all hours of the day, churning out songs, recordings, music videos, and press photos at a staggering pace.

“This past year has been so …inspiring. We’ve been recording, mixing and mastering our debut album set to come out on August 26th on POPMNRC records….We’ve had this album in the back of our minds since we were about seventeen and finally seeing it all come to fruition is very exciting!,” they said, finishing each other’s sentences.

A promotional picture for "Go" and an example of the duo's unique aesthetic

How do these busy Smart Girls stay in tune with their authentic selves through the excitement and growing hype about their music?

“When you’re younger you get distracted by comparing yourself to others or what others tell you to do. But, go with what you’re passionate about. Go with that. Don’t go one way because you’re told that is the ‘right’ way to go. If you feel inclined towards something else, trust and explore that,” Rachel said.

“And [don’t be afraid of] showing vulnerabilities and being raw. I don’t think you can be a good storyteller or musician if you don’t have sensitivity to the environment and people [around you],” Gracie added.

What’s next for these real girls with real talent? They hope to tour and make more albums, and possibly even produce a visual art component to go along with their music.

“We love performing and sharing our story,” they said, “and we love when people love what we do as much as we do!”

Want to show Gracie and Rachel some love? You can support the duo by watching for upcoming shows and music videos, and keeping tabs on the August 26th release of their album  “Go”, on their website,Twitter, and Facebook.

(Photos by Sam Margevicius)