Talking with Jane Valencia

Editor's note: Jane is also our Vashon Feature (where there are links to some MP3s of her music!) and has a poem in this month's issue of our Poetry Journal. Be sure to surf through the entire issue to check out Valencia, Valencia, and more Valencia! :)

Interview with Jane Valencia by Kara L.C. Jones

Q: What is

Jane: is my "solo artist" domain. It points to some of my music projects (two of which have their own domains), as well as servings as a homeplace for my writing and my solo music projects.



Q: Saw that you created this awesome Island Book online at! Can you tell our readers a bit about that?

Jane: Thanks for the compliment! ISLAND is my latest project. It is currently a work-in-progress: a compilation of a number of my writings from the past few years, plus thoughts and ideas springing anew! Moving to rural Vashon island from the San Francisco Bay Area three years ago totally opened my mind to what is possible, in how we can live more in stride with nature and her rhythms, as well as be in community. The concept of an island resonates with me on so many levels--we are all connected with each other, we all affect one another and our world. That's true here on Vashon, and that's true here on Earth! So my book is an exploration of these connections: between ourselves, our community, the Earth, and also with Spirit -- that creative breath, that divine breath that cradles and infuses everything we know.

The other aspect of ISLAND is my "handmade web book" concept. I dove into bookmaking last fall, thanks to a "Self-Publishing" class taught by islander Julie Shannon at the Blue Heron. My mind is full of ideas for one-of-a-kind books, and perhaps mixing my mediums: electronic print-on-demand with handmade. But the reality of my life right now is that making more than a few books here and there just isn't possible. I have a 9-month-old daughter who is mobile and into everything! I created ISLAND a few months ago, when I realized that limited edition and handmade books were not realistic projects for me at this time. I desperately wanted to create books, to mix artistic expression with my writings, and what I came up with was the "handmade web book" concept. I would create the pages as if creating a handmade book, using stamps and colors and fabrics, collage. And this works very well with the rhythm of my family life right now. I can snatch odd moments during the day to sit at the computer and work on pages, or scan odds and ends for decoration, and I can continue to tweak pages after I've 'published' them. I'm having a lot of fun with this!



Q: I know from local news coverage that you often play harp for the labyrinth walks that happen here on Vashon. And I saw from photos on your site that you were playing harp at a May Pole celebration. Do you play for seasonal events like this all the time? What moves you to play for these "earth-oriented" events?

Jane: Ahh, not all the time, though as my baby gets older, I'm planning to do this more often. We have a community here on Vashon that celebrates the earth festivals -- the Solstice, Equinox, and cross-quarter celebrations, and I formally or informally play at those when I can (if nothing else, I always join in the singing!). I especially love playing for labyrinth walks and other times of meditation, prayer, or introspection. I feel like on the verge of discovering a new musical form for myself, one that combines bits of poetry or chant and melodic motifs in an improvisation that responds to the energy of the moment, and to the individuals who are there. Each time I play for a labyrinth walk or meditation, I get closer to this new 'form'. Just as I've developed a 'grab bag' of melodies and chord progressions that I improvise on, I'm now gathering phrases from poetry and spiritual texts that I can draw from, along with just single, essential words to weave vocally into the music when the moment is right for them.



Q: How long have you been playing harp? Did it take you a long time to learn?

Jane: I started harp twelve years ago, during a lucky time in my life. I was 25, working only part-time, and had few responsibilities. I was absolutely obsessed with the harp, and was able to progress pretty rapidly. My music partner, Deb Knodel & I formed in a trio with another friend about a year after I started, to play at a Renaissance Faire, and then formed our duo Spookytree about a year later.



Q: I know you have several CDs recorded of your harp music. Can you tell us about them and where we can order them?

Jane: Deb and I performed as Knodel & Valencia for several years, and recorded two albums: THE HARPERS' MASQUE, a mostly Celtic-style instrumental album; and FOREST, which is a musical journey into a magical forest, and the inspiration for our concert performances, which combine poetry, art (Deb is a watercolor and colored pencil artist), narrative, folklore, and song. I have a solo harp and song CD called ROSEGARDEN, and Deb and I (as Spookytree) recorded a winter CD called ON A SNOWY EVE with a harp/voice and flute duo called Silverwood. We also appear on a couple of compilation albums, HARPERS HALL COLLECTION VOLUME 1, and LABYRINTH WALK, which is just released. All of those albums are available from Deb's and my web catalog, "a harper's garden":



Q: Why the name Spookytree?

Jane: Spookytree is the name of my harp duo with Deb Knodel, who is also a Vashon islander. Years ago on the Oregon coast we came across the bleached bones of a fallen tree. The branches and roots seemed to curve in the shapes of harps. Captivated by this "spooky tree" (the Twin Peaks TV series, airing at the time, influenced this sense of the mysterious for us!), we took it as our name. Over the years our concert performances and music have evolved into a celebration of the magic of the natural world, so it's been quite an appropriate name for us!



Q: How did you learn about the business of your art -- such that you are able to have CDs available? How did you figure out how to do that?

Jane: I think we learned mostly from colleagues who were generous with their knowledge and experience, and also just by jumping in! Forming one's own independent label seems to be the only way to go these days. It's easy to find someone with a really good digital studio setup,or even to set one up for yourself, if you're so inclined. Plus there are a number of CD duplication business who will do some or all of your CD duplication production -- including designing your CD booklet and tray cards if you need them to. As an independent, you have complete control over the artistic content, and you make a reasonable amount in the sale of your CD--as opposed to an artist under a label who only sees a small percentage.after the expenses of the production. If you can even find a label that will sign you on -- that's rarity in itself!



Q: I hear you make FAB handmade books -- some of which have harp themes! Can you tell us about your bookmaking and where we can purchase copies of the books?

Jane: I made several this past spring and sold them all. I'm not sure when I'll be making more ... depends on which projects I'm immersed in! When I do make them again on a regular basis, I will probably have them available on our "a harper's garden" website, and probably in a shop on Vashon.



Q: I know you write many (all?) the lyrics to your songs and that you feel these lyrics are poetry. When you write, are you writing as a songmaker or a poet? Or is it all tied together for you?

Jane: They're tied together for me, though the music definitly serves the poetry, and not the other way around! I write the lyrics first and feel that they are *poems*, but I do write them intending to set them to music. I let the cadence and the rise and fall of the words suggest the melody. Sometimes after I come up with the music, I'll make small adjustments to the words to settle them in more with the music that's emerged. I write many of the songs I sing, but not all -- there are so many great songs out there that I love to sing!



Q: I've heard that you sometimes attend music conferences. Do you attend to teach or just to participate? Do you have any teaching gigs coming up?

Jane: Usually I go to teach and perform, but I also participate. I'm always learning something new from someone, from both colleagues and students! I'm still on a kind extended maternity leave, so no teaching gigs right now.



Q: Also heard rumor that your husband got you a loom for weaving purposes :) Are you moving into weaving now? What kind of art can we expect to see from this new format? :)?

Jane: Ack! Actually, I bought it-- a 36" wide floor loom--from a friend. My husband was horrified when I had him pick it up for me to bring home! I love the idea of using a loom to weave -- all those strings! I can't help but associate a loom with the harp, and weaving with making music. But I've discovered that it really isn't the right time for me to pursue weaving. I don't have the time to focus on something that is such an entirely new art form for me. So the loom sits for now. I do have some ideas for eventually creating "hanging books" though ...



Q: I see on your website that some of the graphics are of Celtic images and stamps. Does your interest in Celtic art and symbols come from your harp playing? If so, why?

Jane: My interest was definitly fueled by my harp playing. When I took up the harp, the Celtic harp, I dove into a whole Celtic culture renaissance. The Celtic harp was in revival, Celtic music was on the rise. It all fed each other. But actually, my interest in things Celtic was awakened in my early teens, by the books I loved to read: about contemporary kids (like me at the time), being drawn into magic realms (where I yearned to go!). Most of these books drew upon Celtic and Arthurian lore. Susan Cooper's THE DARK IS RISING series was a huge influence on the shape of my life.




Q: From reading your essays, I see a huge emphasis on fun and play and magic and mystic ideas. How do you keep this perspective in everyday life? (Leading you a little coz I'm wanting to be nosey about how you function as an artist within your other roles as mother and wife.)

Jane: When I was a teenager, I once met a woman who wrote "kitchen poems", where she found the extraordinary in the ordinary, the magic in everyday life. I try to keep that perspective throughout everything I do. But actually that isn't as hard as it might sound. Young children are like small deities -- they are creativity incarnate. I have learned so much about how to live a creative, magic life by watching them. Everything is extraordinary to them, and they can create whole worlds of play out of things we grownups would regard as trash -- or even out of nothing at all. We homeschool, and I find that this allows us to live 'a magic life'. What I mean by that, is that we are free to respond to possibilities and 'what ifs' and sculpt our days/weeks accordingly. This year, for instance, my older daughter attends a farm school two mornings a week. She is around goats and involved in farm life, and also gets to play in the woods with a group of creative young people. Some wonderful rhythms unfold in this setting -- the kids pursue interesting projects of their own creation, and they spontaneously sing together. Last week I ended up playing and singing in the woods with the kids .... what fun to allow myself to *be* a kid! ... I try to allow enough space in our family's days that we can be spontaneous and join in occasionally on each others' experiences. Then we all end up drawing from the same sources.

That's just one part of our week. I'm finding that the more our family lets loose of the usual way of doing things, the more flowing and resonant our life together becomes. I try to find that element of play in everything I do (even cleaning toilets -- these days I concoct my own cleaning supplies, using natural substances and essential oils like eucalyptus and lavender). As a result, I've found that that all parts of my life inspire and fire my art rather than drain it. Play is so important, and very much undervalued in our society. It's really the source of all original thought, I think, the space where it occurs. I guess that's what 'magic' is to me -- it's my form of 'play'. And 'mystic' is where I see that, wow, the universe really is this magic -- it's not all in my head!


Q: What's the coolest and most fun thing you've done in the past week? :)

Jane: Last week a friend and I drove to the Harmony Hill Retreat Center, which is on the Hood Canal. Harmony Hill has three outdoor labyrinths -- one edged with lavender, one grown of basil and bright flowers, and a glorious 'old spirit' labyrinth lined with oyster shells with a redwood tree growing in the center. In the lavender labyrinth I listened to the bumblebees gathering their pollen and watched dragonflies soar overhead in the deep blue sky. I listened to the individual bee drones and tried to play them on the little wire-strung harp I brought. And after a few minutes, I had it: a bee song!



Q: For someone who is just starting out in music or art, what words of advice would you give them? Were there words of wisdom given to you when you first started?

Jane: Play! Be sure to include an equal amount of time (at least!) playing around with your art or music that you do learning the craft of it. Just try anything with it -- fling random notes on your instrument, furiously free associate with your writing ... whatever. Indulge in emotion and abandon. Beginning steps of any art form can be so discouraging, and if you focus only on 'practicing', doing the assignments and focusing on gaining technical skill, it's all too easy to disconnect from the spirit that attracted you to that art form in the first place. Playing with it keeps you connected, and will surprise you with ideas that will never be found in a beginning text or series of lessons. They'll be from your own unique source and self.

I figured this out when I switched from classical music lessons -- on oboe, which I loved, but where I played boring studies and music that was beautiful but I never felt I could do justice to -- to the folk harp, where my teacher encouraged me to arrange and compose my own music and have fun. I discovered that technical process doesn't mean much if you don't know and love your own voice!



Q: I am a bereaved parent who has used art in my grieving process after the stillbirth of my son. I know that your family, too, experienced the miscarriage of a child. Would you share a little with our readers about how you might have used art in your family as you all moved through the grief
and healing process?

Jane: I guess it's our nature to try to discover meaning and purpose in terrible events. It's the way we can carry on, and the whole process transforms us. It also transforms our lost one. Writing an essay I call "Lifedeath" (which I plan to add to ISLAND this fall) was my artistic response, and that was about seeing the magic and meaning in the life and death of this small being that was so briefly part of me and of our family. Creating this essay enabled me to honor the hugeness of this loss, to affirm that it wasn't just a brief informational note in the census form of my life: it was an experience I had with this soul, whether anyone believes he and I connected on some spiritual level or not. The whole landscape of yourself as a woman transforms and rewrites itself when you become pregnant, when a life grows within you. I guess the essay was the way I celebrated both that life and the way it changed me. It also allowed me to connect with the many, many, *many* women throughout human existence who have experienced the loss of a child, to affirm that I too now know something of that terrible pain.


Editor's Note: To learn more about Jane's music, see our Vashon Feature this month. And check out the Poetry Journal as well where we have one of her poems featured, too!

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