Art People: Marcia Gomes | singer-songwriter

Last modified: Thursday, May 08, 2014

‘There is no me without music,” says singer-songwriter Marcia Gomes. “It’s part of who I am.”

Gomes, who lives in Granby, grew up in a music-loving household in central Massachusetts, where her extended family often gathered to tell stories and sing songs. Her mother was a gospel singer, an aunt played the piano and an uncle directed the crew, suggesting what parts each should sing. And though her father wasn’t a musician, she says, he did love music.

“His joy of music is part of my soul,” said Gomes, 51, in a recent interview at Amherst Middle School, where she’s an English teacher. “Some of my best childhood memories are dancing on my daddy’s toes to Harry Belafonte and Ray Charles.”

Gomes carries those memories with her, as well as an apparent genetic gift for music. Writing music, she says, is her natural response to events — happy or sad. Whether it’s a personal moment or a world-shaking event, the songs often well up within her, unbidden.

“Once I learned that I could take a story ... and capture what’s most crucial in the song, it was like magic,” she said. “A whole world opened up to me.”

Her songs usually start with a melody line, a bass line or a rhythm, she says, or sometimes a mood or thought she wants to share. Then, she says, “I look for the music, the motif that captures it. Then the lyrics come and the story comes.”

When a cherished niece told her she gave “fake hugs,” for example, Gomes wrote a song about it. When she volunteered at a shelter for battered women, she wrote about that, too, as she did when Trayvon Martin was shot in Florida in 2012 by George Zimmerman.

As “Trayvon” began to percolate, she was certain of her personal reaction (“My sisters have sons, my friends and my cousins have sons that they worry about, so it hit me quite hard”), but not where it would lead musically. So she heeded advice from an old Nashville songwriter: “Sit with your instrument, not practicing your scales,” he told her. “Just spend time. Explore. Have a conversation with it — and you have to do that regularly.”

So Gomes sat for a while, just holding her guitar.

“It’s like a form of meditation,” she said. “I waited to see what would come to me. I improvised and this rhythmic pattern kept coming back to me.” Then she “did a little scribbling” in her lyrics book, trying to figure out what she wanted to say.

“Part of the creative process as an artist is: You don’t edit yourself. All the ideas get in. You build your toolbox. ... Finally a chorus came to me and everything came back to this: ‘How many Trayvons? How many Trayvons does it take to be free?’ ”

Like “Trayvon,” many of Gomes’ songs are about social justice, and even though she’s shy, she says, she realizes the importance of sharing them publicly. It’s part of fulfilling an artistic cycle, she says.

“The arts are transformative. They help people see and feel what it’s like to be on the other side. They live in people’s heads and hearts and souls,” she said. “I feel like this is something I can do to help effect change.”

— Kathleen Mellen


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