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Marcia J. Macres interviewed by Jesena Kalabokis, WestfordCAT intern.
How and when did you find your passion for music?
“I grew up in a big family in Texas. There were six kids and my mom was super musical, always singing, always in little quartets and groups and singing around, so we got obviously very involved in music. Growing up, we all learned to play the piano, we all were in marching band or some kind of music in school, and definitely in church, because we were such a big family and had four-part harmony, they kind of nicknamed us ‘The Von Trapp Family Singers.’
To make it even more fun, my mother sewed, so she would sew matching dresses and outfits, so we definitely looked like those kids from The Sound of Music. So I grew up singing in high school. I was in all kinds of competitions and choirs and specialty music groups. Then I moved to Boston and joined the Westford Community Chorus. I was in that for seven to eight years. Basically, the beginning of music was just as far back as I can remember. Music was always being played, being sung, instruments, records, things like that, so I have a big background of music in my life. I hear it all the time!”
What female musicians have inspired you and empowered you in your music career?
“I have been really drawn to the blues and jazz. I’m inspired by some of the more recent people like Diana Krall, Norah Jones, I love Bonnie Raitt. I love, love, love the old jazz standards, so those are who really, really affect me. Like Ella Fitzgerald, and Sarah Vaughan, and Etta James, and the male vocalists too. I also married a musician who loves jazz, so we have it playing a lot, and he’s a saxophone player, so I hear a lot of Charlie Parker, and that kind of music where it just feeds my love for music. Really the old jazz standards are probably what I love the most. Those women who were front and center in a time where women weren’t really accepted that way, and did a beautiful job, and I have a lot of respect for them. They’re my idols. Like I mentioned, I was in choirs, I was in singing, but always as a person who blended in and sang harmonies. It wasn’t until my husband and I became involved in the startup of some music schools called The Real School of Music, and we have three or four locations now open, but I started taking our kids there to take music lessons and I would sit in the hallways and listen to other adults doing vocal lessons. I sat there thinking ‘Why aren’t I doing this?’ so the inspiration came really from my love of music, and the fact that I’d been hiding behind harmonies and groups for so long. So it wasn’t until I was an adult that I became a front and center, lead vocalist. I think other women, the women from the past, inspire me to have the courage to put myself out there, front and center, and be myself, and share my joy of music.”
What has your experience as a woman in the arts been like?
“In the music world, to me, it seems there’s definitely more male dominance in there. I think trying to promote myself, sometimes it’s still a little bit hard because you get some good old boy kind of mentality. But I think that times are changing, and it’s getting a little bit easier for women to really prove themselves by just their music, and not trying to justify everything else, so I think that’s working in our favor a lot these days. So I’m finding it a lot easier than it was years ago for women to be involved in the music industry in a serious way. Making a living and doing big projects.”
Can you tell me about Chick Singer Night?
“Chick Singer Night” is an organization that started about 35 years ago. It’s a big organization, and has branches in 17 cities around the United States, and also in Sweden. It started out as a music showcase to highlight female singers and songwriters. It’s a nonprofit, and what they do is they raise money to promote other music and arts projects that are going on. I am one of the directors in the Boston chapter, and our chapter has been open since 2004, so we’re celebrating a good track record here. In the Boston area, we usually put on two to three shows a year, and the shows are music showcases, and we have multiple female artists that come on. They usually have about a 15 minute set where they can sing about three songs. What we do is we provide them with a full band that can play for them and back them up and they only get one rehearsal, it’s for only about 30 minutes a week before the show with this band. Some of these artists are young, we’ve had as young as, I think, 9 years old. Most of the time we have a few teenagers and late teens, and then older. At a typical show, we have about eight artists performing in these 15 minute blocks. We’ve had a really great record where we’ve pretty much sold out every show, and we have about 100 to 200 people at a show. All the ticket sales that we raise, the money goes back towards some kind of organization that we choose. We used to stay in one spot, we used to stay in Johnny D’s in Somerville, but they closed down a few years ago, so we changed our business plan that instead of staying in this one venue, we’ll move around. So now we’re moving around to different towns, and what we do is we try to pick performers who are from that town or that area, and we also try to pick a local organization involved in music or arts programs that we can donate the money to. So, we’ve donated close to $30,000 in the years that we’ve been doing this, so it’s a little bit at a time, but some of these groups are small and they appreciate a $1,000 or $1,500 donation, and it makes us feel good. So what happens is that people come to our shows because they feel good about helping in the music industry, and keeping our venues. We’ve been focusing on venues too sometimes, not just the music programs, because the venues are dying off so fast. I live in Westford, Massachusetts, so we have a great venue, the Parish Center for the Arts, so I’ve been bringing the Chick Singer Night show to the PCA a couple of times, and one of the times we donated the money to their building to help them maintain the building and keep it going so that we can continue to have some great music and art in Westford.”
How has the pandemic affected all of this?
“It’s been really hard. We’ve had two shows cancelled. We had a show cancelled in May, at the Parish Center for the Arts in Westford, we had a show in November at The Burren in Somerville, and we had to cancel both shows. I’m also involved in a jazz band and we run monthly jazz jams, and we had to cancel all of those because you can’t have people up singing in the mics. I’m also involved in church choir, and that’s ended because you can’t have a group singing. As far as Chick Singer Night and any other musical projects, it’s been devastating. I have a lot of friends who are musicians who make their living by being a musician. I don’t, because I have my marketing job, but I feel bad for a lot of my friends who are really struggling to make ends meet because they can’t play out anywhere. For Chick Singer Night, a couple of things that we’ve done is we started having a few virtual events, where we have about 10 participants, but it’s almost like an open mic where it’s just one person at a time in their home doing a round robin kind of thing where we’ll have artists sign up to participate and they will be singing from their home with their own equipment and we’ll go live with that. If we raise any money it will go to those individuals as musicians, but it’s just kind of to keep people happy and people who really miss singing and performing, so we’ve done a couple of those and those have been a lot of fun too. But that’s all I can see right now, these virtual events that are really good for individual musicians, but for a band I don’t know, it’s not really working as a band because how do you get together without compromising yourself?”
How can people support musicians during this time?
“A lot of musicians have been kind of doing the same thing, putting on virtual shows, they’ll put on the screen or announce that there’s a ‘tip jar,’ and the tip jar is basically like Venmo or Paypal. I try really hard to make sure that I’m watching one of those. I try every other week or so to try to stay on top of social media because that’s where they announce they’re doing it, and put it on my calendar, and make sure I show up and listen to at least part of it. I try to donate $20 here and there, so I think it would be really helpful for people to stay in touch with their favorite performers, and see what they’re doing, and go in and watch those live performances. And donate, even 5 bucks or something, I think it helps these performers and some of them arrange a special organization they’re going to donate the money to, and that’s also a nice thing. I think the musicians who use music as a way of living are becoming very creative on how they can continue to get some income. And since I usually go see music, every Saturday night that was my thing, like ‘Who is playing Saturday night? Who am I going to go see?’ so I kinda think that way, what would I spend when I was normally going out when there was no COVID, and put that towards the tip jar.”
Do you have any advice for young girls who are interested in becoming a musician?
“Yes. Don’t make any assumptions that you’re not good enough or that you can’t do it. The best thing to do is to take a vocal lesson, even if you think you can sing, take a vocal lesson because that is not just helping your voice, but sometimes the biggest benefit of that is helping to build your confidence. With Chick Singer Night, when we’re looking at who we want to come on stage, it’s not always about ‘Can they sing really well?’ it’s ‘Are they gonna be able to stand up in front of a group of people and not freak out and run off the stage?’ kind of thing, a little stage presence, confidence. So I would say, try to find a local vocal coach, who can help you learn your breathing techniques and how to open your voice. That in itself will help build confidence, your self esteem, help you get better at what you want to do, and also provide you with some opportunities of open mics, or karaoke, or just something fun. But to not take it too seriously, just have fun because music is very healing, and it’s good for your soul and to believe in yourself, because you can do it.”
Why is it important for women artists to empower one another?
“I think that, especially in this day and time with politics right now, we see such a divide in people, not only women, but men too. People are tearing themselves down so much, especially now it’s really important to lift each other up. Encourage people to be the best that they can be, to be their authentic self. I think that if women are going to continue to improve their goal for equality, that we really do need to lift each other up and support each other. Just a little bit goes a long way in empowering one another.”
Jesena Kalabokis is a junior at the Innovation Academy Charter School in Tyngsborough.