I’ve been wracking my brain these past few weeks about what to share first on this blog. I have so many incredible memories of this country and the freshest memories in my heart belong in Sardinia. The island to the west of the mainland. The home of Sardo, a beautiful language with millions of variations from village to village. The place where the quality of life is so high, it is renowned for having some of the oldest living communities on this planet. The place of ancient Nuraghe (megalithic buildings dating back to as early as 1900 B.C. … yup, you read that correctly!) The place where you can get pasta STUFFED with potato (Culurgiones, a LITERAL delicacy!) My home. A place so sacred and beloved to me, that I can hardly find the right words to even describe the magic of this island.
This particular story begins in 2019 in Rome at a Fulbright scholars introductory meeting at the fabulous MAXXI Museum. This woman radiating a brilliant light walks up to me and notices that I’ll be teaching in Cagliari, the capital of Sardinia for the upcoming year. She quickly fixes my stress on the pronunciation of Cagliari and I immediately realized that this person was going to play some role in the upcoming year (and in my life, for that matter.) Kristina, a person who I consider a close friend and HUGE inspiration welcomed me back to Sardinia this summer with open arms for her songwriting retreat happening in a little village in the center of the island.
Where to begin when discussing this life changing week is the question. This summer, I’ve been traveling all over Italy and a week before the retreat, I arrived in my beloved Cagliari, my first time being back since having to leave in March of 2020 because of the pandemic. A rush of emotions overcame me. Getting to hug people I hadn’t seen in two years. Getting to reconnect with a city that quite literally holds my heart in its walls. Getting to see Kristina again. Days before the retreat, Kristina and I visited the eastern coast together and literally spent hours LAUGHING and reminiscing about this wonderful place that we both left on such weird terms from. That’s a whole other topic and post, I GET SIDETRACKED! HA! Back to the topic at hand, Kristina had launched an online version of this retreat in Summer of 2019 to create songs over Zoom. I was paired with Anjulu (in the black cap below.) It was a great experience to connect with people during the pandemic. This was about as much experience with songwriting that I had and I was scared. Scared to be in a remote village with two bars. Scared that I wouldn’t know what I was doing. Scared that my classical music background had little to nothing to do with the singer/songwriter genre. Scared that I wouldn’t be able to communicate with the locals. Anxious was what I was feeling going into this week. Anxious, yet INCREDIBLY THANKFUL for having an opportunity to push myself out of my comfort zone.
The picture above fills me with so much joy. I spent 5 days with these people from all over the world: Denmark, Switzerland, Italy, and the States. Mornings started with a walk led by Kristina through her favorite places in the village. These mornings were fulfilling, even though I was pretty much on the verge of tears every single time because of allergies! Happy tears, nonetheless. We’d have a quick break before connecting at our morning circle in the Montegranatico (a wonderfully acoustic and cool communal space in the village). Here, we’d get assigned into pairs for the day. We’d then have a few hours before lunch to start writing. Each day was a different prompt. Each challenging and unique in their own ways. So many questions at the beginning of these meetings with our cowriters. How do you navigate the relationships that you’ve just formed? It quite literally became a therapy session each morning. To sort of let it all out on the table and then pour your ideas, words and sentiments into a song baby.
We’d convene at 1PM every day for a lunch beautiful crafted by the team at Bella Vista Ristorante that overlooked the village (and had A/C!!!) After lunch, we’d take the afternoon break, which I will discuss in length in future posts, from 2:30-4ish (emphasis on the ish. Italians love a nap/pause from the day.) At 4PM, we’d usually get together with our cowriters to put finishing touches on our songs before the evening song circle where we’d share our day’s work. We laughed, we cried, we poured our hearts out, we sang, we played, we felt the guilt of original sin at these song circles. Incredibly special bonding moments with people whom, otherwise, I never would’ve crossed paths with.
On my first day, I was paired with Gianfranco from Sassari, a city in Northern Sardinia. We left the Montegranatico in search of a place to write and stumbled into the Gruccione, where our final concert was to be held. I kid you not, the door to this place was cracked open an inch and Gianfranco looked at me and said “Let’s try here.” As we walked into this dreamy location shaded by lemon trees, I could not believe that the owners agreed to let this two random men sit in their courtyard to write a song. The village was special that way. So welcoming to us in every encounter. We sat down and Gianfranco was so kind and patient with me as I tried to explain my writing I had done during our morning warmup exercise. Our prompt was to write about a special place/location. I chose the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and he chose a place that his parents used to take him when he was a child. The bells from a nearby church kept playing every 15 minutes in the background. This instantly sparked an idea: “What if we write a lullaby?” Gianfranco pulled out his guitar and immediately started playing something. He told me “Vai (go), try something.” When I tell you my soul left my body! I began singing and the morning just unwinded itself into this beautiful and tender ninna nanna (lullaby). I had to prod Gianfranco to sing along and we both found a way to incorporate Italian and English into the song. Gianfranco and I left for lunch that day with 70% of a final composition. After lunch, he was eager to get back to work and we ironed out some details. Gianfranco’s genius was his gentle nudging to get me to try different things and we ended up with a piece that I will forever cherish. At the song circle, we finally got to put our first piece up on its legs. Giulia, an expecting mother from Cagliari, was crying as we finished the song. THIS is what music is about. I try to not prioritize the opinions of others when it comes to my music making, but that moment of seeing someone moved to tears brought me back to this moment of why I began to become a musician in the first place. What a joy to get to share this with our group on our first night together. THIS IS ALSO A SHAMELESS PLUG TO GO AND LISTEN TO GIANFRANCO’S MUSIC ON STREAMING PLATFORMS (I’m not kidding, VAI!!!!)
The next day, I got to write with Ruth from New Mexico. The night before, Ruth said, “I’d be nervous to write with you” which was meant and taken as a compliment, but I found it a funny coincidence that we ended up being paired together. Our prompt this day was to write about “leaving.” A huge task that felt somewhat impossible. Ruth and I sat down at the cafe in the center of town to share ideas and it quickly turned into a therapy/healing session that was is something that I will carry with me forever. Hearing Ruth’s story and wisdom pour out into her words was SO inspiring. Our song spun itself into this beautiful story of connecting with a lost loved one. We both shared such wonderful sentiments and love for New Mexico, a place we both call home and our song incorporated both Spanish and English. When I worked with Ruth, I felt like I had known her my whole life. This tiny person full of so much life experience and knowledge with the most gorgeous silver hair had given me so much after one day together. She and her husband Moises are family, and I left this retreat feeling so thankful I got to meet these two people. Ruth and I laughed after our song circle in the evening as we both sort of biffed it on our performance. It didn’t even matter because I had such a beautiful time writing with her. Again, I was reminded that music can be so healing. It can remind us that loved ones are always with us. I’ll always carry Ruth and our day of songwriting with me.
On the third day, I got to write with Kristina! Our goal was to write a song that was to be inspired from a melody or sound that we had heard during our morning walk in the village. I came back from the walk with a few little snippets and convinced Kristina to make this WEIRD melody with a minor second in it the basis for our song. We somehow ended up creating an Appalachian folk tune sung by a brother and sister called the “Holler Song.” I laughed and laughed with Kristina as we chose to sit on the steps of the public library which also happened to be in the back of the public gardens of the town. I met Kiko, a wonderful young man known throughout the town and had a conversation with him in Italian while Kristina and I took a break. Every time from that point on he’d greet me in the village with a handshake. Again, such a sweet and unexpected thing to come from the time spent there. This was hands down the most hilarious experience I had during the week. Kristina and I joked about lyrics, accents and words that I literally had never heard of before. I now know what a “bush bean” is and will not hesitate to throw this into future conversations. Getting to perform this with Kristina at the final concert was exhilarating because on our last day we got to edit it a little further and I think we created something really stunning and heartfelt for our final showcase. Also, I may or may not have gotten carried away with some ornamentation at the concert, but it’s FINE!
The fourth day of songwriting proved to be fruitful in other ways that ultimately didn’t end up in a song. My partner and I were not able to create a final product in the time we had, however, earlier in the day we got together to make some music together. That day we also had an outing to the beach, which I had the most amazing time exploring. Ultimately, I learned a lot about how I work with others and how to navigate relationships that I may not always feel comfortable with. That evening at our song circle, an interesting conversation was sparked about creating across barriers such as language, interpersonal reasons, and with perspectives that are completely different from yours. After a long day, Ruth, Moises, Anjulu and I walked up to the Christo overlooking the city and enjoyed an evening of stories and delicious wine, cold cuts and cheese.
As the week came to a finish, I realized that I was going to miss this town immensely. Each morning and night was spent at the cafe Raju Ruju ordering coffee and cocktails galore. I cannot thank Franca, an owner of the cafe’, enough for being patient with us and taking the time to get to know me. It’s amazing what you can learn about someone in even the simplest of conversations. Raju Ruju was the heart of this experience.
Thanks to everyone in that town letting me practice my Italian. Thanks for letting us bring our loudness to your incredible slice of the world. Thanks for greeting me every time I was walking down those cobble stoned streets. Thanks to Kristina for bringing this crazy group of people together. We created our own tiny family, not necessarily perfect, but understanding and so so loving of each other. Thanks for all the shared conversations, wisdom, laughs, songs and memories.
Santu Lussurgiu, io ti porto nel cor (I carry you in my heart.)
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