"Andersen Right Where She Should Be"
By Chuck Ginsberg, Portsmouth Herald Spotlight Magazine, January 30, 2003

"Right Where I Should Be" is Joyce Andersen’s report card on her life and career. Why shouldn’t she be pleased with "A’s" across the board? Glad to be living in York, Maine; glad to be living and collaborating with Harvey Reid. Best of all for a working musician, thrilled with the early response to her second solo album.

The Boston Globe has called for an interview. Minnesota Public Radio’s morning show wants to interview her and make the album its feature play for the week. An Illinois DJ has put her on his personal Top 20 chart where she currently rests at #3, just two slots behind Bob Dylan. And it hasn’t even been released.

She’s come a long way, baby, from the young Durham girl who began playing the classical violin at age 9 and, growing up, listened to Top 40 tunes.
After graduating from the University of Vermont, she made a living for 10 years singing and playing in the bluegrass bands of her native New England, the jazz clubs of New York City, for a short time, on Nashville’s tour bus, and in Japan.

Incidentally, she loved Nashville, leaving for an affair of the heart. It was exciting, going every Tuesday night to see the best bluegrass in the world, Del McCoury and the Sidemen. Playing fiddle tunes with them in the back room and her first fiddle gig on the bus tour were blasts, too.
From there it was a lengthy list of recording and performance credits. At Boston’s renowned Berklee College of Music she studied jazz fiddle, and music theory and was exposed to a lot of music. In retrospect, the best part of her Berklee experience may have been her opportunity to play in rock, bluegrass, and country bands.

Right now, Andersen says, she is "focusing on becoming an artist in my own right, a singer/songwriter who happens to play a mean fiddle." She likes to incorporate the fiddle into her songwriting and she plays it in a variety of styles.

Her mastery of the fiddle is no mystery. As with most gifted people who hit it big, she also works very hard. Most of all, she’s thankful she fell in love with bluegrass at the Thomas Point Bluegrass Festival in Maine because it forced her to become more serious about the instrument.

Andersen is convinced the best way to become a real fiddler is to stay up all night at a bluegrass festival playing at whatever jam sessions you come across. "Not bad homework if you ask me."

She loves Billie Holiday and the swing standards from her days at Berklee. (As an aside, Andersen never met Holiday but has met some of her other heroes. She has concluded that meeting them, warts and all, is not always for the best.

Every year Andersen joins up with Childsplay, a fiddle orchestra of talented fiddlers who play in old time contra dance and Irish style. "They remind me of how much great fiddle music is out there."

In 2002, they went to Sweden, "land of the beautiful fiddlers," and she added some Swedish tunes to her repertoire. Now she also knows more Swedish tunes than any others from Scandinavia. Since she’s Danish by heritage and loves Norway, she covers all the bases by describing herself as "Scandihoovian."

She and musician Harvey Reid also play tons of festivals, mostly during the summer months, keeping her on her "A-team" fiddler toes.
She is always searching for new material. "Pretty Sylvia," about a strong, sassy woman testing her lover’s courage, came from songs collected by Anne and Frank Warner. She was thrilled to discover their main source was a N.H. woman in the 1940s.

Andersen started taking voice lessons in New York City "so I’d know how to get out of my own way." Mission accomplished. From that point on, it was just practice and more practice.

Songwriting, on the other hand, is still mysterious, despite her obvious knack for the perfect phrase, the right mood, and melody. "If I understood how it happened, I’d be writing songs all the time."

Inspiration comes from a myriad of sources. "Another song, something someone says, a feeling, an event, but how that translates into a fragment of a lyric with a melody? Well, that’s just the mystery of it all. "I usually get very excited when I’m onto something though. I can feel there is a song there and I have to be open enough for it to come to me, but not too controlling."

Sometimes you know what to say and sometimes the songs lead the way. On the new album, for example, "Thomas" and "Molina Ericksen" started writing themselves, obviously informed by Andersen’s love of old songs. "‘Thomas’ was modal sounding and a little creepy but it ended up having quite a positive ending which I wasn’t expecting," she says.

Laughingly, she points out the "high brow" heritage of the "Strange Elation" second verse. A letter from dance legend Martha Graham to Isadora Duncan, an equally legendary danseuse, had rattled around in her head for eight years. Andersen uses it as a mantra "in times of doubt. Many of the songs have both ache and happy ending. Quoting from the opening cut on the album, the haunting "Strange Elation," she reminds us that the two are "always in close relation, joy and sorrow."

As for achieving and handling success, Andersen doesn’t seem concerned. "Harvey (Reid) is a great model of how you can take matters into your hands in a business that can be frustrating." She’d love to have someone backing her, but she’s not going to worry about it either. Besides, she says, "The big labels are dead and I’m way too old and independent." She was reminded, while talking with her Mr. Everyman seatmate on a flight back from her California tour, "There is no shame in being an independent artist anymore (e.g., Ani Di Franco). I’m part of a generation that may not know any other way to do it." Still, "If you’re making music that moves people, you have to find a way to get your music to those people."

Andersen is just beginning to get her music to the people. In the meantime, she has no big tours or new albums planned. She and Reid will do their usual summer festivals and may put out another duet album in the wake of the success of "The Great Sad River."

Andersen has no regrets about leaving New York, Nashville, Japan, or any other of the previous ports of call for her and her fiddle. Like the violin, she has left the touring life in the rear view mirror, although she likes to visit occasionally.

It was fun "to work up the waltz on my CD, it’s a bit violinistic," but, generally, she’ll save the classical stuff for her old age. She loved the diversity of New York and gets a rush every time she visits but Nashville and New York, like most big cities, are difficult places for gigging musicians, who almost have to pay for the privilege. In the countryside, life is easier.

Whatever happens, Andersen is the quintessential happy camper. "I’m as thankful as ever to be living in the musically rich Seacoast area. I love being able to go out in Portsmouth any night in the week and hear good live music. It’s not like this everywhere. We’re lucky."

Yes, we are. With live musicians like Joyce Andersen and the hundreds of others who have forsaken the touring life for the Seacoast music scene, our cup frequently runneth over. Support your local musicians.

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