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LIFESTYLE: Local musician puts song to CD

Perhaps it was destiny that Sara Thomsen became a musician. Looking in from the outside it appears that way. Music was a part of Thomsen's life early on -- dad sang, uncles played guitar, and fiddle, mom ordered the taking of piano lessons. But i...

Perhaps it was destiny that Sara Thomsen became a musician.

Looking in from the outside it appears that way. Music was a part of Thomsen's life early on -- dad sang, uncles played guitar, and fiddle, mom ordered the taking of piano lessons. But is there more to it? Artists don't become artists unless that creative kernel, that instinctive talent, is there, tucked away inside waiting to burst out.

Perhaps it's a little of both.

On a snowy day earlier this week, sitting on a bright red, overstuffed chair at local coffeehouse, her face clean of makeup and curly hair tucked in a ponytail, Thomsen looks like the girl next door. As she talks about music, it's clear Thomsen's love of melodies is the real thing.

"Music has always been part of my life," said Thomsen, director of the Echoes of Peace Community Choir and member of the Three Altos. "I just grew up with a lot of music and singing."

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Whatever the catalyst, Thomsen lives and breathes music. Lovers of good tunes can too -- the South Range woman is releasing her fourth album, "Everything Changes," later this month. Recorded in Duluth's Sacred Heart Music Studio, Thomsen was assisted by a number of local musicians -- Ryan Frane, Erika Mock, John Thorene, Dan Westerlund, Zachary Kahmann, Lance Rhicard, Charles Leibfried, Mark Anderson, Rachel Nelson, Kathy McTavish, Rachel Kilgour, Amy Bernstein, Paula Pedersen and the Echoes of Peace Community Choir.

A self-described folk acoustic artist, Thomsen incorporates jazz, blues, country, folk and Latin grooves into her songs. The album's 16 songs covers such topics as broken hearts and the subsequent moving on, childhood, trying to live up to others' expectations and seeing our own value.

A native of Sioux Falls, S.D., Thomsen moved to New York -- the Bronx, no less -- and spent three years there exploring and writing songs. She then relocated to Duluth 10 years ago, and later South Range, in a desire to have a better connection with the natural world.

While in college Thomsen began writing songs -- she has a degree in elementary education and minors in art and Spanish -- and not long after graduation had an epiphany.

"It was always something I did, singing and performing, but I didn't think it practical that I could do this as my work," Thomsen said. "A couple years after college I started to realize, 'you know this is my work.' It was seeing other people doing there own, making it happen. You know, you didn't have to wait around for the big record label. There are just so many ways to do your own musical work."

By 1999, Thomsen kicked out her first album, "Fertile Ground." The rest has been history. Unlike her previous albums, which were recorded in South Dakota, Thomsen stayed home to put song to CD. Making "Everything Changes" was a 21?2 year process. Some songs come easy, others wait years to be completed. Thomsen said she'll have some a verse or chorus, put it to notepaper, but for whatever reason, the rest of the song doesn't come. In those cases, the notebook gets shoved into a drawer. Days, months, years later, Thomsen gives the words another look. Sometimes a song results. If not, it's back to the drawer.

"Songs just come out of lived experience ... and wanting to share a story that's important," said Thomsen. "They'll just be a way to work through life's changes."

Sentimental journeys

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For example, "I Remember These," describes Thomsen's childhood -- grass-stained knees, riding with grandpa in a red Ford pickup, hugs from grandma and eating lefse. Another, "The Beauty of the Dancer," was written for a friend who couldn't see her own worth while the lullaby-like "Holy Angels," was written to comfort someone going through a difficult time. "A Woman's Place" describes just that -- as doctor, poet, mother, scientist, policymaker and anything else a woman wants to be. The song was commissioned by the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, Minn., for the 2006 Women's Month.

The title track, "Todo Cambia" is the only cover song and was written by Julio Numhauser. A popular song in Latin America, the tune caught Thomsen's ear.

"It inspired me," she said. "It's about the theme of the album, which is everything changes. I just loved the song. It has just such hopeful lyrics."

And the power of Thomsen's lyrics are far reaching. "Holy Angels" has been sung to people in hospice and to newborns.

"It's like the song becomes its own entity, almost," said Thomsen. "It's not unlike someone giving birth to a child, it kind of goes off and does it's own thing and I have no control. But I hear stories of its travels ... it's pretty cool to hear those."

On record

Recording the songs was pretty cool too. Describing the studio as relaxing as "working in a living room," Thomsen said she would spend time on a song, then spend months doing nothing. Part of the reason the album took so long to create was Thomsen needed to determine what instrument was right for a song, then find musicians and schedule a time for them to play. Also, songs often required tweaking to reach Thomsen's level of perfection. Co-produced and engineered by Eric Swanson, the two would spend hours mixing one song.

"Eric really knows what he's doing and he's so laid back," said Thomsen. "He's easy to work with. He made all the musicians who came in feel comfortable."

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Thomsen, the album's other producer, had more input on the mixing of songs.

"That (producing) gave me a lot of ability to shape it as I wanted it to go," she said. "It was completely up to me to decide what other instruments or musicians to bring in, which was an exciting process. It's like choosing what paints to color with."

Life will soon get more exciting for Thomsen when she takes her act on the road. She'll soon be performing in St. Joseph, Madison, New York City and the Twin Cities.

Wow. Singing, performing, writing songs people love. Not bad work if you can get it. Maybe it was destiny.

Merilee Reinke covers arts and entertainment. E-mail mreinke@superiortelegram.com or call (715) 395-5026.

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