Quick Q and A with Kayla Ringelheim

Kayla Ringelheim’s influences are far-reaching and it shows once she sits down at the keyboards and opens her mouth.  Kayla’s voice captivates the audience immediately and the jazzy keyboard playing cinches the deal.  She’s got a sophisticated yet girl-next-door appeal and her music does the talking.  As Antje Duvekot notes, “Kayla’s songs are all solid and lovely with delicious melodies and quirky, meaningful lyrics.”  Delicious. Quirky.  Awesome for sure.

To learn more about Kayla Ringelheim, visit her website.

Check out this video of “Juliette” performed at the legendary Club Passim.

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Tell us about how you were drawn to the piano and what its importance is to you.

After starting piano lessons at age 10, I actually quit soon thereafter due to a sour relationship with my teacher (I didn’t practice, she got mad, I got intimidated and therefore didn’t practice…downward spiral). About a year later, my mom found a young woman through a family friend who was taking on new students. She was a singer-songwriter herself, a recent graduate of New England Conservatory, and in my eyes “very cool,” so I agreed to start up lessons again.

My new teacher, Mica, was creative, fun, and approachable. She trained both my hands and my ear, starting with classical music and eventually adding in chord theory and jazz standards. She also gave me my voice, at first singing with me in her living room during lessons, and then encouraging me to practice at home when no one was there, as loud as I could. I took lessons with Mica for about 7 years, and then continued playing and performing through college and beyond. Playing has been a constant in my life, a means for me to express and process what I see in the world. The creative outlet has always been a grounding and centering force, enabling my other passions and commitments to thrive.

Your bio says that you performed at your first open mic at age 13 at Harvard Square’s Club Passim.  How did that come about?  Were you a precocious 13 year who knew at that young age that you wanted to perform?

I wrote my first song around that age, and from what I remember, Mica and I struck a deal that if I played a song at the open mic, then she would too. I loved performing from day one, so it didn’t take much convincing after that first go.

When did you first start listening to music in terms of songwriting?  

As a young teenager, I first saw Mica perform at Club Passim for her own CD Release show. Before I learned about any of the songwriting “greats,” I learned from listening to her. As a trained pianist, her style wove jazz, folk, and pop together with ease. I believe I listened to Louis Armstrong and Norah Jones recordings before ever hearing of Bob Dylan or Joni Mitchell (who came later). My true and deep introduction to more traditional songwriters didn’t come until college.

Who are your musical heroes and what do you admire about them?

My first musical hero was my teacher, Mica. Then came the traditional heroes. From Joni Mitchell, I learned to write whenever the impulse strikes, and I admired her quirky but sophisticated compositions. From Bob Dylan, I learned the power of simple chords with poignant lyrics and admired his mastery of storytelling. From both of them, I learned that music can be political. All along, there were jazz heroes. From Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn, I learned to make the voice one’s instrument, and I admired the smooth, rich tone of their singing. From Miles Davis, I learned about the beauty of space and silence, and I admired his groove. More recently, I have admired and learned from the lyrics of Anais Mitchell and Antje Duvekot, two songwriters whose poetry blows me away.

While music is one of your passions, your college degree was in Human Biology.  What led you down that path?

In 7th grade, I fell in love with learning about human biology. The human body is crazy and amazing! Until very recently, I’d been interested in becoming a doctor, and in college I prepared to do just that, studying the scientific and social contexts of health and disease. Since graduating, I’ve been working in the public health world, specifically focusing on how the food we grow and eat affects the health of our society.

Wandering Feet has received a great reception.  Reviewers and fans alike all cite how much they love your lyrical content.  The topics that you write about are so varied.  Are you one of those songwriters who carries around a notebook or sings into your cell phone when inspiration strikes?

Yes! When I first started writing music, I kept a tape recorder (pre-cell phone) and notepad next to my bed, because ideas often came to me before going to sleep. Now I have notes and recordings on my cell phone from all hours of the day in the same vein. So far, my music has mostly been inspired by observations about people and the world, with fewer tunes written about myself. Really, everywhere I look there’s a song waiting to be written.

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I love the story you tell about the genesis of your song “Shoeshine Brothers.”  Would you share it with us here?

Sure! There is an organization named Sing Me A Story that partners with child support foundations, orphanages, hospitals, etc. across the globe and posts children’s written stories online for any songwriter on the planet to be inspired by. Songwriters then post songs back on www.SingMeAStory.org so these children get to listen to songs inspired by their story. It’s a wonderful, global way of using the healing powers of art to support children in need.

I read a story about kite adventures and lasting friendship by a child named Tu Ahn who lives in Vietnam and is supported by an NGO called the Blue Dragon Foundation. The founding story of Blue Dragon involves shoeshine boys who walked the streets hoping to earn enough money to survive. “Shoeshine Brothers” mixes together Tu Ahn’s personal story and the story of the Blue Dragon Foundation.

Thanks to how Sing Me A Story functions, 50% of the proceeds from selling “Shoeshine Brothers” now goes back to the Blue Dragon Foundation.

 What’s next in terms of your dual careers?

 That’s funny, I ask myself the same question fairly frequently. As for now, I intend to keep writing and performing for a long time. I’m still very proud of Wandering Feet, so I don’t see myself recording another full-length album anytime in the very near future. I’m learning tons at my current organization, Farm Fresh Rhode Island, about leadership, management, food policy, social enterprise, and social justice. Where that takes me next, nobody knows.

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