[box]Singer/Songwriter/Mentor Aline Shader (1936-2002) was a wildly creative woman. With great pleasure we feature her glorious mentoring story through the thoughts and memories of her remarkable mentee Julie Silver. Here at Over My Shoulder Foundation we are preparing for National Mentoring Month this January, and we are so amazed and inspired by the dynamic mentoring duo in this post.
Julie, who is also a Singer/Songwriter/Mentor like Aline, makes keen observations about mentoring. She and her reflections are a true testament to Aline’s legacy of using music to break down barriers: generational, cultural and religious.
Armed with both talent and imagination, both Aline and Julie brilliantly connect the disconnected while inspiring greater confidence, self-expression, self-esteem, and self-worth. Their careers demonstrate how music connects, heals and has the ability to stimulate great ideas.
Aline Shader understood that by fostering creativity, by mentoring, she could change lives and move her young students towards a society of greater inclusion, integrity and value. Now, without further ado, Over My Shoulder Foundation presents an exclusive interview with Julie Silver. Please don’t hesitate to share your own stories and inspirations with us, especially this January during National Mentoring Month. Enjoy the interview!
-Dawn Carroll, Over My Shoulder Foundation Co-Founder [/box]
Julie, you are one of the most celebrated and beloved performers in the world of contemporary Jewish music today. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us. At Over My Shoulder Foundation (OMSF), our mentoring organization uses the Jimi Hendrix quote “If there is something to be changed in this world…then it can only be done through music”. Can you talk a little about how you’ve noticed your music, and the music of others, become a change-making catalyst?
That’s a great Hendrix quote. Music really is a universal language. Music can bring large groups of people to an idea, to new information, to communication, to changing the world. Think of the Bob Dylan song, “The Times They Are a-Changin’” and it’s all there in black and white.
As it relates to mentoring, teaching a child to love music, to sing, to write, to express their feelings in song can change their world. Music helps people find their own buried treasures. Most importantly, music gathers historically marginalized people and includes them in the conversation.
I write contemporary songs based on ancient Jewish texts. I also write about my every day observations. When I was younger, I mostly wrote what people taught me. As an adult, I write my own story. Of course, I want people to hear my songs and feel like they’ve arrived home, that they’re finally included, that they might raise their own voices in protest and celebration. But beyond the concert, I want my students to become teachers. I want my listeners to become singers—especially the ones who sing off key! I want people to actively participate in their own growth and healing and maybe even return the favor and help others who are in need of strong mentors. I was taught from a very young age that it’s my responsibility to repair the shattered fragments in the world. Becoming a full time touring singer/songwriter has introduced me to a life beyond my own and has allowed me to be of service at any moment, anywhere in the world.
You currently live in Southern California, but your roots come from New England. You grew up in Newton, Massachusetts where your mentor Aline Shader also lived and raised her family. Can you tell us about how you and Aline met?
Aline was my teacher. I was a student at the Bowen Elementary School in Newton, and Aline was a parent/volunteer who wrote beautiful songs and original musicals which we performed throughout our time at Bowen and beyond. We were fortunate to grow up in a time when public schools fostered creative arts. She soon moved to a position with the entire Newton Public School system and was teaching and writing and directing in every school in the city, K-12. But she started teaching with my classmates so we always felt like that was a pristine time for her and us. She would write a song, and then come in the next day and try it out on us. Later in my life, I became a music teacher and used to do the same thing; I’d write a song and then teach it the next day to see if it worked.
When did you realize that Aline was your mentor?
I fell in love with her music when I was about 6 years old and her songs followed me everywhere I went and they still do. In fact, any time we get together, anywhere in the country, Aline’s old students sing her songs. Her songs solidified our group. She wrote really interesting, smart lyrics and beautiful, unforgettable melodies. I graduated college and it was my mother (another great mentor of mine) who suggested I walk over to her house and see if she could help me with my music. Over the next decade, I sat by her side, wrote songs under the shelter of her wings, spent hours in her home singing, learning, playing and dreaming.
Aline was an artist, a dancer, a composer who wrote from a very deep well of love and intellect. There was nobody like her in the world.
Many of my old school friends credit Aline for inspiring them to great careers in acting and music. We knew we were lucky back then and we celebrate those golden moments whenever we gather.
I knocked on Aline Shader’s door in June of 1988 and as far as I’m concerned, l have never left. After she died in 2002 her house was sold, I had already moved to the West Coast, but in my heart I’m still at the piano in her living room, my great mentor always looking over my shoulder, showing me what I could achieve.
Can you remember anything specific about how Aline might have also believed that music can change the world?
Listen to her song “For Love to Grow” and you’ll never feel the same way about adoption. Listen to her song “Partners” and fall in love. Listen to her song “Happy Birthday World” and try not to be inspired to take care of the earth. “Una Luna Brilla” is a song about building bridges between Spanish and English speaking people. “One voice is not alone, el mundo canta una cancion…”
Yo-Yo Ma said of Mrs. Shader’s music and CD that “Aline Shader provides a wonderful opportunity for children to become involved with music.” Can you reflect about why she focused on children, and how creative minds may provide answers to the many problems we have in this world, and how creative solutions can re-connect the disconnected?
I know first hand that if I had never been exposed to her songs as a small child, I wouldn’t be the adult that I am today. Her lyrics were inviting and instructive and empowering. They made people think and laugh and sing along. Aline kept it simple so that children would become engaged. Getting children to think a new way, building their confidence in telling their own stories, is the single most important thing we can do for them. Aline knew that choral singing can move mountains, in many ways like no other kind of music can. I recall a line from the psalms: “The stones that the builders rejected should become the chief cornerstones”. When songwriters and performers use this text as a mantra, we engage people who might not feel included and solve problems creatively, taking diverse opinions into account.
Without a major record label, you have sold more than 80,000 CDs, among your 8 current albums. “For Love to Grow” is your tribute to Aline. How has her influence allowed and encouraged you to flourish as a musician?
She encouraged me to do my own thing. She wasn’t a Jewish singer/songwriter, but she knew that it was an important element of my life’s work and she pushed me to be good at it, to be better at whatever I wanted to do. In the almost 40 years I knew her, I watched her successfully raise a family, be a grandmother, be a wife, be a full time songwriter, director and teacher. This was hands down, the most extraordinary model for me as I was making my way. So I am lucky enough to work every day, make a living, and pass on the most valuable piece of myself to anyone who might need it: my life’s experience.
At OMSF, a couple projects, including the Over My Shoulder song (performed by Patti Austin and her mentee Lianna Gutierrez), the Bulacards Project and our Mentorology Logo Project have taken the concept of Mentorology (the art and science of mentoring) and positively influenced the lives of many children – especially high school students. Of the Mentorology Logo project, the mentor and teacher David Messina said, “I saw kids that hadn’t done anything all year take charge and kick butt on this little project.” All these projects illustrate how mentoring can move us all toward a society of greater inclusion, integrity and value. Mentoring also helps us get across messages that might otherwise go unheard. Can you tell us what mentoring is to you? And how it has affected your life?
I have had many special Mentors and over the years who have taught me well. In music, my great mentors were Aline Shader, Livingston Taylor, and the late Debbie Friedman who was a giant in the world of Jewish music and passed away suddenly about a year ago. I have had amazing teachers in the world of music and all of them have taught me to be a better student, musician, and ultimately a mentor.
Last year, I volunteered teaching lyric writing/journal writing at a school in the Watts area of Los Angeles, one of the most underserved communities in America. I will never be able to articulate what happens to a student (and a teacher!) who is encouraged to simply write down and share their story. As if a light-switch has been flipped on, suddenly they are writers! Suddenly, their words and voices have merit and the stories of their classmates are of equal importance. I used to tell them that the loudest voice in the room is not necessarily the most important voice. Watching these young people write and hearing their stories changed all of us for good.
It might be important to point out that I am a lesbian, married in the State of California, and Mary and I are mothers to a 7 year old daughter and are expecting another baby in late January. I stand upon the shoulders of the ones who came before me, the pioneers who have arrows in their backs, the ones who walked towards the Promised Land but were ever allowed in. I sing for them. I live openly and try my best to teach and encourage others to do the same. Certainly, being a stage performer has given me the confidence to be open about everything I am. But it was my close relationships with members of my faith community that urged me to come out and realize my fullest potential. I pray and work that others might have the same experience I have had, or BETTER.
Music is the universal language with the ability to arouse great introspection and activism. What is the best example of this in Aline’s work? How about yours?
In 1993 I wrote a setting called “Shir Chadash”, in English “a new song”. Psalm 96 compels us to Sing a New Song unto God. This is the great challenge and opportunity in our lives, to see things a different way, to sing with our own voices, to be the change we wish to see in the world. I write songs to include and inspire people to find their voices and repair the world.
Where Am I? (a song about inclusion in the stories of the Bible)
The Barefoot Sisters (a song about climbing a mountain in Ireland and having two nuns (of all people!) help me reach the summit)
Thank you, again, Julie, for the time you took to talk with us about your music, your mentor Aline Shader, and the power of mentoring and music to add value to our lives.
National Mentoring Month is celebrated every January and January 26th is National Thank Your Mentor Day. Over My Shoulder Foundation hopes you all are as inspired by the story of Aline Shader and Julie Silver as we are. It is an opportunity for us to start thinking about who we should be thanking this January during National Mentoring Month. Who has looked over your shoulder, and sheltered you under their wings? We invite you to share your stories with us. So, tell us, who mentored you?