By ERIC SCHELKOPF
Those who come out to see Chicago singer-songwriter Linda Marie Smith's latest production, "Mearra - Selkie From the Sea," will experience a rich multimedia show.
The family-friendly performance features Smith's adaptation of a classic Celtic tale told with original songs and performed with a six piece orchestra playing along to projected animation.
The story revolves around Mearra, a mythical seal as she makes use of her magical ability to transform into a human being, marries Ian, a lonely fisherman and eventually starts a family; knowing all the while she must inevitably return to the sea as a seal, or perish.
The show will be at 3 p.m. Dec. 7 at Old Town School of Folk Music's Gary and Laura Maurer Concert Hall, 4544 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.
I had the chance to talk to her about the show.
Q - Great talking to you. In sitting down to make "Mearra - Selkie From the Sea," was it your intent to always bring it to life visually? What was your inspiration for the project?
Yes, it was always my intent to add a visual component to Mearra.
I’ve been drawn to folklore and fairy tales since I was a child. Years ago, I watched a movie called “The Secret of Roan Innish.” I was captivated by this unusual tale and began reading all that I could about the subject.
The idea of transforming from one being to another is fascinating to me. And I think this tale is a metaphor for what we as humans do throughout our lives…evolve and transform.
Q - For those who attend the show, what should they expect?
The live performance is a musical/multimedia experience that tells a story about Mearra, a young Selkie maiden who falls in love with a lonely fisherman named Ian. Ian is enchanted from the moment he sees her.
So, Mearra bids farewell to her life in the sea, marries Ian and eventually they have a family together. The instrumentation includes me on piano and acoustic guitar, along with immensely talented musicians who play electric guitar, violin, Irish tin whistle, drums and bass.
I sing lead on all the songs and I’m accompanied by rich vocal harmonies. In addition to the music, moving animated illustrations accompany each song, which is projected on a large screen above the musicians and myself. Also there is a spoken narrative before some of the songs, which also help tell the story too.
Q - What would you like for them to take away from the show?
This is a little long winded, but here ya go. Folklore and fairy tales usually involve fantastic people or animals, but usually deal with things we value most highly, fear most deeply and hope for most ardently.
"Mearra~Selkie From the Sea" is a love story about two people who know from the beginning of their relationship that in seven years Mearra will have to return to the sea. However, Mearra and Ian are so overcome in love that they don’t let that inevitability change their plans. They marry and have a family.
As the seven years pass, Mearra becomes ill, her life on the land has taken it’s toll and now she must return to the sea. Her son Morlo is a Selkie too and feels the strong pull to live in the sea with his mother.
The father Ian and daughter Ffion are of the land. This family loves one another so much that they accept the inevitable but know that their love will be the everlasting thread that keeps them together forever.
Mearra's story is a relevant experience for all human beings. Love is the most important thread in the human existence.
We yearn for it, we risk our lives for it, we succumb to it, we thrive in it. Shortly after I finished the recording of "Mearra," my mother died.
It was the most devastating loss of my life but the story of Mearra really helped in my grieving process because I do believe that if you love someone they are always a part of you forever.
Q - The show will be presented at the Old Town School of Folk Music, where you also teach. What do you try to convey to your students?
I teach in the adult guitar program. I think it’s important to remind students to leave their stress at their jobs and have fun and enjoy the process of learning something new.
I find that teaching is a very rewarding experience. I’ve been at The Old Town School of Folk Music for 14 years and I’ve loved every minute of it.
Q - Your last multimedia show, "Artemisia," debuted in January 2006. Was it time to do another multimedia show? What were your goals for “ Artemisia” and do you think you achieved them?
Yes, it was time to do another multimedia show. My goals for "Artemisia" were to educate an audience through the medium of music and visuals about the enigmatic Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi.
And I think I have met my goals for this project with the exception of someday seeing the live presentation of this work on public television!
Q - The renowned Michael Smith appeared on your first three albums and you have worked with him on different projects. What you you take away from working with a musician of such caliber?
He is a master songwriter and his songs have been an inspiration to me since the first time I heard “The Dutchman.” His songwriting style helped me learn and understand the process of how to tell a story through music.
The use of imagery and poetry are very strong aspects in Michael’s music and he has inspired me to do the same within my own songs. I am forever grateful for Michael’s influence in my life and in my music.
Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and where do you think you fit into it?
Hmmm…good questions. Chicago has an amazing music scene.
Since I’ve focused my attention on presenting my music in a story-telling, multimedia format, I think it limits my opportunities to perform in many music venues. My music requires a listening audience and frankly I think “listening” venues are few and far between in Chicago.
I mostly focus on colleges, universities, performance art venues and libraries to market my music. A cool thing that’s happening for "Mearra" is WYCC - Channel 20 public television station is going to air my release concert that I performed in March of this year.
I’m hoping that this opportunity will expose "Mearra~Selkie From the Sea" to a broader audience! Keeping my fingers crossed.