Healing, helping and hoping drive the music of Sarah Morrau
The Arts Partnership profiles the Fargo singer-songwriter and her passion for music.
FARGO — Healing, helping and hope summarize the life of singer-songwriter Sarah Morrau .
By day, Sarah is a needs assessment counselor at Prairie St. John’s , where she has worked for the past 15 years.
“It’s good, meaningful work. I love that I get to help people get the help they need," she says. "My co-workers and I have so much fun; it’s such a good fit for me."
Evenings and weekends have seen her performing in a variety of venues, from the Cork N’ Cleaver and Red River Zoo to appearing on Prairie Public with Rebekka DeVries, who she has partnered with for more than 25 years.
Healing and helping
Whether performing jazz, pop, folk or traditional hymns, she brings a spiritual quality to each song.
“I believe in the healing power of music,” she says. “You can use your voice and the vibrations to be soft, gentle and nurturing, or belt it out. I think it’s important to sing with intention.”
Choosing music with the intention of helping others is something she has long practiced.
“I love singing at funerals,” she says. “It’s so meaningful to bring music to a service where people are honoring someone and be able to be part of that. The music is so powerful and healing.”
Whether performing in front of a crowd or at more intimate venues, choosing music for her classes as a yoga instructor at the YMCA , or picking out music as the contemporary worship leader at Olivet Lutheran Church , healing and hope are the driving forces behind her musical endeavors.
Morrau has been a certified yoga instructor for years at Fercho YMCA in downtown Fargo, where she provides classes to athletes of all ages and abilities. It’s also another chance for her to use music to enhance the healing process.
“I love being at YMCA and love the connection with the people in the class," she says. "Mental, physical and spiritual health combine with yoga, and the music can help create a sense of peace.”
For Morrau, her children are also a strong influence in her personal life. As a single parent of three — Katie, Carter and Jack — she says she’s learned a lot about caring for others.
“Parenthood is intense and it’s a blur. But all three have grown into good people,” she says.
Then, when she was 49, Morrau was diagnosed with breast cancer, around the same time her own mother’s health continued to decline.
“I was 49 when I was diagnosed, and had chemo, surgery, radiation and medication, and through all that I felt the loss of my mother so deeply and still do,” she says.
What helped her through? Song.
“Music is self-healing, too,” Morrau says. “I recorded an a cappella version of ‘Speed, Bonnie Boat,’ which my mom used to sing to us. And I wrote an original song, ‘Light’, about her. How one internalizes the voice or spirit of someone that’s died, and they are still there for you, and can still let you know it’s all right.”
Personal or professional, large endeavors or small, she strives to use her various talents to seek out opportunities to both help and heal. Here’s more about Sarah Morrau.
Q: What is your songwriting process like?
A: Sometimes I will literally wake up with a line in my head, a kind of a ditty. Often, I have all these little snippets of things and sometimes I put them together and they work. A lot of times I don’t remember them, so I’ve tried to get in the habit of trying to record when I sit at the piano and play. I have always played a little piano, and when I write, it’s just me playing a little bit by ear. More often the words come for me first: a phrase, a word, in the past some things come out of journaling. It’s only recently I have started to identify myself as a songwriter. It doesn’t come naturally to me; it’s more work for me than other musicians that I know. Although, I feel like I only have a handful of original songs, but then I go back and look at old journals and think I may have more than I think I do.
Q: Can you share a little about your performing partnership with Rebekka DeVries?
A: Rebekka and I have been playing together for 25 years. We have this cool dynamic that happens when we play together. We play off each other, and get this great energy. Whether it is fun and playful at the Cork 'N Cleaver or doing a noon holiday concert at the Plains Art Museum where it feels almost sacred, we feel each other, we’ve got this synergy, we’re in sync. I’ll get chills or tearful with what is happening with the songs when we play, and other people feel it, too. We’ve had that dynamic forever.
Q: What is something that would surprise people to know about you?
A: I used to have performance anxiety. As a little kid, I loved microphones, and I had a little tape recorder, and my sister and I would make up musicals. My mom was from New Zealand, so we lived there a couple years when we were young and had British accents. I always loved singing in the microphone and performing. I developed performance anxiety in high school. I was sick to my stomach, my legs shaking, and it was so much stress I thought I wouldn’t be able to sing in public anymore. I also had it giving speeches in college. With a combination of performing in public more often, therapy and voice lessons, I was able to get past it. It’s hard to imagine that now, because I feel so far from that. I encourage anybody to find somebody to talk to if they need to. Mental health is so important.
Q: What book has influenced your work?
A: Julia Cameron’s "The Artist’s Way." It really encourages the reader to do artist pages — it’s writing, writing, writing, getting it all out of yourself, which allows you to sort through all the distractions to get to the nugget of what really needs to come out. I think it is a good idea, and I do journal, because it’s like life. It's akin to meditation, because until you sit down, you don’t know what’s really going on in your heart. I can be so busy, I don’t really allow myself to sit and just feel. So it's good practice.
Q: Is there a local artist you particularly admire?
A: Deb Jenkins, creator of Celebration of Women and Their Music, has been a huge mentor in my life in a lot of ways. One of the biggest things I’ve learned from Deb is that we as artists, especially women musicians, don’t have to be in competition with each other. Whether it is in choirs growing up or auditions, there can be this competitive aspect to music, and to art in general. Deb promotes the understanding that you have your own individual thing to bring to your music that no one else is going have, whether you’re interpreting someone else’s song or writing your own, that is unique and will appeal to different people.