Thursday, July 27, 2006

Chiemi: A Lawyer and Singer Songwriter who is “blessed.”

Ingrid Chiemi Schroffner, known by the moniker “Chiemi,” is a 30 something, lawyer/singer/songwriter, and journalist well-known on the Somerville music scene. A native of Hawaii, but a resident of Massachusetts since 1988, Chiemi, (meaning one who is blessed in Japanese), came here to attend college and she eventually earned her law degree from Boston College Law School. In a biographical statement she writes: “I like telling stories which stems in part, from my East/West heritage; work on folktales as an undergraduate, and I further carry it out in my daytime profession as an advocate.”

Chiemi hosts the monthly “Somerville News Music/Poetry Series” currently held at the Sherman Cafe in Union Square, Somerville. She also has a popular column in The Somerville News, titled “Chiemi’s Corner,” that reports on the music scene through incisive interviews and articles.

In 2005 Chiemi released the CD “Living On Two Coasts.” She has played in such Somerville watering holes as “The Burren,” “Toast,” “The Skybar,” and “PA’s Lounge.” I talked with her on my Somerville Community Access TV show “Poet to Poet/Writer to Writer.”

Doug Holder: “Chiemi” means “one who is blessed” in Japanese. Are you blessed?

Chiemi: I guess I can’t complain. I feel lucky to write for The Somerville News, and to host the “Somerville News Poetry Series.” I pen the “Chiemi’s corner” column for the News, and I post it on my website. So the people I interview or write about can send their articles to their friends, etc… “Chiemi’s Corner” deals with the Somerville music scene and the series, and the poets and musicians who populate this milieu. At the” Somerville News Poetry and Music Series” we will have performers and poets like Jennifer Matthews, Colleen Houlihan, Ross Goldberg, and others presenting. On Sept 10 the series will move to the Tir Na Nog in Union Square. I do feature articles on each person in the series. I get to learn about how they write, what their processes are, and what their composition and art are about.

DH: You are half Japanese and half German. You write songs about your mixed heritage. Are these two parts of you in conflict?

C: There is friction between East/West ways of thinking. I covered this in my undergraduate thesis concerning German and Japanese folktales, and how they shape identities through common genres. In the Western mindset there tends to be a focus on moving forward. In the Asian mindset there is a progression that is like a ball or sphere that expands. Asian thought is more about incorporating things as opposed to moving forward and discarding things. So this creates conflict. My mother was brought up in the circular way of thinking, while my father is German and much more pragmatic.

DH: What inspires you when you write lyrics?

C: Turns of phrases, conversations that I have, or that I hear. I like to think of songs as a continuum of thinking about ideas. My thoughts evolve…whether I am using the sea as a metaphor, or thinking about what it means to love someone.

DH: You are a lawyer as well as being a singer/songwriter. Does each of these feed the other?

C: I like to think of them as being related. I don’t like to have lack of continuity. It’s hard to be one way in one role and different in the other. It’s weird.

DH: Does your life as an artist affect your credibility as a lawyer?

C: I don’t tell my clients that I am a musician. People have this idea that musicians are flakes. I’m in family law, so it may be more acceptable to be a performer.

DH You were involved in the “Burren Project.” It revolved around the Burren Pub in Davis Square, Somerville. Can you talk about it?

C: I was involved with it in 2004. It was a fabulous project. It involved a compilation of the regular musicians that performed at the Burren open mic. We made a CD that was representative of a typical night bat the Burren.

DH: Your best friend from law school is the daughter of Ed Sanders. Sanders was a member of the group the FUGS and the author of “Tales of Beatnik Glory.” Did Sanders politically focused songs have any influence on you?

C: The fact that his group incorporated political ideas in their songs had an impact on me. I realized it wasn’t totally off-base to do that. I’ve met him, and he has a very interesting way of thinking. His daughter is now a very conservative lawyer.

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