Flipping what most people picture when they think of a singer-songwriter completely on its head, Missoula musician Rosie Cerquone is combining percussion and vocals to create a unique brand of pop-jazz.
“The how and the why,” a collection of songs that will eventually be released on a debut album in the fall, tells the story of Cerquone’s college experience and explores the question: What comes next? The University of Montana senior is set to perform her original music, a culmination of the last four years, during a live-stream concert on Wednesday to cap off her residency at the Downtown Dance Collective.
Singing along with her vibraphone, a large xylophone-like mallet instrument, Cerquone is part of what she said is a small but growing community within the percussion world.
“Even though it’s unusual to see a voice and mallet combo, it feels more natural to me than anything else,” she said. Cerquone plays her vibraphone with four soft mallets, two per hand, creating a smooth, mellow bell sound as she hits the tuned metal bars. Her jazzy, sultry vocals float over the tones, creating dreamlike musical poetry.
She started learning the marimba and vibraphone her sophomore year and fell in love with the physicality of mallet instruments.
“I’m a pretty movement-oriented person, so it’s a good fit for my personality and learning style,” she said, adding percussion also gets her creative juices flowing. “When I’m writing music, my ideas just come out more clearly on something like a vibraphone.”
Writing words and lyrics has always come pretty naturally for her, but studying jazz at UM has had a strong influence on her songwriting and musical style.
“Through jazz improv, I really started to understand harmony and things like voice leading at a lot deeper of a level. It opened up what I felt like my music could say or how it could feel.”
The title of the live-stream concert and impending debut album is reflective of the time period during which the songs were written.
“I feel like the last four years of my life has been very much about the ‘how.’ I learned how to play my instrument. I learned how to present myself as a professional. I theoretically learned how to become a better adult,” the music performance major said. “Now I have all this information, and I’m launching into this part of my life that’s very much about the ‘why.’ Why am I creating this art? Why does the career I chose matter? What do I have to say?”
She said for seniors, especially this year graduating in the face of a pandemic, the unknown is a scary thing and figuring out what your next step in life should be is a daunting task.
“Everyone has this same fear ... to feel completely out at sea and not know what you’re doing and the self doubt that comes with that,” Cerquone said.
She has a feeling that same fear can pop up in many stages of life, and hopes her songs can be relatable in that way. But for Cerquone, the album will also dub as a personal love letter to a formative stage in her life.
“I wanted to examine this transition in life and acknowledge how my songwriting has changed over the last four years and how I’ve changed too. It’s like a time capsule album for me.”
The live stream won’t have many bells and whistles (no pun intended), but Cerquone said she plans to hold an in-person show in the fall closer to the album release.
“A lot of this summer will be working on this album,” she said, adding she also plans to move to Spokane after living in Missoula her entire life. “I’m excited to experience a new music scene, start growing my world a little bit.”
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