Kala Farnham is a classically trained singer-songwriter-guitarist originally from Torrington, Connecticut. She has garnered accolades and performed at venues big and small including Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. Kala also runs a variety of businesses from her website and helps people achieve mental wellness through the arts. I communicated with her via email recently.
Who are some of your major influences?
I come from an educational and professional background in classical piano performance and musical theater, so I think elements of those styles show through in my writing. As far as singer-songwriters go, my parents were fans of the 60s and 70s folk artists like Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, and Joan Baez. I admire the skill for storytelling and poetry that was so prevalent in that era and aspire to bring similar elements into my writing.
How do you define your style?
I consider my music contemporary folk/indie pop.
I know you play Irish/Celtic harp and guitar. How are those two instruments similar and different?
Believe it or not, I consider the Irish/Celtic harp more similar to the piano than the guitar! The harp is a piano turned on its side that you pluck or strum. Harmonically it’s laid out similarly to the keys on a piano – so, coming from a background in classical piano training, the harp made sense to me. That said, sound-wise, I’ve sometimes fooled my audience into thinking Celtic harp recordings are a nylon string guitar when I use traditional guitar plucking patterns on it. So I suppose you could say the harp is a sort of hybrid between piano and guitar – it’s a nylon string guitar without a fretboard in the shape of a piano!
Do you have Irish roots and if so, how does that fit into your sound?
I am part Irish, and I’ve felt a strong draw to Irish Celtic spirituality and music since childhood. I owe it to my parents, who equally appreciate Irish Celtic culture and introduced me to its music. My mother also owned an Irish harp, which offered me the opportunity to learn to play the instrument in my late teens. The harmonic and melodic structures of Celtic music have found their way into my compositions over the years!
Your website mentions “theater, fairy tales, ancient history, and storytelling.” How is those part of your songwriting and performance?
I’ve had a passion for stories and storytelling for as long as I can remember. I’ve always been fascinated by how the stories of ancient mythology, fairy tales, the theater, and other media can serve as containers of wisdom to be passed along through generations. I’ve written many songs based on the stories I’ve encountered in my reading, sometimes directly translating the story into song-form and sometimes re-imagining it into a more modernized or personalized lens. My professional experience working in musical theater has granted me an appreciation of storytelling through movement, expression, music, and a cohesive storyline from one song to the next. I incorporate much of what I learned in the theater in my composition and performance today, and I’m curious to delve deeper into the theatrical realm with future works.
Please tell me about your other projects, e.g. your work promoting arts and wellness in the community?
Also, along with live performance art, I have an interest in holistic wellness backed with an academic degree in human services and mental wellness. I currently host a songwriters group called the Quiet Corner Songwriters Meetup, where we gather monthly (currently on Zoom, during the pandemic) to share our creative ideas and offer feedback and support to one another. I will also be bringing music to Quiet Corner Cares new sober living home for women, Kasia’s Hope, which just opened October 17th. I think the arts are a wonderful tool for promoting wellness, so it’s something that I hope to continue to bring to my community in conjunction with local venues and organizations. This year, I’ve had the opportunity to begin expanding my training to sound healing practices rooted in eastern medicine and spirituality, and in time I hope to incorporate more of that into my community work.
As far as my experience of working as a full-time musician goes, the key for me has been flexibility – a willingness to think outside the box, constantly learn and grow, and be willing to adapt to the changing demands of working in the business. Needless to say, that’s true more than ever now! The pandemic has called musicians to find a new way of utilizing online platforms to make a living. Live Streaming has been a big part of the equation for me, as well as expanding my online webstore to include not only music and merchandise but other custom-made arts and crafts. I’ve also been creating custom songs for several years now, and I’ve recently expanded my website to include an entire page dedicated to that.
What tools do you find most helpful in your career? Social media, website, audience outreach, etc.
While I think social media and a professional website are key to a musician’s career in this age, the type of connection I’ve found to be most helpful is 100 percent personal, in-person connections. Taking time to get to know those who attend my concerts, attending networking events in the music scene, and getting to know fellow artists, agents, and venues on a personal level – those personal connections can be followed up by online outreach, but not replaced by them. Besides, that’s where the real joy of performing art is for me – it’s about the human connection that it opens us up to, the universal humanity that we so often forget until we are together in a room full of music.
You’ve garnered some accolades and played some big festivals like Falcon Ridge. What are some highlights in recent years?
It was quite a treat to be a part of the 2020 Falcon Ridge Emerging Artist Showcase this year. Some other recent accolades include winning the 2019 Rose Garden Performing Songwriter Contest, and an Honorable Mention at the 2019 Rocky Mountain Folks Festival Songwriter Showcase. A few years ago I received an invitation along with 12 other songwriters to the 2017 Johnny Mercer Songwriters Project, a week-long songwriting intensive led by Billboard and Broadway master teachers at Northwestern University in Illinois, which I credit as one of the most transformational experiences I’ve had as a performing songwriter.
Are you from Connecticut?
I am a Connecticut native! I was born in Torrington, briefly relocated to Massachusetts during childhood, and have lived in the quiet corner of Connecticut for the better part of the past two decades.
What do you like about living in Connecticut and what’s your take on the folk music scene and community?
On the whole, I’d say living in Connecticut as a professional musician has worked well for me and I’m grateful to have gotten my start here. I’m aware that there are parts of the country that have more concentrated and well-known arts scenes, and those are certain parts of the country that I’m curious to explore – but I think Connecticut offers artists plenty of working opportunities. One major benefit of living in New England is that you don’t have to drive far to get from one city to the next – there’s a lot of music-friendly venues within a reasonable distance of each other – and that’s a compliment that I’ve heard coming from more than one artist touring through here from another region. Living here allowed me to get my start in making a humble but comfortable living doing what I love.
Over recent years I’ve also watched my corner of the state develop artistically – and I see other folks in the community working to expand the music arts scene as well. Of course, everything has been thrown off track during 2020, but I think there’s creative growth potential here that people are tapping into, and I’m excited to be a part of that.
Do you have favorite spots to play in Connecticut or elsewhere?
I would say my venues of choice would be folk venues and house concerts. The crowd that shows up to those venues is my type: they generally love a good story, and I love having the opportunity to share my stories with them, as well as hear their stories when I have a chance to chat with them after the concert. There are quite a few nice folk venues around here, but I would say I’m partial to the Vanilla Bean Café in my hometown of Pomfret because that’s where I got my start!
How are you adapting to the pandemic?
When the pandemic hit, everything shifted to an online platform: my concerts were live-streamed, and my songwriter’s group and the church where I music direct transitioned to Zoom meetings. Needless to say, most artists have taken a huge financial hit and I started looking for creative ways to keep the rent money coming in. In addition to a fortuitously-timed album release that I put up for sale on my website, I started creating custom crafts and sketches for my audience, eventually creating a page on my website dedicated to that. I also delve more deeply into custom songwriting work and remote session recording work, something that I’ve been doing off and on for the past several years.
The warmer weather has granted me a small respite from the career challenges of the pandemic, but many venues have been unable to resume music and my gig schedule has been much lighter this year. As we work our way into the colder months, I imagine online concerts will remain a key part of artists’ survival, and I’ll continue exploring other creative possibilities to persevere through the pandemic as a musician.
What are you working on now?
Right now I feel called to support my community in whatever way I can. The pandemic has impacted people on many levels: their careers, financial security, mental health. Each day I ask myself, what can I do to help create some healing in my world? Right now it’s through putting together a music program for a local recovery home and advancing my training in healing arts. I’m also in the process of planning more live-streamed concerts, which I feel can go a long way in helping to build a sense of connection, even from a long distance away – especially if they are interactive and conversational in nature. I’m excited to be working with a wonderful camera crew for my upcoming live streams – it’ll be a far cry from the cellphone videos I was making back in the spring!
Plans for the future?
Originally, I had planned to launch a national radio campaign for my new album and set up a release tour this year. Although the events of 2020 put that plan on hold, it’s something that I intend to carry out when the time is right! Long term, I hope to become more immersed in the national folk network and to make touring a regular part of my schedule.
Anything else you’d like to mention?
I think that covers it. Thank you so much for giving artists a platform to share their voice!
For more information on Kala, check her website: http://kalafarnham.com