The Web site Rockin’ Moms (www.RockinMoms.com) is dedicated to musicians who are also mothers. The site recently featured pianist, singer and composer Valerie Sciarra, who has been a Local 802 member since 2004. Sciarra has two sons: five-year-old Benny and one-year-old Damian.
Before her first child was born, Sciarra had been a musical director and pianist for theatre productions. She had also been the keyboardist and songwriter for the band 223 Park. But after she became a mom, she began rocking out as a solo singer-songwriter, while still subbing on Broadway, teaching piano and doing vocal coaching.
“I never had the guts to perform solo until my first son was born,” Sciarra told Rockin’ Moms. “I hardly took myself seriously as a solo performer. My intention when I started writing pop tunes was to sell them to someone who could sing. It was under the advice of one of my mentors, Matt Keating, that I use my own voice to tell my own stories. The idea terrified me till I met my other mentor, Claudia Johnson, who helped me find my voice, literally.”
Valerie Sciarra was interviewed by Tiffany Petrossi, a mother of four and founder of Rockin’ Moms and Rockin’ Kidz.
Tiffany Petrossi: How has motherhood affected your passions and professional goals?
Valerie Sciarra: It has given me an amazing perspective on this whole crazy world. My self-esteem was so wrapped up in music that it blocked me at times. Sometimes it still does. But when my first child was born, I knew that I couldn’t tell him to go conquer the world if I hadn’t at least tried it myself. My motivation for doing this has completely shifted. At the end of the day, I’m a strong mom and have two awesome sons. Gigs come and go, and though they seem so important at the time, they don’t define me anymore. As a result, I am a much stronger performer and get pure joy out of what I do. My songs are more personal and I have much more to say. There’s more soul in my work. My song “Everything” is about all those families I see on the weekends trying to act like a “normal” family and never really quite getting the hang of it. “Okay for Now” is for all those women who’ve been cheated on and decide to stay. “Minivan” is for that couple that have been together so long they’ve forgotten why they’re together. I have much stronger opinions about the world and how we are supposed to treat each other. I have a lot to say about “regular life” and no longer write fairy tales.
Tiffany Petrossi: Do you bring your children to see you perform?
Valerie Sciarra: No, unfortunately my gigs happen at 21-and-over clubs. I sing and play a lot at home. My oldest son often asks me about my lyrics and what things mean.
Tiffany Petrossi: How have you made time to raise a family and pursue a passion?
Valerie Sciarra: I have absolutely no idea… I just go moment to moment. It’s all balance. Sometimes I’m in the zone of writing and need to be reminded that my sons need me, or I get so into being with my sons that my husband needs me. And sometimes there are times when I get to drift off and for a few moments, no one needs me. But I have an incredibly supportive husband and family and in those moments when I really doubt what I’m doing, they remind me that it’s the journey that counts. If I was to quit, I’d be half the person that I am. So I wake up everyday, make a list of what needs to get done, hunker down and go. It makes me a happier person and a better mom to know I can do both. Or at least try to.
Tiffany Petrossi: Are there any challenges like babysitting, budget or time that you’d like to share?
Valerie Sciarra: Constant challenges. The biggest challenge I find is finding quiet time to drift off and write. Even if I have a half hour in the day, it seems like my mind gets quite cluttered with everyday chores and I have to make an effort to quiet myself and write. I would also love to network more than I do. There are so many fantastic musicians I never get to see because of my extra responsibilities. Sometimes I feel a little stigma about being a mom and people seem surprised when I actually can make it out to gigs and parties. There’s a part of the game I know I can’t play, but there are also amazing opportunities like this interview that make it easier to find those who understand and appreciate that life carries on with or without kids. I’m still the same party girl who loves a crowd and loves some great music.
Tiffany Petrossi: What was it like to perform while pregnant? Did you notice anything different in your performance or energy level?
Valerie Sciarra: My voice was so clear. It was pretty amazing how I found a new depth to it with very little effort. I’m not sure why that happened. Maybe it was being so in touch with my breathing and feeling all sorts of things going on in my body. I was also able to enjoy myself and not really take myself seriously. I didn’t really care how I looked on stage and it was such a freeing experience. I really got into the performance and less into the “showbiz” aspect of what we do. One of my best gigs was at 5 1/2 months’ pregnant.
Tiffany Petrossi: When did you become interested in music?
Valerie Sciarra: Believe it or not, when I was very young, I saw the pianist Victor Borge on “The Muppet Show” play on a concert grand piano with a statue of Beethoven on top. The joke was he was playing the Moonlight Sonata and the statue kept falling asleep. He’d have to stop playing and wake up the statue. I’m not sure why, but it was so cool to me that I asked for piano lessons for two years till my parents broke down. Then I was hooked.
Tiffany Petrossi: Was there anyone who inspired or influenced you to pursue a career as a musician and performer?
Valerie Sciarra: My mom is a dreamer and my parents always told me to go for it as long as I know what I’m in for. They told me to work hard and stay true to my values and the rest would fall into place in it’s own way. They both have a great sense of perspective and used to tell me, “If it doesn’t work out, you can always get a day job.” It’s that attitude I try to hold onto today, though a little harder with so much more at stake.
Tiffany Petrossi: What projects are you most proud of?
Valerie Sciarra: Besides my kids? I am proud of my solo CD. The songs are so personal and gave me a chance to really be myself. When you write for musical theater, there are all sorts of things to think about, so it was freeing to just be myself and let loose on the CD.
Tiffany Petrossi: Can you tell me what it’s like to sub on Broadway?
Valerie Sciarra: It’s both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. There’s a lot of pressure to come into someone else’s show and play exactly the right notes, exactly as they do it. There’s no real room for personal style. And the idea of being perfect all the time is frightening. But there are some incredible musicians playing on Broadway and to play along side them is a privilege. Staying that focused and really being in the moment can give you a real rush, too.
Tiffany Petrossi: What do you love about this career?
Valerie Sciarra: I love the connection with other people. I love when I perform and someone says, “I totally feel that way, too”. I’m blown away that I could touch someone that way.
Tiffany Petrossi: Do you have any tips for other “rockin’ moms”?
Valerie Sciarra: Hang in there. There are days when you’ll feel so out of touch and uncool. You’re knee deep in Hot Wheels cars and you’ve watched “Madagascar” again and again. But that only makes it more special when you get to perform. I don’t perform as often as I’d like these days, but when I do, I feel so alive and I have more to offer my kids.
Tiffany Petrossi: Where do you see yourself a year from now?
Valerie Sciarra: Hopefully, I can organize a small tour and bring the kids. I’d love to show them that the world is so much bigger than their own backyard. I love traveling and performing and want to do this now while they’re young (and won’t complain much!)
For more information about Valerie Sciarra, see www.ValerieSciarra.com.
This interview has been reprinted with the permission of Valerie Sciarra and has been edited slightly to reflect the birth of Sciarra’s second child, which had not occurred when this interview was first published at www.RockinMoms.com.