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ArtPrize Artist Profile: Susan Leigh Picking Radiates "In the Now"

Singer/songwriter Susan Leigh Picking speaks the universal language of music and its child-like call to be present.

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Susan Leigh-Picking’s smile ushers in her presence, radiating her persona and character as she avows in her introduction, “Music is an international language, it’s a universal connector to all humans no matter what language you speak, and I intend to share and elevate our communal vibration, so to speak.”

If you affirm this musical and perhaps metaphysical concept, you have something in common with singer/songwriter Picking. “In the Now,” is the title of her song composition for ArtPrize 2012 with performances at St. Cecelia Music Center, Women's City Club, Children's Museum, Fountain Street Church and Purple East. At a time when our societal structure runs parallel to a rat race and we face a myriad of dilemmas, personal and global, “In the Now,” beckons us to live in the moment.

A Latin Jazz musical arrangement with percussion and trumpet, “In the Now” instantaneously impels foot-tapping, hand-clapping, swaying to the beat and is encapsulated by the accompaniment of children singing. This is the joy a song lends with the union of art and music; and, moreover, when the artist composes it with ardent devotion. 

“Thank you for getting it,” Picking’s eyes light with gratitude in response to remarks that the chorus of children symbolizes the child-like faith that should never escape us. It is the curiosity and unconditional love of children which propels them to pursue the world as a place of endless discovery. As adults, we often fail to embrace the present because of our waning faith and a dual preoccupation (the past and the future), neither of which exist in the present. As a result, we fail to seize opportunities to be “In the Now.”

Picking elaborates: “Children and animals live in the moment.” Her humorous side emerges as she explains that dogs do not live in the past, regretting mistakes. “Darn it, I peed on the rug!” She grasps the lessons from observing "Children and animals do this with ease. I can do a fair amount of beating myself up, even at a performance. I may shank a chord and think, ‘that sounded horrible, they are going to judge me for it,’ but it’s over, I can’t change it. The lesson in the song is not judging the past, not worrying about the future, it is a reminder to me to live in the moment and be present.”

Tragedy and death tend to serve as catalysts to return us to the present, an unfortunate quandary. To experience either commands our preoccupation with the treadmill of life to cease and desist. Picking reveals that the death of a number of friends was the catalyst that brought her to the moment, and consequently, birthed the song “In the Now.” “It made me really come to the present and value my senses of what brings you to the present - breathing,” she says. 

The gift of a moment is Picking’s preoccupation. To share joy, teach love, and serve others through the utility of music is her artistic trajectory. She depicts her journey as a “Very circuitous path to become a musician.” As a passionate traveler, she pursued a career as a flight attendant for a number of years before realizing she was born to be an artist. Unbeknownst to her, traveling would segue to her destiny as a contemporary folk artist. During a layover in a hotel, she sang into a pillow (so as not to disturb neighboring hotel guests) and she experienced a momentous awakening: her love of lyrics, melody and music apprehended her. “I never intended to be a singer/songwriter when I was in college,” she declares, but in retrospect, all of her paths illuminated this course, and since the year 2007 she has claimed this rite of passage. 

As a Michigan native who grew up near the sandy shores and pristine waters of Lake Michigan in Grand Haven, Picking embraces solicitous affection for the natural surroundings which inspire her philosophies and her appreciation for life. She identifies herself as a water sign. “I love the water and I do need it to be a part of my serenity, sanity and meditational practice." The inception of her meditational practice dates to childhood as she describes having conversations with God in her head. As an adult, she cultivates this practice through Yoga. Her study of ancient religions yields a belief in “ancient wisdom, new thought,” which she believes lends credence to the powerful teachings of all religions. In essence, she believes all religions are right and we all connect to a Universal Spirit who she esteems as “God.”

Meditation is a continuum in Picking’s life and she credits this source as her foremost inspiration. “I really feel that when I connect to Spirit, I channel it and have written numerous songs in less than ten minutes,” says Picking. She confesses that the journey has ups and downs and she has struggled at times. But coupling what she refers to as a glimpse of a “stupid song” with a dose of honesty about life’s mistakes, she mingles a little humor, hoping her candor helps people to get to know themselves better. “The lessons, I think are all the same in teaching and sharing joy and being truly human. We all have challenges, but there is a great deal of joy in connecting.” Her passion for music centers on connection - our universal connections to each other. Picking believes in the healing power of music. “Music has always been a stress relief for me," she says. "It is therapeutic, and you can realign yourself.”

ArtPrize is a conglomeration of varied artistic expressions. When asked about the requirements to become an artist for ArtPrize, Susan Leigh Picking’s humorous side emerges again as she laughs and replies, “a $50 check!” But she follows up quickly by saying she is genuinely enthralled by the event. She is “humored by the critics,” particularly those who criticize technique and the nature of the contest’s popular vote; however, she identifies the bigger picture which trumps the condemnation of a handful of critics. How could one not appreciate ArtPrize? “It makes the community so vibrant!” Art incites discourse and generates a state of blissfulness among the ArtPrize attendees; moreover, art creates change.


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