By Marisa Torrieri Bloom
When the coronavirus hit New York City back in March, Brooklynite Dr. Kari Groff, a psychiatrist, mom and musician, faced the same fear and uncertainty as her neighbors. But instead of shuttering inside with he stringed instrument, she opened the door – channeling energy into playing for her neighbors, right on the stoop of her Park Slope home.
Picking up the fiddle earned Groff little fame (see the New York Daily News writeup here) and gave her a much-needed energy boost.
“As a musician, to not perform and play together was also giant loss that has needed to be accepted and processed,” says Groff, who spent much of the last year nurturing a new-ish musical project — The Bright Siders, her duo with songwriter Kristin Andreassen. Their album A Mind of Your Own (Smithsonian Folkways) is out today.
We recently caught up with Groff to learn more about the new record, pandemic parenting, and how she hopes to help others.
Rockmommy: For those who might not be familiar with your music, how would you describe your sound?
Dr. Kari Groff: Because The Bright Siders collaborated with so many different musicians from so many diverse backgrounds, I would say that our album A Mind of Your Own has infusions of pop, jazz, rock, folk, Latin, and even one punk rock piece called “Bully This!”
I definitely would describe the sound as “fun and upbeat” but purposeful and thoughtful.
Rockmommy: What were the biggest challenges you encountered in the last 12 months? If you’re a parent, please speak to those challenges too!
As a person, it was difficult to be separated from so many of my friends and family. As a parent, it was difficult to see my child go from being an active and independent elementary school student to an isolated, online learner.
As a musician, to not perform and play together was also giant loss that has needed to be accepted and processed. Professionally, I had to develop new skills as a physician to address a large-scale trauma that was happening to many people because of Covid-19. Everyone has been affected but in very individual ways.
But if I had to point to the greatest challenge of all, it was that we were not able to gather together in a time of great sadness and to not be able to lean on the things that bring me joy (parties, live music, making music together, etc).
Rockmommy: How did 2020 influence your music and creative process?
Dr. Kari Groff: As the mother of a biracial child (Haitian and European background), the Black Lives Matter movement made me think even deeper than ever before about it meant to be a White mother to a Black child and what the Black American experience is. My daughter (age 10) wrote some amazing new songs at home and we were able to collaborate on this. Being with her so much at home inspired me as a songwriter. She is extremely creative and has a natural sense for what makes a good pop song. She pushed me to elevate my skills and to expand my creative process. She would question my lyrical and musical choices thoughtfully.
My daughter also has younger twin sisters with her dad and his wife. I have her twin sisters over to our home frequently to play and make music. All three are so musically talented, and I absolutely delight in their song creations and amazing voices and energy. My experiences with them really made me think about how The Bright Siders could do even more to be more inclusive and representative. I could see them carrying the torch of this project forward with me, along with Kristin and Smithsonian Folkways, because of their amazing energy, musical skill, and unique experiences and voices as Black Americans.
Rockmommy: What are you most hopeful for in 2021?
Dr. Kari Groff: I am grateful that there is a vaccine that is being delivered. I’m excited for a new and diverse political administration, especially our first woman VP!!! I am excited to travel and perform again! I am hopeful that the pandemic will make us think about how we can live more compassionately towards each other and with greater environmental awareness.
Rockmommy: Any recent or upcoming projects you’d like to share?
Dr. Kari Groff: The Bright Siders is releasing our debut album A Mind of Your Own today (Smithsonian Folkways). The album is an incredible collection of songs and skits, in spirit of Free to Be, You and Me. It’s all about emotions and growing up. The music is very family friendly, educational, and uplifting. We are also releasing a video-book called “Victor and the Great Pause”- a thoughtful and deeply compassionate story about a dog that experiences NYC during the early days of the pandemic.
Rockmommy: What advice do you have on balancing parenthood with creative life?
Dr. Kari Groff: My best advice is to get up early before your kids. My own creative, music-teacher mom taught me this. Make time for your creative process. For me, it is the early hours of the morning when it is quiet and before I have started to tackle my physician work for the day. My mind is clear, and I can write lyrics and melodies with greater fluidity and less sort of background noise (literally and figuratively!). I also recommend taking a couple days off here and there just for your own creative process if possible. My co-creator on The Bright Siders project, Kristin Andreassen, hosts an amazing songwriting camp called Miles of Music. This would be the perfect opportunity to have a creative experience in a beautiful setting!
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.