Timing Is Everything

As songwriter Ann Reed and her audiences have matured, so has her work. Perhaps that's the reason for her loyal, widespread following

"Now we can take a gig in Rice Lake, Wis., where they want me to sing at a domestic violence vigil and they don't have any money," she says. "We can go there and set up our little boutique and make enough so it's worth the trip.

"With a label, you're restricted where you can play, especially in Nashville. They have this idea that you'll want to play rodeos," she says, as a sly smile crossed her face. "That's just not anywhere I ever dreamed of playing."

Bick underscores Reed's sentiment: "We have the luxury of saying making money is an important thing, but not the most important thing."

So instead of dyeing her hair blonde and opening for country stars, Reed devotes about a fourth of her touring schedule to benefit organizations that support women's and children's issues -- a commitment that has not gone unnoticed. She was named the "musical ambassador" for the 30th anniversary of Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) and was selected to lead the Great Girl Scout sing-along in Washington, D.C., honoring the 85th anniversary of scouting.

Those honors nicely complement a guest spot on Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion, a pair of appearances on "Good Morning America," and a trio of awards from the Minnesota Music Academy, including Artist of the Year in 1991, Female Songwriter of the Year in 1993, and Folk Artist of the year in 1997.

Reed also has contributed music to a number of videos and exhibits, including a KARE-11 TV special on girls in sports, in which her song "Heroes" was a centerpiece. The song, which refutes the idea that there are no suitable role models anymore, names 40 women who led by example in their lives.

"I'm a stamp collector and I'd made a framed thing of all the stamps that had women on them," says Reed. "So, when I was making this list of women, I looked up there at some of the women on the stamps. There sat Lucy Stone and I thought to myself, 'Who is she?' So I started reading about her and I thought, 'Hey, she was cool! She was out there fighting the good fight long before any of us.' So writing the song was an education for me too."

"Heroes," released in 1993 on Reed's Hole in the Day CD strikes a chord with audiences. "I've seen any number of people tear up when they hear that song," says Ehleringer. "Heroes," and "Every Long Journey," a moving tribute to Reed's friend, arctic explorer Ann Bancroft, are among the most-requested in Reed's 200-song repertoire.

"I feel very lucky to have two songs out there reaching people in such a positive way," says Reed. "Sometimes you just hope that songs will go out and have lives of their own. Send 'em off to camp and hope they write home."

Even if they haven't written home, fans have. "I've received more letters and response from that song than anything I've ever written," Reed says. " I have teachers who write to me. Parents will say 'My kid loves this song. We all had to go to the library and look up all the women.'"

Currently, Reed is busy with several new projects. She's doing more of the engineering of her own releases, even going so far as to record her most recent, Timing is Everything, in the living room of the home she shares with her partner, Jane, and Bick and her partner, Kathy.

She's also recently learned to play the piano -- a skill that comes in handy, given her newest preoccupation: arranging her music for choruses and choirs.

This summer, she'll perform several pieces of her work with One Voice Mixed Chorus, a community gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender choir, which is celebrating its 10-year anniversary. Reed will join the 60-member chorus and also perform a solo set during concerts on June 13 and 14.

"We had to do something special," says Jane Ramseyer Miller, director of the chorus. "The theme for this concert is journeys, and much of Ann's music deals with traveling, coming home, and change."

Among the songs the chorus will perform with Reed are "Every Long Journey," "Walk," "What Made You Love Her," and "I Think That God is Sleeping/You've Got to be Carefully Taught," as well as two other songs written by other artists.

For her part, Reed is looking forward to the One Voice project and is happy to be moving into arranging.

"We found out there's a real need for music for gay and lesbian choirs and for women's choirs, so we've been working on that, and it's something that's very exciting to me," she says.

"When I write a song, I can hear the parts, and on some occasions, I put the parts in myself with harmonies and so on. It's just that you're looking at the different textures of the sopranos, the altos, the tenors, the basses."

Bick expects that Reed will continue to work with choruses for some time, since she receives several calls a week from interested directors.

"We're getting ready to offer a portfolio of choral music," she says. "That way Ann's music is arranged the way she wants it. That's easier and more emotionally satisfying that beating your head against the music-business wall."

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