Saved from Quitting Music

I stopped writing music. My first doctoral dissertation defense at Stony Brook University ended in failure in March 2011 because I did not clearly understand some of my faculty members’ expectations. I composed nothing for a couple of months while studying the compositional technique they believed I hadn’t mastered. I did not know if or when I would return to making music. I might have stopped entirely if something hadn’t happened in February 2011.

A month before my failure I was awestruck by a live sound I had never heard in my then-23 years of involvement with music. “What is with your guitar?” I bumbled to the songwriter after his performance at a coffee shop I rarely visited. “It’s a 12-string,” he answered matter-of-factly. Other than introducing ourselves, I don’t remember more of that conversation, but it led to six months that reforged my identity as a musician.

After we met, Samuel Ryan Bellamy started playing regularly at the open mics at the coffee shop I frequented in Patchogue. He invited me to add background vocals during some of his performances and on one of his recordings. I asked him to collaborate with me and another friend to share originals, folk songs, and covers at an event at my church. He taught me about the history of the pirates on Long Island he sang about and let me see parts of the North Shore coast they frequented because he lived in a town that allowed only private access to many of its beaches. As I sang and listened alongside this kindred spirit, I realized that I would always be making music regardless of what happened with my degree.

Sam playing guitar and Krystal singing while sitting on a boardwalk
A six-string day in Greenport, NY

While steeping in Sam’s shanties and synths, I did return to working on my dissertation. This month, I celebrate 10 years since my Ph.D. in music composition was conferred by Stony Brook University. Since then, I have valued the inspiration and collaboration of many other songwriters, and I have kept listening to Sam. He is currently completing an epic three-album saga that expands the spiritual and technical depth I first encountered in his music. I played his “Hagia Sophia” on repeat because it uplifted my perspective on womanhood and motherhood during my pandemic wrestlings with my purpose:

I am grateful that my friend Sam continues to make music and helped me determine that I always will.

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