As a kid I would sit at school dances and play checkers. I was a bookworm, a nerd, as we say in the States. I loved sci-fi and fantasy and, yes, I watched Star Trek and learned how to code way before it was ‘cool’. First, I wanted to be an animator for Disney and then a physicist. At school, I concentrated on science and maths and technology and it wasn’t until I went to a camp for choral music that I realised that they were not for me. I spent five years at Oberlin Conservatory of Music in northern Ohio learning how to read and sing classical music, and became quite addicted to opera. My earliest memory of singing is with my family. My father was a singer and I sang a lot with him and my sister; his whole side is musical. My mother is very much a music connoisseur and exposed us to lots of different music, from Queen to Andre Segovia. My ‘work life’ balance isn’t great. I work too much and I’m trying to slow it down a little. When I’m not working I’m with my kids. I do feel the strain, for sure. I’m not great at preparing for things far in advance, but I sure can light the fire when the deadline is coming up. When I’m not with my kids, I do nothing but think about music and history and my mission... The best advice I ever received is to do nothing for money, power, or prestige - this way lies madness. My mother told me that years ago — basically, do what is right and what is right for you, and the rest will follow. The trait I admire in other people is honesty, with a big dose of kindness. Honesty without kindness is brutal. I think my main fault is fear – to be afraid of what someone will say, or think …I’m working on it. We are all works in progress. My idea of happiness is doing what I’m doing with a bit more free time. I’d love to learn to make better yeast bread, or how to weave. But for the most part, I’m happy — I’m doing what I love and have wonderful children and relationships. My biggest challenge in life so far has been stepping into my fullest self. It’s a very scary thing. But we were all given gifts, every one of us, and the best thing we can do is to celebrate them as things we were given, and take responsibility for them, and not think it’s all about us. I’m a lark for sure. My brain shuts down in the evening - I can play and sing but doing any kind of creative function or larger scale thinking is tough for me. My idea of misery is doing what you hate, day in, day out. Living for 5 o’clock. Or 12 or for the end of the tour, or whatever it is. This is the only life we have – we have to make it count as much as we can. Enduring something for a short amount of time is part of the gig, but years of doing something you hate just to make the money or make the parents happy or whatever is just so sad to me. I’ve done my share of it and I just won’t anymore. If you love serving coffee, serve coffee — doesn’t matter what it is long as you can keep body and soul together and it makes you happy, and adds to the good in the world. If money wasn’t an issue I’d travel…. to Morocco, Sicily, back to the Hebrides... Brazil. I would just go and eat and listen to music and watch people and then go to the next place, rinse and repeat. It’s funny to think I would travel, when I travel for a living — but I rarely see much of the places I go. It’s the back of the venue and the bus or the plane, and when I have a day off on tour I’m usually so tired, I just sleep. The thing I find most irritating about other people is when they lie to themselves and then make the people around them miserable because of it.A little talent with a lot of ambition will usually go farther than a little ambition but a lot of talent. If I could be reborn as someone else for a day I’d be a craftsperson – an illuminated parchment monk, or goldsmith, or Chinese calligraphist — whose only responsibility is making visual art. So far life has taught me that everything changes, yet nothing is new.
Rhiannon Giddens will perform live in ■ concert on Sunday, October 28 at the Hawk’s Well Theatre, Sligo with special guests Liz Carroll and Séan Óg Graham (Beoga). Ticket, €28, are on sale from www.sligolive.ie and from the Hawk’s Well Theatre, Sligo (071 916 1518) or in person