- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 23, 2003

“Music can be healing,” says Grace Griffith from her Accokeek home. “When I was first toying with the idea of performing, in high school, I was turned off by people who used music and performing arts as a way to seek attention. I felt that these things are best seen as gifts, shared freely with people.”

In 1998 Miss Griffith was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. It led her to re-address her musical career and find its purpose, knowing that she has to “seize the day.”

“What drives me is not fame and fortune,” Miss Griffith says. “Yet I have been given a keen sense of carpe diem, of not holding back, not being inhibited, wanting to express my music more than ever before.”

Miss Griffith’s appearance on Saturday at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Silver Spring, under the auspices of the Institute of Musical Traditions, will bring out a fan base that may know her best for her traditional Celtic and folk songs.

On the edge of garnering national attention for her voice that, while evocative of folk legend Judy Collins, is singularly sonorous in its warmth and clarity, Miss Griffith should be as well known for her eclectic sense of musical style as clearly portrayed in the titles from her third album, “Sands of Time” (Blix Records).

The singer’s voice gently rivets the listener’s attention to every sound, every note, every word of the album’s 11 songs that ride emotions from elation to reflection. They range from the classic show tune “Almost Like Being In Love” (from Lerner and Loewe’s “Brigadoon,” 1947) to the rockabilly “‘Til They Discovered Music” (Lisa Aschmann and Grant Livingston, 2001). The haunting folk song “Moment of Forever” (Kris Kristofferson and Danny Timms, 1995) quietly brings one to tears as Miss Griffith’s gentle voice sings, “I’m so glad that I was close to you for a moment of forever.”

Parkinson’s disease is a nervous system disorder that has recently attracted new attention through the foundation set up by and named for the actor Michael J. Fox, who disclosed in 1998 that he had been diagnosed with it.

Miss Griffith will never be defined by Parkinson’s, but it is changing Miss Griffith’s focus in life.

This Saturday’s performance is a coming-out of sorts for the artist; it will be her first post-diagnosis appearance. Referring to Parkinson’s disease as a designer disease — since it affects each individual differently — Miss Griffith explains that her form of the disorder leaves her with a lack of movement and balance, in contrast to Mr. Fox’s, which causes an excess of movement.

She is apprehensive that her off-kilter appearance can easily be mistaken as the influence of drugs or drink, as recently happened when she was detained trying to cross the German border.

She has found herself leaving her work as a physical therapist and putting most of her energy into her music, performing and learning to live with a disease that also affects her brother.

“As a physical therapist I have worked with people going through an illness or injury that changed them and the way the are seen by people who view the disabled as ‘them,’ instead of ‘us,’ ” says Miss Griffith.

“Now I can practice what I preached and be honest about myself and what I am, which is not a disease, but a person and a performer. My hope is that the audience, and society, can regard me as a complete human being, even if I might move or look funny.”

Miss Griffith, who won the the Washington Area Music Association (Wammie) award as “Best Female Vocalist” for five years running (1992-1996) in a range of categories encompassing the Celtic/Irish, folk-traditional, and New Age genres, will not only have friends and fans in the audience, but will also be joined on stage by some acclaimed performer friends: guitar virtuoso Zan McLeod, a resident of Washington and founder of the Irish-American group Touchstone; pianist and arranger Lenny Williams; children’s artist Marcy Marxer; vocalist Carey Creed and bassist Chris Biondo, who also played on the “Sands of Time” album, along with many others. Folk singer Cathy Fink will emcee the show.

“The show will be a celebration of the life and the music of ‘Sands of Time,’ ” Miss Griffith says. “And the emphasis will be on celebration. There will be a variety of musical styles and lush instrumentation. Music is nothing less than a garden, and this evening will be filled with not only roses, but many blooms of color.”

• • •

Phoebe Snow brings her own eclectic musical style to the Birchmere on Tuesday. Keeping it hard to pigeonhole her into one genre, the 51-year-old native of New York City sings jazz, pop, rock, soul and gospel. Her 1974 self-titled debut album, “Phoebe Snow” (Shelter Records, 1974), released her Top 5 hit, “Poetry Man” while her sophomore release, “Second Childhood” went gold.

Dedicating her life to children and family, Miss Snow stepped away from performing during the 1980s, not returning until 1989 with the release of “Something Real.” That album included the Top 20 hit “If I Can Just Get Through The Night.”

Her albums from the 1970s and ‘80s included “It Looks Like Snow” (1976), “Never Letting Go” (1977), “Against the Grain” (1978), “Rock Away” (1980) and the compilation “The Best of Phoebe Snow” (1981), followed nearly 10 years later with an album of blues song covers, “I Can’t Complain” (1998).

Miss Snow’s Birchmere appearance is in support of her 11th album (not counting four compilation releases), “Natural Wonder.” Her first original album in 14 years, it’s filled with guitar riffs and Miss Snow’s sparkling clear vocals.

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