Life has taken some interesting and unexpected turns for Philadelphia-based Singer-Songwriter, Maggie Pope.
Like most people, she had always had a response to the question: “so… what do you do?”. The answers slowly shifted over time to accommodate the various passions that occupied the largest spaces of her life: Athlete. Biologist. Educator. Mother.
“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in” - Leonard Cohen
Music was there. A steady undercurrent that floated in and out of her consciousness. It was the involuntary and persistent humming of melodies that totaled a second grade teacher’s efforts to keep her apparent intolerance of humming in check.
It was all the blinks and upward gazes that guarded the tears and concealed the embarrassment of being emotionally overwhelmed by the sound of a room full of strings during high school orchestra rehearsal.
It was a secret affair with the practice rooms that housed the pianos at her university - rooms meant for conservatory students but covertly serving to ground a wayward musical soul in the hour between organic chemistry class and swim practice.
The music… the light… it had to find the cracks. That available space in the life of a biology major and dual-sport Division I athlete with All-American honors and a brief stint on the US Women’s National Water Polo team under her belt and occupying her world. The space through her work as a marine biologist and then environmental educator, where she worked passionately to share a deep love and respect of a natural world that she cared so very deeply about.
The space in motherhood.
“Motherhood hit like a freight train”, she says. “I once read something that likened motherhood to being on a little boat adrift in the sea. Your baby is the captain and you are just along for the ride, bobbing up and down along with the swells and dips in the ocean. The sleepy smiles that threaten to melt you, and the sleepless nights that threaten to break you.”
She would also soon experience a shift in her personal world as a profound and significant loss hit the extended family. Grief, isolation, and that heavy weight of loss mingled strangely with the joy and comfort that came with the birth of her fourth child. All the cracks this time.
And so the music crept in.
Nap-time practice and some dabbling into the world of songwriting eventually led her to a local open mic. “I awkwardly stumbled through quiet, fingerpicked renditions of Dolly Parton’s Jolene, and one of my favorite Townes Van Zandt tunes, If I Needed You. “ she says. “My now very dear friend, Adam Monaco, was the host at the open mic that night. I still remember his words when I finished playing - he looked at me, paused, and said... you are a star”.
“He still thinks that to this day, despite my best efforts to convince him otherwise.” she says with a laugh.
It’s a beautiful thing in life to have such a cheerleader. And Maggie Pope is lucky to have many.
Eventually, she and Adam together founded the folk band, Under the Oak, and teamed up with their friend, John Fisher at Winding Way Records, signing to his label… cheerleaders. They played festivals and coffeeshops, recorded a studio album, and recruited Chris Peace and Peter Oswald to join the band, making it a quartet.
And then on January 25th, 2019, Maggie Pope released a 5-song collection of organic, home-recorded folk tunes on the Winding Way Records label… it was a humble endeavor that started on a quiet night in June of the previous year, when she recorded the songs within the walls of a modest bedroom closet, so as not to wake her children who slept just down the hall. The tracks eventually made their way into the hands of Shani Gandhi, Grammy-winning producer and engineer, who mixed the EP and polished up the songs before release.
This debut solo offering, June Tapes, resonated authentically with listeners, many of whom noted a nostalgic quality to her vocals that seemed to hold a sensitivity and texture harkening back to voices the likes of Eva Cassidy or Joan Baez.
The cracks are all bigger now and perhaps not even cracks at all anymore, but permanent fixtures that nourish a steady flow of creativity and purpose. She has emerged a respected songwriter; blending poetic lyrics with a performance that brims with introspection and vulnerability - songs that invite the listener to embrace all the sundry of emotions that clothe the human spirit.
“It’s poignant. It’s an invitation to reflect. It’s nostalgia for a place you’ve never been. A whisper of a memory you wish you hadn’t forgotten.”
- Award-winning Songwriter, Eryn Michel, on Maggie Pope’s new single, The Bird Painter.
2024 will bring a flood of fresh releases from Maggie Pope. Some lushly produced, exploring more complex arrangements and collaborations with other artists, and some with a nod back to the organic balladry of June Tapes; the simple, sparse acoustic sounds that mark the musical place from which she came.
Her latest singles, Northern Girl (produced by Nicholas Gunty of Frances Luke Accord), Radio Song (produced by Adam Monaco and featuring musical contributions from Cate Monaco and Nicholas Gunty), and The Bird Painter, (produced by Steve Varney, frontman of Kid Reverie, and banjoist/guitarist for Gregory Alan Isakov), can be heard streaming across all platforms. Listen on Spotify here.
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