Artist Spotlight: Tema Siegel

Photo by Rebecca Levy

By Chloe Frantzis
Managing Editor of Arts

Everyone loves music, but not many students at South are more passionate and dedicated than senior Tema Siegel.  Not only does she play saxophone in South’s Jazz Ensemble, but she is also a central member of Newtones– and that’s not even the end of her accomplishments. At heart Siegel loves theatre and singing her own songs more than anything else.

“So, I guess my life in music is divided up, maybe even four ways,” Siegel said, referring to all the activities she participates in. “I’m doing musical theatre stuff, Newtones, jazz band, and then I write my own music.” Even though she is very talented on the saxophone, her music career is “practically all singing– that’s my favorite thing to do.”

Siegel has loved music ever since she was born, and her family raised her listening to a lot of local singer-songwriters, which is why so much of Siegel’s lyrics are more narrative-based and involve storytelling than just elaborating on a person or thing. Thus, from an early age, Siegel knew she wanted to be a performer.

“I write my own music, [and] I honestly started writing in the second grade, but what I wrote was crap, and I didn’t know piano and I didn’t have any way to accompany myself so it was really just lyrics with a melody, and then I gave up on that because I just thought I wasn’t really good at it,” Siegel said.

But she just couldn’t stay away. From then on, she taught herself how to play piano, improved her ear on alto saxophone, and learned how blend with others in Newtones.

“I started playing piano by looking up chords to songs I like,” Siegel said, “so when I started to write my own stuff, I already had a general knowledge of simple chords.” But really, Siegel writes most her music from ear. “I don’t think to myself, ‘okay, now I’m going to play a G and then a C, and then I’m going to do a 2,5,1.’ I just hear a progression in my head and I figure it out on the piano.”

Although Siegel postponed her singer-songwriter career for a few years, she started writing her own music again last year, and this is what she would consider her “big wave of writing progress.” One of her first finished songs, “Betteris about one of Siegel’s friends when she was going through anxiety and depression.

“That was just at a time when her [Siegel’s friend] life was really stressful, so I took on that weight and was feeling really overwhelmed,” Siegel said. “I guess I just vented through music– and that’s when I realized ‘Oh, this is how you write songs.’” Siegel managed to take an emotional situation and deal with it through the beauty of music.

“I take the really big emotions I’m feeling and just kind of rant while playing piano, and then make it formulated and structured, rather than just trying to take a pretty object and write about it– because I think that’s what I did [in second grade],” Siegel said. “A lot of my music is about being frustrated or sad– it’s a lot harder for me to write songs about things things that make me happy because I’m afraid they’ll sound cheesey.”

Although Siegel’s genre of music is technically pop, she “hates to admit it” because it doesn’t sum up her style. It’s more pop “with a lot of folk singer/songwriter and jazz influence.” Although Siegel got her folk background from her childhood and parents, her participation at South as a saxophone player lead to her jazzy side in the songs.

“Musically, Newton South has definitely helped me the most jazz-wise,” Siegel said. “I’ve gotten a feel of how to play with other people, and how to collaborate, and just listen and watch others and then be inspired by what they are doing. I’ve been exposed to a lot of jazz artists and big band music in general, so when I write my music, I don’t really know about writing jazzy chords on piano, but I generally will swing my music instead of playing it straight and use jazzy intonation and rhythms and playfulness.”

But Jazz Ensemble isn’t the only place at South Siegel draws inspiration from. Newtones, even though it is not school-affiliated, has helped Siegel learn to arrange and construct multiple pieces of music.

“You can have different voice parts singing the same chord and the same notes, which will sound like crap– but then people singing different notes with the same chord and it will sound great.”

Newtones has taught Siegel to think about music as a whole. For the concerts, “we need to think about the set as a whole”– all the songs need to be different but cohesive. It’s less about the individual, and more on the big picture.

Even though Siegel will graduate this spring, she still is planning to continue along a musical path.

“My plans [for the future] are pretty loose, but I’m okay with that,” Siegel said. She has a lot of different aspects of the musical world that she’s drawn to, but as of now, she is applying to music programs for college, such as Berklee in Boston.

Although Siegel is aiming for Broadway, she understands that once she is completely submerged in that world, she might come to realize its not for her. If that is the case, she intends to head off on a more singer/songwriter or jazz vocalist performing-with-a-band path.

“I know I want to do music,” Siegel said. “I don’t know what else I would do with my life if I didn’t have it.”

Check out Siegel running through her audition piece with junior Danny Silverstein on piano.