By Ginny Masullo
Donna Stjerna, known around the country as part of the musical duo Still on the Hill, will perform as a solo act this month. Singing her original songs, she will also debut as a guitarist.
As her partner, Kelly Mullhollan says, Stjerna is a “song making machine,” often writing a song a day. Such a driving spirit needs the right tool for the job. The guitar is that implement. Stjerna, one of the best fiddle players around, says that she can’t use the violin to help her write because it is already a voice. She uses other instruments like the banjo and the dulcimer to also aid her as she coaxes the individual voices of the songs into being.
Stjerna calls her songs “unusual in their musical make-up.” Stjerna grew up playing and performing music with her father, who held notes or phrases as long as he wanted. Consequently that became normal for her. This affects her songwriting, creating quirky, short measures, but consistent, quirky, short measures. Like Woody Guthrie, she does not follow any rules, rather trusting the song to go where it needs to go. The result is that Stjerna’s songs have a tenor that is all their own.
As a musician who is also highly visually oriented, Stjerna often does not feel the song is complete until she creates a visual accompaniment. She does this with collage. Using a variety of textures and materials, Stjerna creates provocative art for the soul.
At her Jan. 24 show, her collage pieces will accompany her performance and will then be auctioned. Proceeds will benefit the newly formed Psychiatric Research Institute-Northwest which is collaboration of area hospitals, Care Foundation, Ozark Guidance Center and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences to fill our community’s need for in-patient and out-patient mental health services. Proceeds will also will also go toward helping Stjerna’s nephew, who is receiving mental health treatment.
Stjerna’s songs blend the personal with the political and through her music and art, she kindles a more acute awareness in her listeners about this old blue planet. Not only is Stjerna a song-making machine, she also is a power plant. Those exposed to her spirit cannot help but find their energy lifted.