People of Passion and Purpose
Laura Curtis '13
Laura Curtis '13 sings of heartbreak, pride in new album, "Loving a Ghost"
When something happens in her life, Laura Curtis ’13 reaches for her guitar.
She sings about heartbreak, pride and the need to prove herself, about experiences real and imagined, personal and profound.
For this Willamette student, song writing is both a creative outlet and an emotional release.
“I write about things everyone goes through, but not everyone writes about,” she says. “When people hear my songs, they make them into their own stories. Music is about communication between people.”
Curtis recorded 12 songs on her new album, “Loving a Ghost,” produced by Brad Tisdel, Sisters singer/songwriter and executive director of the Sisters Folk Festival. Released earlier this year, Curtis’ album is as personal as a diary and as limitless as her imagination, with lyrics that give insight into a folk musician who’s made a new life for herself at Willamette University.
“I thought I’d come here for one year, then I’d transfer,” Curtis says. “But once I got here, I ended up loving it. My classes were engaging and eye opening. They were a great challenge, and I enjoyed rising to the occasion.”
A native of Sisters, Curtis began writing songs as a sophomore in high school. Her first lyrics weren’t eloquent, Curtis says, but they affirmed she was on the right path.
“It’s definitely a big part of my identity,” she says about her music. “It’s not just a hobby. It’s not just something I do for fun. It’s really shaped me.”
Curtis has been influenced by many sources, from the Sisters Folk Festival to musician Patty Griffin. Even at Willamette, Curtis says her writing has improved because of the courses she’s taken.
“I’ve noticed a new maturity in the way I write my lyrics,” she says.
Bill Duvall, E. Jerry Whipple professor of history, has listened to Curtis’ music and says he’s impressed by her talent.
“It’s mature beyond her age, dealing with issues of love and hurt that are very intense and passionate,” he says, adding he’s confident she’ll reach whatever goals she sets for herself. “She will be successful as a human being, just by the very nature of the person she is. Whatever she touches will come out just right.”
David Gutterman, associate professor of the Politics Department, agrees, saying Curtis quietly pursues her lofty ambitions with remarkable determination.
“There are songs on this album that are harrowing," he says, adding that her voice and guitar complement one another beautifully. "I am eagerly looking forward to hearing her next album.”
Tisdel, too, shares this sentiment. He’s known Curtis for about eight years, and during that time, he says she has evolved into a thoughtful and kind person with an amazing gift.
“Her poetry and delivery is beautiful,” he says. “It has an intensity that asks the listener to pay attention.”
While music is a big part of her life, it has taken a back seat to her studies. A politics major, Curtis devotes her time to giving campus tours, working as director of the Collegiate Readership Program through the Associated Students of Willamette University and serving as a leader during Opening Days – a summer orientation program offered to new students.
“When I was a freshman, I was so scared. I needed Opening Days to become acclimated here,” Curtis says. “It’s a really valuable program.”
Curtis is maintaining a 3.8 grade point average and is a Merit Scholar. She recently received the Mary Stewart Rogers Scholarship, which is awarded to juniors who demonstrate dedication, compassion and self-discipline. She has also participated in the Liberal Arts Research Collaborative, a competitive research project guided by faculty advisors each summer.
Still, what Curtis has accomplished pales in comparison to what she has planned. She is studying in Ireland next semester. She wants to record another album, and she’s committed to continuing her music career in Austin, Texas after she graduates. Law school, she says, may also be on the horizon.
“No matter where I end up, I know that both my musical experiences and the academic foundation I have built at Willamette will be what gives me the ability to succeed,” she says. “Whether I end up going into politics, pursuing a career in music or doing something completely different, music will always be a part of my life.”