The Pacific Northwest is a landscape that calls people to create. Whether the artist draws from the quiet of the forests or the wind howling along the coastline, inspiration—like greenery—is plentiful. It is this awe and abundance that permeates singer-songwriter Jessa Campbell’s performance of her song “Great Grey Owl.”
“Great Grey Owl” is the title track off Campbell’s newly released EP, and it firmly establishes her identity as a self-proclaimed “bioregional storyteller” who draws her muse from the characteristics of the natural environment. It’s no wonder, then, that this song sprouted from her time at the Camp Singing Wind community, a space described on its Facebook page as dedicated to “resilient living and permaculture.”
“On a walk in the woods behind the little A-frame cabin I was living in," Campbell explains, "I spotted this majestic bird. We took each other in for what felt like ages, though it likely was no more than a few minutes. I had a thought that this being was the Holy Spirit of the land. It felt regal, powerful and good. I later wrote 'Great Grey Owl' about the experiences I had while living on this particular piece of land throughout the seasons.”
She begins the performance with an isolated vocal that echoes like wind and has a strength and certainty that feels rooted in the “divine feminine” that influences all of Campbell’s work. The deep tones of the piano create a full, dark canopy upon which Campbell and her sister, Alexa, place their rich, chorale-inspired vocals that Campbell aptly refers to as “sister harmonies.”
The chorus-like nature of their harmonies is no accident. Just as she desires a connection to nature, Campbell also craves musical experience and exploration. After writing “Great Grey Owl,” Campbell shares that she came upon “the musical compositions of 12th-century mystic Hildegard von Bingen [and] got chills when realizing that her song honoring the Holy Spirit, ‘O Virtus Sapientiae (O Wisdom),’ wove itself perfectly into the piece.”
The manner in which Campbell fuses the compositions of Hildegard von Bingen into her own music earned her a spot in Resonate Choral Arts' Homemade Jams series. The series takes entries from local singer-songwriters to a panel of judges, who then choose winners’ work to be reimagined by local composers. Arranged by Kristin Gordon George, “Great Grey Owl” will be given an entirely different life when performed by the all-female choir for their concerts this December—which you can catch at Artichoke Music on Saturday, December 2 or Curious Comedy Theater on Saturday, December 9.
Campbell's unique blend of contemporary folk-pop and 12th-century music is refreshing to say the least. Whether it be in The Rye Room or backed by a full choir, she is an individual whose artistry, imagination and capacity for collaboration makes her undeniable.