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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, July 28, 2014

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In Music

Joni Clare: Another facsinating Milwaukeean.

Clare strikes a balance in music, spirituality, life


Milwaukee's Joni Clare was waiting for the right time to start a new endeavor. She had been studying a practice called The Alexander Technique for more than a year and wanted to take the certification to become an instructor, but her practical side suggested that she finish her music degree at UWM first.

Her instructor mentioned that, perhaps, there was no "perfect time" and she should move forward sooner than later.

"My instructor said the minute you think of something is the minute it's usually time to do it," says Clare.

Clare thought deeply about this and eventually realized how The Alexander Technique – which teaches people how to stop using unnecessary levels of muscular and mental tension during their everyday activities – was connected to her study of music and that doing the two things at the same time was actually advancing the same goal.

And so she started the certification process, which requires 15 hours a week of study for three years and 6 a.m. start times. She continues to work toward her degree in music, which she plans to finish in May of 2015. Clare is also a bartender and involved with three bands.

Sometimes it feels like a lot, but Clare is committed to everything.

"There is never a right time," she says. "We're not going to be here very long. There's no need to suffocate one thing for another. You can always find a balance."

Finding a balance has been a reoccurring theme in Clare's adult life. Born into a strict, Baptist family in Reedsburg, she describes her upbringing as sheltered and says she always showed signs of her "wild side" but didn't explore it until high school and young adulthood.

"I was a wild, active child," she says. "I started to sing as soon as I could talk."

Clare was born into a musical family, but their musical inclinations were expressed exclusively through their church. Her mother was very involved with the church choir and often taught the spiritual songs to Clare at home. Clare eventually sang in the church as well.

"Church was where I learned my ear for music," she says.

In high school, Clare started working at a supper club called Ishnala in nearby Wisconsin Dells. During this time, she met a lot of people and started to expand her horizons. She also learned a lot about paying attention, living in the moment and doing a good job.

"I started out as a busser, but eventually became a cashier," says Clare. "And there was a 50-year-old cash register and so if you messed up, you had to sort through paper receipts at 2 a.m. to figure out what you did wrong."

Clare spent six summers working at Ishnala and it remains a special place for her today. She met friends on the job with whom she is still close. For Clare, the supper club stands for the "old Dells" as opposed to the "new Dells" with its focus more on water and amusement parks.

"I grew up camping and boating in the Dells," she says. "Ishnala is a supper club with such a warm feeling. And there's the lake, the greenery, the deck, the walking trails. It's a real place. Nobody's trying too hard."

With a few summers working at Ishnala under her belt, Clare decided to move to LaCrosse to attend nursing school. She quickly realized it was not for her, and so she blindly chose Milwaukee as her new home.

Clare moved to Milwaukee without a job and into a punk / rock house named The Church of Murray, which was home to a collection of coming-and-going artists and musicians.

"We call it 'The Church' (for short)," she says. "Mostly because there's a big red cross on the end of the block."

Although she is not religious anymore, spirituality continues to exist in her life through her music and the Alexander Technique. And the ironic fact that she lives in a house informally named The Church isn't lost on her, either.

Clare got a full-time job tending bar at The Pfister Hotel's Lobby Bar where she still works part time today, and started making more music. She focused on her voice and her piano playing. She joined a jam band called Soup – a group that performed both originals and covers.

"I started studying Robert Plant's songs," she says. "I had no idea he was one of the greatest songwriters of all time. I had been living such a sheltered life."

Clare spent a few years exploring her wild side – it started in high school and continued into her early adulthood – but eventually got to the point where she put everything into a context that allowed her to have fun but also stay on track with her goals.

"I believe that you make rules to break them, but you don't need to get destructive," she says. "If you have consistency in your life it's OK to let go sometime. I know where I'm going, sometimes I choose to take a little side step."

Clare says she accepted she had to show up for her job and do it well even if, some nights, she only got one hour of sleep. She became more honest with herself and those around her, which is one of the reasons why she found the Alexander Technique so appealing.

"It's very raw, there are no secrets, you're sharing yourself honestly with other people," she says. "I have also learned that listening is just as important as talking, as singing."

Today, Clare sings and plays piano in a trio called The City Pines – a folk-ish band that is available for gigs and weddings – and she has also recorded and performed with Fable and The World Flat.

Clare has a lot on her plate and she recognizes there's a fine line between being open to whatever's going to happen and making things happen.

"I've learned a lot," she says. "And I have a lot left to do."

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