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14 | OLAM | SEPTEMBER 2, 2016

F E AT U R E “G-d gives us talents and wants us to share them, not keep them to ourselves.” BY SARA TRAPPLER SPIELMAN


ianist, licensed mental health counselor and chassidic mother of five children, Sarah Dukes serves as a lesson in following one’s dreams and not letting life’s responsibilities, obstacles – or even one’s own ego get in the way. This past May she released her second album, called Life Sometimes, containing fourteen original compositions performed by world-renowned pianist and composer Yaron Gershovsky, who performed all of Dukes’ pieces on her debut album, Finding Forever. The 33-year-old Dukes is originally from Charlotte, North Carolina and now lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. She works for the mental health clinic Tikvah (under Ohel) and has an undergraduate degree from Stern College for Women and a Masters from Touro College. Dukes started taking piano lessons at age six, and like many youngsters who dabble in after-school arts, she soon found her initial excitement wearing off. She wanted to quit, but her parents wouldn’t allow it, insisting she continue every day for twenty minutes at the piano. Dukes came up with an ingenious plan: Since she didn’t want to practice from her books, she would just play around with the keys to pass the required time. It soon became apparent to her that she could create her own melodies. She began to experiment with harmonies and was delighted by the musical sounds that went beyond music books. Once Dukes discovered that she actually enjoyed playing the piano, it became a fun pastime and she composed her first song at age eight. She called it Elephant in Tights. She got a lot of praise for it; her parents were very encouraging and motivated her to continue. “I did continue piano lessons until the end of high school, but I enjoyed sitting around with the keys and creating my own

pieces much more,” Dukes says. At age thirteen, she went away to Pittsburgh for high school and her parents bought her a piano, which became like her own journal. Dukes explains it was emotional being away from home, but it also helped her musical talents erupt with inspiration. “Any time I was feeling sad, upset, confused or excited I would sit at the piano and play.” The songs served really as a personal outlet, but her friends and classmates encouraged her to play for them. So, with their support, she continued to play for school productions, as well as contributing to an annual JCC Holocaust competition, to which she submitted songs for two years in a row, winning first place and then second. All the piano solos from Dukes’ first album – produced when she was later married with children in 2012 – were composed when she was in high school. Her friends encouraged her to record a CD, but she resisted the idea for a long time. As someone who was trained in music theory, she says she knew her “compositions didn’t

follow the rules.” “I didn’t think it made sense when composed,” Dukes says. “In order to just let my emotions flow I would feel trapped and locked in if I followed rules. So I always felt insecure about my songs and that they were not good enough for the public, even though my friends and family loved it. “My music remained in my immediate social circle and may have remained there forever had I not happened upon a quote by famed lecturer and teacher Leo Buscaglia,” Dukes shares. “A quote which elicited a complete paradigm shift regarding my music and life in general: ‘Your talent is G-d’s gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to G-d.’” At a certain point, Dukes realized people are not attracted to perfection. “We think we have to look perfect or have perfect products in order to be accepted or valued, so I fell into that trap because I felt it was not good enough for the world, but then I realized people want genuinity or sincerity.” Her music came from the heart and she

believes people were attracted to that. “Like the Torah teaches us, what comes from the heart enters the heart,” Dukes says. “I had to put my ego aside and trust others, even though I felt insecure about it. G-d gives us talents and wants us to share them, not keep them to ourselves.” Once she had what she refers to as “an epiphany,” she started compiling her songs for a CD. As a practicing licensed Mental Health Counselor, Dukes had her career path set. Compositions are her “release and hobby,” which as a busy mother takes motivation. She has found a way to merge the two by guiding her therapy clients to surround themselves with positivity as a way to empower them to believe in themselves, have more confidence, find their unique talents and abilities and encourage them to share it with others. “Every one of us is unique and has characteristics that we can offer the world. Every one of us can make a difference,” Dukes stresses. Since the release of her first album four years ago, she has released a few singles that are available on Amazon and iTunes, including One: Orchestrated Version, which she composed in commemoration of the Leiby Kletzky tragedy in 2011. Inspired by the entire Jewish community uniting for one boy that most had never met, Dukes had it orchestrated by Ben Goldberg the following year. She released the piano version on her newest solo album, Life Sometimes, which mirrors life’s experiences: the ups and downs, highs and lows, and the comforting realization that in the end everything is carefully guided by G-d. These later compositions, Dukes says, were based on experiences in her adult life and are therefore more complex than the first album, which “has more of a sense of purity.” Another one of Dukes’ single songs,

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