Leigh Ann Starcevich likes to use her mathematical abilities to solve complex problems that have real world applications, such as estimating the number of elk and deer roaming a patch of New Mexican forestland. As a statistician and a doctoral candidate in the Oregon State University department of statistics, Starcevich has found the department offers a strong program in ecological applications, an area which will allow her to continue working as a consultant on projects like the elk count.
Complicated patterns are found in many places in Starcevich’s life. A lifelong musician, she discovered a new musical obsession 10 years ago when she began listening to Turkish and Middle Eastern music. She first became interested in the genre as a belly dancer, and a local musician, Joseph Pusey, introduced her to the saz, a long-necked string instrument in the lute family, found in Turkey and the Balkans.
“It’s really rocking music,” she said. “It’s really fun. It’s so different from Western music.”
For instance, they use totally different time signatures and microtones, which can be hard to adapt to when used to the rhythm and pace of Western music.
“There are all these crazy things you’re trying to grasp,” she said.
Starcevich grew up singing in her church in Alabama, and later in college she sung in psychedelic and folk bands. But when she returned to Oregon after living in New Mexico, and joined the Middle Eastern band Ala Nar, out of Eugene, she had to learn how to sing in Turkish. It was yet another challenging moment in trying to master music from a culture and tradition far from her own.
Luckily, although no one in Ala Nar is from the region, the group has many Turkish fans who have helped Starcevich with pronunciation.
‘They have been really sweet and supportive,” she said. “I’m singing songs their grandmothers sang.”
Singing in a different language is not without its challenges.
“My Turkish is not very good,” she said with a laugh, explaining that she was mispronouncing a word in one of her songs, accidentally using a foul term for a toilet instead of the word she was trying to say. She got her pronunciation right before they recorded the song for their first CD, with help from some Turkish friends.
Starcevich has traveled to Turkey three times for a total of four months. Each time she returns invigorated and ready to bring new energy to her work as a musician.
“You just get infused with the music,” she said. “It’s everywhere.”
She eventually plans to return to Turkey with her husband Steve and their new daughter, Lola, who is now 15-months old. She’s excited to share some of the magic of the place with her family. But right now, she’s getting back into performing with Ala Nar after a maternity break, and she’s looking forward to a Corvallis performance at Club Platinum on Feb. 6, beginning at 9 p.m.
Starcevich plans to finish her degree by the end of the academic year, and will stay in Corvallis and continue to perform with Ala Nar. To hear a podcast interview with her, see itunes.oregonstate.edu
~ Theresa Hogue