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Sister act from Lawrence to explore music’s power with adults, autistic children

Kirsten (left) and Kari Paludan will perform Jan. 27 and 28 at the Lied Center in Lawrence.
Kirsten (left) and Kari Paludan will perform Jan. 27 and 28 at the Lied Center in Lawrence.

Kirsten Paludan and her sister Kari Paludan have been performing together since they were children.

When Kirsten was 7 and Kari was 10, the two wrote their first song, “Icy Rain,” a “tender ballad about lost love,” Kirsten Paludan said. They also danced to ABBA in the living room.

Friday night, the sisters will take the stage at the Lied Center in Lawrence to present “The Music of the Mind,” a revue that explores how the mind is affected by music. And twice on Saturday, they will conduct a music program for children with autism. This week they answered questions about their event and about being a sister act.

Q: Talk about the show. What inspired it and what can the audience expect?

Kirsten: A favorite idea we focused on while developing “Music of the Mind” is that the universe is inside our minds, continually expanding and contracting with new sparks and connections. We were also inspired by the concept that human evolution is inextricably linked to creativity and imagination and that we use our imaginative brains (or the universe inside our minds) to find solutions to complex problems. In short, it is how we survive and evolve.

Additionally, we were intrigued by the transformative power of music and its positive effects on the brain, I suppose a natural extension of the teaching and outreach that we’ve both been doing individually for the past several years.

In 2015 I opened my own studio, teaching voice, guitar/piano for beginners, and songwriting, and Kari has been active in the Washington, D.C.-area school system teaching workshops and performing with Washington Performing Arts and Music for Autism.

The show is a sort of mirror of our creative process and the way we imagine an idea comes into being from the first spark to the final outcome and beyond.

The audience can expect a variety of music — classical, jazz, pop and more — performed by two sisters who grew up singing together, backed by a top-notch band and a kids chorus for several numbers. Laughter, learning and audience participation are also on the program, so people should be prepared to channel their own inner-musician/artist.

We really hope people come away from the experience with a sense of their own power and creativity, feeling connected to their community and to the world and ready to use their powers for good. Simple, really.

Q: How were the songs selected and can you reveal a few of them?

Kirsten: We talked about choosing songs that we loved to sing, that we have a strong personal connection to or that helped to define who we are as artists.

Two of my original songs are included: “Fireflies,” from my album “Up All Night,” a song about going driving on summer nights with my dad and nighttime drives when my sister and I were growing up in Lawrence; and a song I wrote several years ago called “Pass It On,” joined by an amazing young ladies chorus featuring six of my private voice and guitar students.

Also, several jazz standards, including “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” plus a very cool duet and mashup of the Gershwin tune “Someone to Watch Over Me” and the Billie Holiday classic “God Bless the Child.”

Kari, an opera and cabaret singer, will be performing several classical pieces, including Samuel Barber’s “Sure on this Shining Night.”

Q: Who is in the band?

Kirsten: On piano, the fabulous Ellen Sommer. She has been a part of several of our past shows, and it’s great to be working with her again on this project. The multitalented Katie Benyo will be adding violin, mandolin and ukulele. I love sharing the stage with her, such a generous and sensitive performer. And on electric guitar, Michael Stephenson, a fantastic Lawrence jazz musician I’ve known for a while, who we just found out is actually a former student of Ellen’s.

Also joining us that night, our mentor and dear family friend, director/actor Jack Wright, former head of the KU theater department, will be our announcer/“voice of God”/sidekick.

Q: How is performing with your sister different from performing with other singers/musicians?

Kirsten: I believe our first “show” was a summer-time extravaganza in the early ’80s called “The Entertainment Show,” produced by my mom with the garage as our stage. We actually had about 25 people in the audience and charged admission. In our teens we briefly sang in a cover band together and did several Summer Youth Theater shows at the Lawrence Arts Center.

Professionally, we did our first gig together as the Paludan Sisters in 2005 in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

Performing with a sibling can be the most wonderful thing and also at times challenging. Kari and I both have a flair for the dramatic, so when we disagree, we tend to be quite energetic about it. That being said, it can also be more effortless because I’m pretty certain we share a brain or at least an unspoken language/connection that makes it easy to feed off each other and anticipate the other’s needs onstage.

Q: Explain the program for children on the autism spectrum.

Kari: Our Saturday shows … will allow children to respond to the music, space and surroundings however they need. They can move, make sound and interact with us — even touch us or hold our hands. There will be a coloring table for the children in the lobby outside the theater, and they’ll be encouraged to draw whatever they feel or see inside their minds.

We’ll be there to introduce ourselves and sing a few preshow songs before we invite them into the theater. We’ll ask them to bring the paper they’ve been coloring on into the space and tape it to the wall to create the backdrop for our performance. They’ll be guided to conduct one song and play body percussion on another.

There will also be an adjacent “safe space” for children who may need time away from the group.

These performances, in partnership with Music for Autism, are an honor to do and have produced some incredibly rewarding and profound experiences.

This weekend

The Paludan Sisters will perform “The Music of the Mind” Friday night at the Lied Center, 1600 Stewart Drive, Lawrence. Show time is 7:30 p.m. $25 for adults, $14 for students/children.

At 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday, the Paludan Sisters will present a free program at the Lied Center for children on the autism spectrum. For more information, visit lied.ku.edu.

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