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Natural Awakenings Tucson

Amber Norgaard: Tucson’s Folk-Rock Goddess

Apr 30, 2015 10:09PM ● By Suzie Agrillo

Amber Norgaard is a singer/songwriter who dreams, inspires and perseveres. She grew up on a farm in Iowa, and until 2004, she was employed as a community health nurse. As heavenly as her mellifluous melodies are, she is still a down-to-Earth gal who perceives music as an effective way to communicate. “Music transcends language and cultural barriers, relaying messages, evoking emotions and potentially facilitating healing on a profound level,” she says.

Creating her legacy, Norgaard uses her own life experiences to delve into compelling ballad territory, causing us to eagerly anticipate her next adventure. “The last few years have been about integrating all I am into my music,” she says. She plays piano as well as guitar and is a self-professed adult contemporary rock musician. Norgaard also possesses an impressive vocal range, easily crossing the boundaries of many musical categories. From pop to honky-tonk and beyond, she can even win the crowd over with a cacophonous, hard rock, garage band grunge song, like “Together We Rise”—a song she wrote for a film about the poisoning of eagles.

Norgaard’s music has garnered a large following of loyal fans who appreciate her genuineness and soulful melodies. A tireless performer, she tours nationally, and her persistence has landed her gigs as an opening act for music icons, including Judy Collins, Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins. However, songstress Norgaard is driven more by a strong desire to make the world a better place than for the sake of her ego. “I came here with this gift of music, and I want to use it to heal humanity,” she altruistically relates.

When Norgaard was a nursing student, she would sneak into the arts building to play the piano to relieve stress. Prior to launching her music career, she worked as a registered nurse in southwestern Alaska for six years. During this time, she lived 400 miles off the road system and was immersed within the indigenous population. It was here that she learned to use music as a source of connection to transcend language and cultural barriers. “What feeds my soul is to see the world and to help people,” she confides.

Norgaard now works with a vocal coach, Anna Schoff, whom Norgaard regards as a life coach. Norgaard sings Schoff’s praises: “She helped me understand song writing, and how I can best translate music to open hearts.” With her coach’s assistance and support, Norgaard feels her music improves every year.

When she’s not singing or writing, Norgaard enjoys growing plants, playing with her dog and hiking. In character with her nurturing persona, she says she loves animals and nature, and “could not live without” her hummingbird feeder.

Many of Norgaard’s songs are poignant and evocative. The human connection gives her inspiration. The title track song on Norgaard’s 2010 album, “Long Way Home,” is about her grandmother struggling with pancreatic cancer. She explains, “I was back in Iowa to be with her. It was my grandparents’ 59th wedding anniversary, and as I was leaving the house, Grandpa stopped me at the door and said, ‘Make sure you have fun, because 59 years goes quickly, and always take the long way home.’” These sage words from her grandfather will forever constitute an integral part of Norgaard’s repertoire.

The song “Pointless” is also a standout track on the 2010 album, with soothing, resonant cellos heard in the background. The refrain, “The truth that lies within your eyes is so much louder than your words,” channels every heartbroken woman’s angst. Norgaard’s song “Overtaken” is a more upbeat, country style, romantic ditty with a harmonious guitar and a soulful tenor. 

A nurse at heart, Norgaard appreciates life and how precious it is.  In addition to writing music for film and charities, she speaks on the topic of music as a healing art and instrument for social change at colleges and various organizations.

Norgaard has garnered numerous accolades during her career. In 2007, she was the runner-up in the California-based Winery Music Awards. That year, she was also voted “Tucson’s Up & Coming Artist of the Year”. Since then, she has been recognized in several songwriting competitions. She was a runner-up in the 2011 Tucson Area Music Awards Folk Performance Award category and a finalist in the 2012 Tucson Folk Festival Songwriting Competition. 

She has released four full-length albums, and her fifth album, “Possibility,” will be released in August. She explains, “The album comes from a stance of possibility versus limitation. My mission is to remind humanity of the grace that always prevails. Any human story has struggles.  I am always trying to find the resurrection out of the struggle—the Phoenix rising from the ashes.”

Norgaard is using her music as a voice for various nonprofits by writing songs for their organizations. She has carved out a niche for customizing the songs to the message the charity wants to convey. In addition to the Tucson Wildlife Center, she has composed songs for Carondelet Hospice, the Equine Voices Rescue and Sanctuary and the Donor Network of Arizona. She says, “My passion is using music as a healing art to foster compassion, spirituality, and promote positive social change.” In reality, she already has.

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Suzie Agrillo is a freelance writer in Tucson and a frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings Magazine. She focuses her writing on the arts, inspirational people and the human connection.