A seasoned psychotherapist listens very quietly to words said in utmost privacy. A professional musician rouses crowds to kick up their heels. Blair Kilpatrick does both. Having earned a Ph.D in psychology, Ohio-born Kilpatrick was quite content with her career as a therapist when, during what she calls "a fateful birthday trip to New Orleans ... I developed an unexpected passion for the Cajun accordion." At midlife, she began learning to play the instrument and immersed herself in the Bay Area's Creole-Cajun music community. The late master accordionist Danny Poullard became a mentor and friend. With her fiddler-husband Steve Tabak, Kilpatrick started a band, Sauce Piquante. She reflects on her concurrent and apparently disparate careers in her new book, Accordion Dreams: A Journey into Cajun and Creole Music.
"On the face of it, the two roles do seem strikingly different," says the author, who will read and perform at Mrs. Dalloway's (2904 College Ave., Berkeley) on March 27. "For me, the private/public dimension is the biggest contrast." But she finds similarities, too: "Many of the things that drew me to psychology as a profession later drew me to Louisiana French music and the culture surrounding it. I like to listen to people's stories. I've always been fascinated by cultural differences and moved by people's struggles to overcome adversity."
Those struggles include midlife crises, of course. "It's never too late to try something new," Kilpatrick says. "I took up music at forty. After that, the Cajun accordion led me back to writing, an early love. ... I believe we all have the ability — the need — to give voice to the unexpressed parts of ourselves, especially at midlife." She points out that Karl Jung "wrote about the 'second half of life' as a particularly fruitful time. ... It can be an unsettling time of transition, but also a time for growth and adventure. Believe me, at 25 I would have laughed at anyone who suggested I would end up playing the accordion and singing on stage — and loving each moment of it."
While she knows "too many wonderful songs to have a single favorite, I particularly like old-time Creole music. ... It's a distinctive sound, very similar to Cajun music, but a little more syncopated and raw-sounding. And I love the way my husband's fiddle sounds on those tunes — it seems to slide around and moan." Emotions drive both music and psychology, Kilpatrick asserts, so "in the broadest sense, my goals as a performing musician have some similarities to my goals as a therapist. I try to educate people — and to touch them at an emotional level. I hope they come away feeling better, even uplifted. Music is a transcendent experience, in the same way good psychotherapy should be." 7:30 p.m. MrsDalloways.com