Friday, November 14, 2003
She isn't in Kansas anymore.
She is now somewhere across the Atlantic.
That somewhere is Oslo.
Some may remember Deb Girnius from her early days in the late 1980s and early 1990s as a part of the Lawrence music scene. If you were wondering what happened to the guitar-wielding McLouth native, you would have to venture to Norway.
Since leaving the Lawrence area in 1993, Girnius has established herself as a fixture in the Norwegian music scene.
"I play close to 200 days a year in Norway, traveling all around the country," she says. "I am always well-received."
The singer-guitarist has found professional success in Scandinavia that was not afforded to her in Lawrence. She has gained recognition for both her live and studio recordings as well as her many appearances on Norwegian television.
"They provide quite a lot of bread for my table," she says. "It is very hard to make a living as a musician. In Norway it is not AS hard."
Growing up in the small town of McLouth, Girnius discovered at a very young age that she had a passion for music.
"We have a photograph of me when I am 1 year old, and I have a flute hanging out of my mouth," Girnius says. "I started playing it when I was nine."
Besides her early fascination with the flute, she also developed a taste for singing and strumming.
"I began singing at 3 and started playing guitar when I was 15," she says.
Guitar soon became Girnius' passion, and before long she caught the attention of one of her teachers. Interested in the aspiring musicians talent, she encouraged Girnius to enter the Kaw Valley Song Writers Championship. Among the 300 plus entrants, 15-year-old Girnius stood out enough to earn an honorable mention award. This began her journey into the Lawrence music scene.
"After I entered that, I got introduced to the Lawrence scene," she says. "I met a fellow named Gary Smith, who is a known photographer here. He functioned as sort of a semi-agent for me. Then when I moved to Lawrence in 1988 he started getting me gigs playing around at some of the more popular places."
Soon Girnius had earned a spot as a regular at many of Lawrence's local venues. She also performed live on KJHK 90.7 FM, and a video of her original song "Tired" was broadcast in 1992 on Lawrence's own art/music program "Silhouettes."
"It is a great place to get your feet wet," she says of the Lawrence music scene.
"When I started playing as a wet-behind-the-ears teenager, I had a big dream. It was great to be able to get a gig. Lawrence is a great starting ground."
Playing for the college crowd at local bars and coffee shops around town brought Girnius an audience but was not paying her bills. She followed her husband to Oslo in 1993 and soon realized that Norway offered her the professional status she was not earning in Lawrence.
"Expectations are very high there, so competition is tough and you have to be great to get a gig," Girnius says. "The biggest difference is that you get paid there. In Lawrence, you are often playing for the door, and you can't charge too much because you don't want to scare any customers away that are just coming to have a beer or a cup of coffee."
Not only are the fiscal benefits Norway offers enticing, but the expectations for musicians are pleasing to Girnius.
"The professional level of technicality is extremely high in Norway," she says. "Many musicians have education in music. The Norwegians tend to be a bit colder on stage, but their technical ability is beyond (compare)."
The material that Girnius presents to her Nordic audience is a mixture of blues and jazz with a strong folk influence.
"My songs are mostly personal or storytelling songs, as most folk music is," she explains.
Girnius will return to Kansas for the first time in three years to perform Saturday for her old fans at Paradise Cafe, 728 Mass. Regardless of the accolades she has earned on the other side of the Atlantic, Girnius still remembers her roots in the community that offered a struggling 15-year-old a shot.
"If I was not living in Oslo, I would be living here," she says.