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Sarah De Vallière reclaims her music and her identity

Sarah De Vallière singing
Singer-songwriter Sarah De Vallière performing.

They packed their stuff into a moving van and arrived in Rochester in June 2018: Sarah Eide, her husband and their two young kids.

A new life, filled with potential. She’d recently released an album of her rootsy Americana songs and was working as a touring musician, playing gigs from Colorado to Boston.

“I felt like I was this wheel that was turning,” she says.

“And then everything came to a screeching halt.”

Mainly, it was the two seemingly stable things in her life that came to that screeching halt. COVID-19, of course, shut down work for a lot of musicians. And a month into that, “I got served with divorce papers.”

“It’s been, like, two years of me trying to reshape and re-form who I am.”

Who is she now? Sarah De Vallière. A Rochester singer-songwriter reshaping her life and her music. In her song “Pour Over Me,” gentle, contemplative piano accompanies words of a soul in evolution:

“How do you collect all this pain, spin it into gold then give it away?”

De Vallière is sharing the pain and the gold, cautiously at first, in a couple of shows. She’ll be in Cinnamon Jones’ “Lady of Song,” a tribute to female musicians such as Tina Turner, Barbra Streisand and Diana Ross on April 16 at The Theater at Innovation Square. And then her own songs, opening for The Lonely Ones on May 21 at Lovin’ Cup Bistro and Brews.

Does she even remember how this music gig is supposed to work? She first released “Pour Over Me” in February 2020, under her old name. Then there was a little test run in December with new music. That song, “30 Years,” was maybe a little bit of a lesser work, in her judgment.

But it carried the new name, Sarah De Vallière. “I didn’t want to have my ex’s last name as my artist name,” she says. Putting out that song was her moment of “no going back on my decision.”

And now she’s reclaimed “Pour Over Me,” re-releasing it this week under her new name, and with an accompanying video that she’s been sitting on for a year now.

“I just could not release it,” she says. “I was really struggling internally with, like, who am I? And am I really going to change my name? And what am I going to do with this?”

A turn of her page, accompanied by a turn of the calendar page, to March, answered these questions.

“I was like, OK, it’s been two years, International Women’s Day is coming up, Women’s History Month,” she says.

And she says the “Pour Over Me” video “features women artists/creators. I feel like this is the best time for me to sort of totally unveil this re-creation of myself.

“It sort of goes along with the last two years for a lot of people. Everything, in a lot of ways, just crumbling and being destabilized. And having to create something out of that.”

If stability is a steady address, that’s not De Vallière. She has been on the move most of her life. Growing up in Providence, Rhode Island. Boston, and the Berklee College of Music. Chicago for six years, as a working musician. Over a 10-year period, she estimates she lived in 10 different places.

How did she land in Rochester? It was the summer she was hired to play a house concert in Webster. There was a grand piano in the giant bay window, facing Lake Ontario. About 40 people turned out for the show.

“I got a good feeling from this place,” De Vallière says. After so much moving around, she wanted to “create some stability, while deciding how I wanted to move forward.

“I don’t know why. I was like: I think I should move here.”

It just felt like a good fit. De Vallière lands once-a-year projects in film scoring and composing music for video games. She plays keyboards and sings background vocals for an ’80s tribute band, The M-80s. She has a day job, working in web development for a global tech company.

And she found the Roc Girl Gang, at a panel discussion at the German House. “Different women business leaders,” she says. “Nobody really knew me, I was touring.”

But connections were made. In the video for “Pour Over Me,” we see De Vallière singing, walking through the woods to Chimney Bluffs State Park, and its dramatic spires of earth and clay on the edge of Lake Ontario. But for the most part, other women are the focus, including two from the Roc Girl Gang.

“They were both so interesting and unique to me,” De Vallière says. She approached them even though, “They don’t know me, I don’t know why they would want to be in my music video.”

Olivia Kim is the sculptor best known for creating the images of Frederick Douglass scattered around the city. Imani N. Olear is a pastor, and founder of Yoga 4 a Good Hood. And they went for it. The video’s director, Krit Upra, added Teagan West. She’s a dancer and owner of VAYA Ayurveda & Wellness, where the mantra is “Meditation, Astrology, Reiki Energy Work, Art therapy, and Movement as Medicine.”

In “Pour Over Me,” we see these women on their way to their studios. Or for Olear, on her way to her church. “Different women creating, struggling,” De Vallière says. “At the end they fully realize what they’re trying to do.”

And they’re succeeding. At one point in the video, Kim is dancing with Diana Kelly, an Argentine tango instructor. “I’m not showing any process on my own end,” De Vallière says. “It’s a celebration of women in general. It felt truer to make it about women in general, and not so much about me.”

Perhaps because she’s still not so sure who she is. De Vallière had been married since she was 21. “It had been a part of my identity for so long,” she says “Twenty-one is an adult, but it’s still, like, a pretty young, impressionable adult.”

And after the pandemic, and her divorce, “I didn’t know who I was anymore.” Music, her family, gone.

“Any semblance of identity was, like, destroyed.”

This doesn’t happen immediately, of course. But De Vallière now sees the challenges as a blessing in disguise.

“A little light bulb went off, at the end of 2021.”

This was when she took her mother’s family name: De Vallière. And when she reclaimed her music.

“Sarah Eide,” De Vallière says, “was who I was.”

Jeff Spevak has been a Rochester arts reporter for nearly three decades, with seven first-place finishes in the Associated Press New York State Features Writing Awards while working for the Democrat and Chronicle.