Sandra Dolores Swanfeldt calls her voice her first instrument. She’s been singing as long as she can remember.
Even her preschool teachers noticed, back when she was a student at Tiny Tots in Lodi. Like most parents, hers kept a box full of school projects, artwork, old report cards and the like. In one of them, she found an evaluation where a preschool teacher or assistant had observed her for a day.
“It was like, ‘Sandy is playing alone and she’s making up a song,’” she said with a smile.
Swanfeldt is still singing, and she’s picked up a few skills — guitar, ukulele, piano and song-writing — along the way.
Now living in Sacramento, she released her album “Wait and See” in 2011. She has toured throughout the U.S., both solo and as a bass player for a reggae band, and has been nominated for a number of songwriting awards. She is a visiting lecturer at University of the Pacific in pop songwriting, and teaches lessons at Kline Music in Sacramento.
On Sunday, Swanfeldt will be appearing at Hutchins Street Square in a special homecoming, with her family and friends in attendance. The concert is being hosted by the Lodi Community Concert Association, a nonprofit group dedicated to bringing a wide variety of musical acts to the stage in Lodi.
“I’m thrilled, thrilled to have gotten this show,” Swanfeldt said.
It’s her biggest solo concert to date. Though she’s been performing for years, many of her concerts are at smaller venues, or at coffee shops, bars and restaurants.
Those gigs have positives and negatives, she said. On the plus side, she’s very close to her audience. She can switch up songs on the fly, based on their reactions. On the other hand, at a restaurant or bar, listening to the performer is an extra, not the goal of the evening. Diners eat and chat, bartenders mix drinks, and waiters move around, distracting her audience.
At the Square, Swanfeldt will have a set list, and she’ll be farther from the audience, but the focus will be on the music.
Most of her selections on Sunday will be favorite pop songs from the 1940s through the 1970s rather than her original songs. Swanfeldt will channel legends like Patsy Cline, James Taylor, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Smokey Robinson and the Temptations.
She may break up the music with a little storytelling, too.
Swanfeldt has always loved telling stories — as a young student at St. Anne’s, she spent a lot of time using her imagination. She used to start stories, then leave them unfinished in the family bathroom. Her sister would read them and get upset that there was no ending, but Swanfeldt hated creating conflict for her characters.
It’s one of the things that drew her to songwriting — songs can be left unfinished, or written after the conflict has passed.
“I always had more luck writing songs than writing stories,” she said.
It was at St. Anne’s, really, where Swanfeldt had her first taste of performing in front of an audience. She sang in the church band.
“The best memories that I have from my childhood in Lodi was of the Catholic youth group that I was part of at St. Anne’s,” she added.
Swanfeldt lived in the Lodi area until 2009, immersed in the local music scene. That’s when she started getting enough work as a musician she began to believe she could quit her day job. She moved to Sacramento, and spent her days hauling her instruments around and performing wherever she could. It was great for a while.
“After touring around the country — and I was alone as a solo songwriter — it just wasn’t for me,” she said.
She’s still performing, but she is now in college, double-majoring in English and music.
She’s also some of her energy into teaching young people. Swanfeldt’s students are enthusiastic, especially her songwriting students at Pacific.
“They’re brand-new songwriters,” she said. “They want to write the perfect song.”
But a lot of them aren’t sure where to start. They’re hampered by their inner critic, who wants their work to be amazing right off the bat.
“You’ve really got to just shut up the inner critic and do it,” Swanfeldt said.
She still fights that inner critic herself — but she’s developed a technique that silences it.
Swanfeldt doesn’t worry about other people’s reactions. Instead, she focuses on the reason she performs.
“I love to sing, and I love to play music,” she said.