Trial and singing have a lot in common for Ingrid Schroffner.
His notes for developing an argument and his notes for composing a new song often look alike, each with ideas and handwritten changes. An accomplished lawyer and musician, Schroffner, BC ’92 and BC Law ’95, said that for her, singing and attribution are the same kind of act.
“I think, you know, putting together a performance, putting together a setlist isn’t that different from prepping for a trial or prepping for a hearing,” Schroffner said.
Schroffner turns her messy handwritten notes with edits and crossed-out lyrics into music, and she recently curated a collection of 50 of her original songs—along with photographs and illustrations—in her book titled Karma Bank to follow by listeningpublished in February.
Music has been a constant in Schroffner’s life since childhood, she said, because she’s been singing for as long as she can remember. Growing up in Honolulu, Hawaii, one of her earliest musical influences was her fifth-grade music teacher, who complimented her singing voice one day after class, leading Schroffner to start singing in chapel. In addition to choral singing, Schroffner was named Miss Teen of Hawaii in 1987, and while serving under the title, she performed in English and Hawaiian for charity events and fundraisers.
Schroffner performed the first song she ever wrote, “Steps to Find,” upon her high school graduation in 1988. Schroffner also conducted the choir, which she said was difficult. She therefore dedicated her free time to learning and practicing conducting.
“I used to write things down in a book and on a little piece of paper, but I called them Chiemi fragments,” Schroffner said. “And I would pull them out every once in a while like, ‘Oh yeah, I forgot that line, it could be a bridge somewhere. I have to figure out where it goes. Where is that concept?’
After high school, Schroffner left Hawaii and came to Boston College, where she studied English and philosophy in the honors program. She then attended BC Law directly after her undergraduate studies.
In British Columbia, Schroffner was a member and frequent soloist of the University Choir of British Columbia, which was under the direction of C. Alexander Peloquin at the time. During one of the group’s spring break trips to Rome, Schroffner said she got to perform the female angel solo in Joseph Haydn’s “The Heavens Are Telling.”
“There was a real feeling that, you know, she was a really important part of the musical experience,” said Mike Phelan, friend and colleague from BC and Chorale alumnus. “For example, I don’t think she ever missed Chorale, and once she did. …And Dr. Alexander Poliquin, you know, he was worried and wanted to know why she wasn’t there.
Living in Shaw House, Schroffner had a friend upstairs who had an Alvarez guitar. He let her borrow his guitar until second grade, when Schroffner asked her parents for a guitar of her own. She named her first guitar – a Guild – Amelia.
“My instrument that I really connect with is the guitar,” Schroffner said. “It’s not that I’m a great guitarist, I have all kinds of bad habits, I mean, I’m self-taught.”
Schroffner said she started writing songs more frequently when she started working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When MP3s were too difficult to email, Schroffner said she started posting her songs on SoundCloud so she could easily send links to friends and family who were also working from home.
“Some of my friends who were also working remotely started sending me photos and paintings and things they were doing that were artistic,” Schroffner said. “And so I started taking inspiration from some of those paintings and images and writing songs that incorporated them.”
One of these weekly artistic exchanges took place between Schroffner and his sister-in-law Leah Salow, a painter, author and veterinarian whose works appear throughout Schroffner’s book. Salow suggested Schroffner post his lyrics alongside the photos, sparking the idea for the book, Schroffner said.
“She really thought the lyrics were worth something, you know, worth reading,” Schroffner said.
Schroffner, however, said she had no plans to do a book, but after posting songs about every week, she realized she had more than enough content for one. She said it was good that her words were preserved in this way and that the book was useful for those who were more eye-inclined and could better connect to her words through reading.
“I said her songs were beautiful and felt like poetry and she should put them in a book, and that was really a very flippant comment, but she took it to heart and did it. “, said Salow.
In the book, she organized her songs into five chapters of 10 songs each, starting with the “Karma Bank Collection” chapter and ending with “Following by Listening”. Next to the lyrics of each song is a photograph that Schroffner has associated with his written words. Pairing his songs with images of pink and orange hues of a sunset or Schroffner posing with his guitar, Schroffner said more people are able to appreciate his music in a different way.
The title of the book stems from a conversation Schroffner had with a friend in 2019 about feeling like everything is wrong or nothing is right. But in the midst of it all, Schroffner’s friend said an act of grace happens, like a stranger smiling at you, and her friend likened these acts of kindness to “karma bank” coins, a said Schroffner.
“It’s not like you deserve anything good after putting it in there, but he said if he felt like the world was round, things balanced out…you got those coins stored in the karma bank – not that you’re looking for that, but sooner or later something brilliant will happen,” Schroffner said.
The songs in her book were written from 2019 to 2021, including a song she originally wrote when her twins were born in 2010 and revisited in 2021. Schroffner said it reflected her consistent writing process. write a song or a thought and revisit it later.
“I love that it gets you thinking and gives you insights that you can take and apply to your own experience,” Salow said.
In her songwriting process, Schroffner said she appreciated feedback from her friend Phelan. Phelan and Schroffner met while at Chorale, but Phelan said they became good friends later in life. The friends share a love for rock and heavy metal music, swapping thoughts on 80s rock and discussing the form. An experienced arranger and producer, Phelan provides Schroffner with technical feedback on his music with respect to form, phrasing and rhythm.
“She can talk about something that’s happened in her life or in my life, and then her process is so quick that she’ll often have a song about it that’s like a fully formed song in, you know, weeks. of this discussion,” Phélan said. “So she’s an incredibly productive musician.”
Schroffner donates all proceeds from Karma Bank to follow by Listening’s publication at the Asian Community Development Corporation (AC DC). Based in Boston’s Chinatown since 1987, the nonprofit strives to create and preserve affordable housing in Chinatown and the Greater Boston area. Schroffner said the ACDC has a close relationship with the Massachusetts Asian Lawyerswhich she served on the board of directors for more than 10 years, was president from 2006 to 2008 and is still involved today.
“When I was first in Massachusetts, too, there [Chinatown] kind of had a personal connection because I was kind of, I guess I could say, away from home,” Schroffner said. “And I used to take the train to Chinatown and walk around because it… reminded me of home.”
His connection to the ACDC is also personal, Schroffner said. She said she worked in Boston City Hall’s development office while Stephen Coyle was director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority. While in office, Coyle discussed the gentrification of Chinatown.
“But the problem was that gentrification doesn’t always help everyone, it’s a certain type of thing,” Schroffner said. “And the way he talked about Chinatown, it’s like he doesn’t understand that people live there. And those are people’s homes.
Growing up in Hawaii, Schroffner said people of mixed ancestry were the norm and she didn’t identify as Asian until college, when she started getting mail about students of color.
“It was kind of that awareness and that kind of redirection that really led me to want to work to, you know, raise awareness of diversity and the need for it,” Schroffner said. “And how boards should reflect the populations they serve, you know. Workplaces should reflect the population they serve. The judiciary must reflect the population it serves. I think it’s really important to educate those kinds of people.
Now, with his favorite green guitar in his office, music and songwriting are part of Schroffner’s daily life. Throughout her career and in her personal life, she has said that music has helped her find her voice.
“Songs are kind of how I make sense of things,” she said. “I find hope, you know, how I put things together and playing the guitar puts the words together. It’s like a self-publishing process. … Things change when you put them to music.
Graphic presented by Annie Corrigan / Editor-in-Chief
Photos courtesy of Ingrid Schroffner