Missoula songwriter addresses father’s death in new material
Ro Myra lost her father to illness in January 2021. Their attachment was especially well-knotted and much time had elapsed before the Missoula singer-songwriter could convert sorrow into reflection and contemplation into composition.
These past several months, she’s leaned heavily on her creativity as a channel and learned that it can soften the grieving process.
“My dad was a myth and a legend and a force to be reckoned with,” said Myra. “He was this very intelligent, thoughtful person, who cared deeply about the environment. I can only hope that it (the songs) can help someone else who’s going through their own grieving processes.”
One of the worst components of grief, she has come find out, is that it is mercurial, a strange emotion that either confronts you head-on whenever it feels like it or avoids and defies presumptions.
“Grief can sometimes hit you at an unexpected time and it can knock you over,” she said. “Other times, you expect that it would be a strong wave, but somehow it washes over you and you can withstand it. Grief, I hope, can transform you for the better.”
A father’s story and a daughter’s way
Though she has lived in Missoula with breaks since about 2008, RaShelle “Ro” Myra’s story begins in the southwest corner of the Nebraska Panhandle in an itsy-bitsy town called Kimball. According to local folklore, when the surveyors and scouts drew up the state lines, no one fancied Kimball, which was then known as Antelopeville. Colorado didn’t want it. Wyoming was not interested in claiming it, either. So, they sketched a boundary around it, and it became a part of Nebraska.
“My family has been there for generations,” she said, “especially on my dad’s side, even as far as four generations or five, when all of their houses were built out of limestone.”
Much of Myra’s music — and life — has been informed by the stark, understated makeup of Nebraska, where one can see and be unobstructed without end. In the summertime, miles and miles of intense yellow wheat fields blow in the wind and a golden heat rises noticeably off of the back country roads. Winters are malevolent. Isolation and loneliness are one’s two closest neighbors; the quiet so vacuous. Still, when the sun retires, a peaceful, dreamy tranquility settles in for the night.
“You’re never going to find a sunset that’s quite like a western Nebraska sunset,” said Myra.
Her father, Doug Haase, planted wheat, millet, beans, and occasionally corn. At one point, her great-grandfather, Wesley Herboldsheimer, was president of land and water conservation for the state of Nebraska.
“I remember my dad bringing out a bucket of seed to me one time and he said here’s the only bucket of corn seed that hasn’t been impacted by Monsanto,” she said. “He went through every crop, every year, by hand and hand-picked certain kernels of corn to then replant the next year.”
Indeed, Haase was something of a dissenter. He was a prescient conservationist, with an inventor’s mind and engineer’s stout vigor. He was an organic farmer before it was hip. He voiced concern about the increasingly unhealthy reliance on fertilizers and pesticides.
Decades ago, he spoke with neighbors of the need to take care of the soil and about things such as soil regeneration and sustainable crop planting, before such concerns was commonplace. To help prevent soil erosion, Doug and his grandfather, Wesley Herboldsheimer (1913-2008), Ro’s great-grandfather, used their own homemade machinery to plant thousands of rows of trees all over the western plains of Nebraska.
In some aspects, Haase was a serious, defiant character, but in other ways, he could be open and easygoing and youthfully exuberant.
“His best friends would say he had Doug-isms,” said Myra. “He had phrases he would use unique to him. Over and over again, I hear him say how important it is to do what you value and to be honest no matter the price.”
Believed in daughter’s gift
Haase believed in his daughter’s ability to excel through her music more than she ever did — at least at the start. Instead of pressuring his only child to take over and remain on the farm, he sensed that she was developing toward a much more freewheeling and artistically driven path.
“Dad felt that music was what I should be pursuing and he saw that that’s where I was most alive, and he was very supportive.”
He bought his daughter her first guitar when she was about 11. She taught herself the basics, learned different songs from friends, and then started writing her own lyrics. She took her initial piano lessons while in high school.
About 15 years ago, Myra’s path guided her to Missoula. The recipient of the Dennis Washington Horatio Alger Erasure Fellowship, she graduated from the University of Montana with a master’s degree in international social entrepreneurship. She has lived in larger metropolises since then but has found Missoula to be a utopian shelter, a safe haven to live. Yet she finds herself constantly reaching back to childhood for inspiration: her debut record, released in the spring of 2021, is titled “Nowhere, Nebraska.” Passion for the territory of her birth spreads through the recording like wildfire in a dry wheat field.
The last time that Myra saw her father was about seven days before he passed, and, in hindsight, she now thinks that he knew that he was at death’s entrance. Haase was 62 when he died on Jan. 7, 2021.
“My dad dealt with some very heavy depression and symptoms of anxiety,” said Myra. “Growing up as a man in a small town, he had no mental health help or facilities. I don’t even know if he could have found a counselor or a therapist if he wanted to, or found a psychiatrist, if he needed some sort of prescriptions, to help balance his chemistry. He dealt by self-medicating with alcohol.”
Indeed, Haase was dealt a chain of hard cards and he played them with as much resilience and poise as he could. Through the private sanctuary of song, Myra plays her own hand with similar deportment.
“It feels pretty natural to me to write about my deepest emotional experiences,” said Myra. “It really helps me to sort of integrate it in a positive way, back into my life, integrate those difficult experiences.”
Music made out of dreams
Two of the things that Haase believed in were the insight abounding in our dreams and the vast knowledge to be gleaned from them.
“He said you’re actually learning and processing things from your subconscious at night,” Myra said. “He said some of your best learning experiences can be then.”
After her father was gone, Myra started to be more conscientious about writing down each dream, even keeping a journal under her bed to ensure instant recall.
Her father appeared to Myra in her dreams, the same way that Doug’s ancestors and loved ones had shown themselves to him. And that’s when she started turning such visions and reveries into substance for songs.
“I love trying to craft a story in such a short form as songwriting,” said Myra. “You have a little amount of space to tell some of the biggest life stories that a person could really feel on a deep level. My dad was a great storyteller.”
Myra instinctively knew this kind of emptiness wouldn’t be easily filled. She wrote and recorded a bunch of songs. Stripped down, but not morose. The new songs are both homage and tribute, and perhaps most of all an acknowledgement, the recognition of a daughter whose father allowed her to decide on her own lane.
“He was trusting and he trusted that every answer that I needed was inside of me,” said Myra.