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Alumna Profile:Singer/Songwriter Leyna Tilbor Releases New CD

"I want to make records and play for people. That’s it,” said Leyna Tilbor, recent alumna of Mills College. Tilbor, who graduated last spring and has since actively pursued a career making music, describes this clear life goal as “simultaneously humble and adventurous.”

For now she’s a fulltime employee at Borders, focusing most of her spare time on making music and sending her CD to anyone who’s interested. “When I say I’m working, I mean I’m working on music. That’s the real work,” said the singer/songwriter who plays guitar, cello, and piano.

It hasn’t exactly been an easy road. “There are a lot of brambles and red tape to hack through,” Tilbor said. “Hopefully one show will lead to another and things will continue to get clearer.”

The life-long musician, who describes her upbringing as “patchwork,” began playing guitar at age 13. She took a few lessons, but didn’t like them because she felt they interfered with her creativity.

She says she played the piano like most children do, tinkering around on the keys and pretending she was making music. “I think you just pretend to know how to play until it’s not pretending anymore. I guess it’s never pretending if you suspend your disbelief in yourself,” said Tilbor, who began to play the piano “for real” when she got to Mills.

She began playing cello at the age of 20. She says she had to fight the common misconceptions about cello and prove that the instrument is not solely orchestral and that just because she wasn’t handed the tools she needed to play at age 9 doesn’t mean she can’t play today. “I don’t think it’s ever too late to take on a new challenge,” she said.

In addition, learning to play two new instruments during her years at Mills, Tilbor says that her schooling allowed her to grow and change. She credits the institution for letting her evolve as a whole person. “If I hadn’t been at Mills I wouldn’t be making music the way I am now.”

The Women’s Studies major says she got to explore all of her interests during her time at Mills. “The Women’s Studies program was like an empty jar that you could put anything into,” she said. She added that she felt as though she had three majors because of her heavy involvement in both the art and music departments. “Everyone thought I was a Music major,” she said.

As she became interested in recording the music she had written, Tilbor enrolled in recording classes with Maggi Payne. “I feel like a lot of times musicians, female musicians especially, let someone else, usually male, put their own energy into the recording. The sound of my recordings is really important to me,” said Tilbor.

The recording techniques she learned in class eventually led to the production of her first CD, “The Honest Voluptuary,” last spring.

While all of her work from her years at Mills carries the name Leyna Tilbor, the artist has chosen to drop her last name and add her middle name, calling herself Leyna Noel on all current and future work.

The most concrete performance on the horizon is scheduled for Dec. 6, when Tilbor will open for Mirah and Dear Nora at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco. She is also currently collaborating weekly with dancer Kristen Studer, class of 2004. The pair plans to perform within the next month.

CD requests can be sent to