Although they didn’t necessarily know how it would play out in their future plans, music has always played a key role in the lives of Shealeen and Elle, two sisters (19 and 17 years old, respectively) who’ve discovered that songwriting is a pretty great vehicle for saying exactly what’s on their minds.
Unlike many siblings who spar and fight at the drop of the hat, Shealeen and Elle’s don’t use their songs to vent their frustration against each other. They aren’t the Gallagher brothers from Oasis, after all. Instead, the lilting melodies and memorable harmonies they’ve created only underscore the beauty of collaboration.
Now these sisters—who know each other so well that they often finish each other’s sentences—are known as acoustic pop duo “Poema”. Growing up in a close-knit family where music was an integral part of life, Shealeen and Elle inevitably followed in their parent’s footsteps.
Not only is the girls’ father a guitar prodigy who has played in bands all his life and been highlighted in a premiere music publication, but their mom had an aptitude for singing, too. And considering their strong musical pedigree, it seems that Shealeen and Elle were practically predestined to be performers as well.
In fact, the girls have been playing and leading worship in churches long before they were teenagers and have shown immense dedication to perfecting their musical talent. Not only has Shealeen been classically trained in piano for 11 years, but Elle basically taught herself to play guitar.
Yet, while Shealeen and Elle definitely enjoyed playing to a captive audience of friends and family members, they never really considered music as anything more than just a hobby. Well, until a performance at a local benefit concert back in 2008 changed their minds for good.
“We really loved music, but we never thought there was a future career in it,” Shealeen says. “But that particular show was such a turning point. We’d played a couple of original songs, nothing that really seemed all that special to us, but the audience really responded. After a standing ovation, half of the people actually came up to talk to us after the show. Later, they asked us if we were trying to ‘make it’ as professional musicians. And we were like ‘No.’”
But after Shealeen and Elle returned home that evening, there was a new excitement about their songs bubbling under the surface. “We started asking ourselves, ‘What if we actually did this and tried to make a career out of it?’ And we’ve been pursuing music ever since.”
For Elle, her “a-ha moment” arrived after she and Shealeen recorded their first demo song. “I remember playing the song for my Mom, and it sounded so official,” Elle says. “It really was one of the greatest moments of my musical career because it was the first time where it totally hit me - I am a musician.”
Then as the girls continued to hone their skills and play shows wherever and whenever they could, (they’d later take first place at a local “Battle of the Bands” competition, even though Shealeen had to tackle the lead vocal duties when Elle was sick), a rather fortuitous turn of events further affirmed their burgeoning talent when an A&R rep from Tooth & Nail Records caught their set.
After giving a demo to the label’s representative, they were invited to showcase their songs at the Tooth & Nail headquarters in Seattle. A week later, Brandon Ebel called and offered them a recording contract.
“We were so excited, we could barely contain it,” says Elle, the group’s lead vocalist and acoustic guitarist. “Tooth & Nail was one of the only labels I’d heard about growing up and getting to work with Aaron Sprinkle, who produced our album, was just perfect.” Describing their sound as “happy, acoustic-pop,” the girls felt that “Poema” was the perfect name for the group. “We really wanted our name to be one word, something that would really define us,” Shealeen, the duo’s pianist and vocalist says. “We loved the name Poema because of what it means, “beautiful masterpiece, and God’s poem”. We hope that our music is God’s poem, and we want everything we do to be a beautiful masterpiece through Him.”
With song inspiration ranging from a Pride & Prejudice moment of hopeless romanticism (“Safe to Say”) to an ode to a shall-remained nameless member of the opposite sex (“Blue Sweater”), Shealeen and Elle love serving up these melodic slices of life to a broad audience.
“Whenever we’re going through a situation, even a rough one, instead of getting mad about it, we’ll just go write a song about it.” Elle says. “And because we’re writing music with such universal themes, it ends up appealing to everyone, which is exactly what a good song does for us, regardless of the musical genre."