CUMBERLAND — In the middle of working on her doctorate in art history, Carolyn Currie's husband, Doug, asked her a simple question.
"Do you want a Ph.D. or CD?" he said.
In her warm, sunlit Cumberland kitchen, the folk singer-songwriter shrank her shoulders, poking her chin out in a half-pout, "I wanted a CD."
Years later, with four CDs under her belt (and the degree left unfinished), Currie is still making music.
Her latest album, "Waves of Silence," was released locally last month to a sold-out crowd at Portland's Southworth Planentarium.
Before the CD has its national release in March through the Nashville label High Horse Records, Currie wanted to get in an encore performance. She's set to perform Saturday, Jan. 17, at the planetarium, where she'll strum six- and 12-string guitars below the stars and coo lyrics that have been described as haunting, poetic and spellbinding.
Currie's albums are available on her Web site, carolyncurrie.com, as well as at Borders, Bull Moose, Yarmouth's Gift & Vine and Falmouth's UPS store.
Except for her time in academia, earning a bachelor's degree in English from Colby College and a master's in art history from Emory University, most of Currie's life has been spent pursuing music. But she didn't really think about it that way until her son, now 14, asked what she had wanted to be when she grew up.
"It had never even occurred to me," she said, "that yup, this is actually what I wanted to be."
As a child, she said, "I would go out onto my parents' porch, light candles and just play and write. The impulse to do it is just so strong."
"I used to play with one ear on the guitar," she said as she closed her eyes, drifting her head to one side with one hand on an imaginary fret.
It's only now, she said, that she has to force herself to practice each day. As a tea kettle whistles in the kitchen, her six-string is in the living room, sitting on its own chair looking across Main Street, waiting for today's hour of practice.
When she's not making her own music, Currie teaches others. She goes into local schools, including Drowne Road School, to teach an intensive songwriting class as part of the language arts program. Her visit to this year's Drowne Road third-graders was funded through a Foundation 51 grant.
She also hosts a summer school in her home, where she teaches kids about poetic devices and choosing the perfect words. At the end of the week, she said, the kids record a CD of their work.
In addition to inspiring local children, it would appear that Currie has instilled the musical impulse in her own. Meagan, 12, and James, 14, were introduced to sound studios at 6 months, and grew up taking summer camping trips that coincided with their mother's national folk and bluegrass festival tours.
Now, Meagan plays the piano and sings, while Jamie plays the clarinet.
He has also recently discovered the penny-whistle. "I'd love for him to keep practicing," she said, so he can someday be part of her band, which often includes that instrument in addition to a cello, fiddle, percussion, keyboards and an accordion.
Her husband, a biology professor, has already found his place in the liner notes – an unsung hero, she said, "Doug runs beautiful sound. He'll elbow sound men out of the way" at concerts to better control the sound board. "I'm a little nervous when I go places without him."
In releasing her latest album, Currie hopes for the same accolades that met her third album, "Kiss of Ghosts," which was chosen by Performing Songwriter Magazine as a top independent release of 2005.
And fame wouldn't hurt, either. "We're working on that," she said.