Kim and Sara, the Language of Music

Like Mother Like Daughter was my first collaboration with Kim Blanchard Souch and her daughter Sara Sobey. This mother-daughter duo began performing together when Sara was just a young teen. Kim was a touring singer/songwriter while pregnant with Sara, so it was not a surprise that Sara could sing before she could speak! What Kim could not have known was that music would be more than a bridge between them. For a long time, it would be their only shared language.

Diagnosed on the autism spectrum, Sara had a very limited vocabulary. It was when she sang that Sara could communicate with an extensive vocabulary, discovering a joy that was both physical and emotional. Her body would almost hum as her voice resonated!

This is just where this duo’s story begins. Tours, fundraisers in support of the Autism Society, recordings and appearances brought much attention to their beautiful harmonies and storytelling.  Original songs penned by Kim have told the stories of mothers and daughters, family, life, love and loss.

Now, something extraordinary is happening. Along this life journey Kim and Sara have developed their own unique voices. They perform together – and always will! But now there is room for self-expression. Kim’s path is returning to her roots as a touring artist with songwriting for herself and others as a renewed focus. Sara’s dream has been to perform with a Symphony, which happened for the first time this year.

There is more, much more, to come from both these artists and I can’t wait be a part of this next chapter! Over the coming months, their music journeys are diverging and yet we know they will always be entwined. For as they find new strength with their own voices, that beautiful harmony they create will only deepen.

Enjoy this link, to Kim Blanchard Souch and Sara Sobey singing:

Like Mother, Like Daughter

The Importance of a Friend

My Brother’s Keeper, an Obama Foundation led initiative to provide mentorship to young men of color, found a special home in Spartanburg, South Carolina. It was an honor to tell its impact story in this video. The partners from the community, the school and school district as well as the men who commit to years of mentorship, are making a difference one young man at a time.

 

Water in the Desert

This is a story about the gift of contrast. Water and desert are used as analogies not labels – I could use, for example, the polar ice caps and the tropics. Water and the desert just work for me.

Imagine you’ve focused your life’s work on the study of water and you move to the desert.  Like anyone who has a career specialty, we hive together feeding off each other’s energy, comparing our pails of water.  When I moved from Toronto/New York to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, I had no idea where to put my bucket.

It’s a beautiful thing to be a stranger in a welcoming place. You must learn to navigate a new space and before you can know where you belong, you have to know where you are.

Now, you may think you know where this story is going. The water/desert metaphor is just too strong and it would be easy to assume that there is an epiphany of the desert needing the water.

Cue the plot twist.

As I look out my big studio windows,  my current body of work reads:

  • episodic hourly drama series pilot/pitch complete
  • reality tv show pitch complete
  • two podcasts in development
  • national staged project fusing sciences and arts in production
  • jewelry design company
  • special projects for regional organizations that utilize my particular ‘water skillset’

This has been the most productive time of my entire career. Yes, of course, obviously, there is a lot of creativity and artistry in the foothills of these mountains- that is a given. Yet in learning about this place, I have learned so much about myself. It has redefined my work with a freedom that I did not find while swimming in the ocean with my bucket.

Huh! Plot twist revealed –  Turns out that what my study of water was missing, was the desert.

 

 

In Good Company

Today marks 10 years since the 2nd In Good Company Festival. The first In Good Company Festival held in 2007 celebrated the contributions of women in the arts. In 2008, In Good Company returned to celebrate the creative contributions of immigrants to the cultural landscape.

Both Festivals highlighted the past achievements and early ‘pioneering’ spirit of non-traditional creative expression. For women it was hand-work such as stitching and quilts, personal correspondence, paintings and compositions that had rarely if ever been performed for a public audience.

Present day artists, performers, musicians, writers were given forum for their work. Multiple stages throughout the community were used from large scale venues to black box theatres, intimate galleries and the region’s largest stages. Traditional dance shared the stage with contemporary and classical disciplines; a funk band paired with a world music group; classical Indian dance as well as a classical theatre movement workshops; many, many opportunities to discover the incredible talent contributing to the community’s creative conversation.

The main goal of the 4-week Festivals was to give public space to the voices that are often sidelined, but there were other important reasons for the efforts – including the payment to the performers and contributors. To pay artists for their work validates their efforts and contributes to the region’s creative economy. To that end, multiple partners stood with the Festival including Foundations, Art Councils, private sponsors and the region’s established arts organizations to ensure the contributions were compensated.

In ten years it is extraordinary to realize that the conversations from In Good Company are still part of the public conscience. Creating the capacity for these conversations to begin and in some ways blossom occurred because the invitations were extended and accepted.

Here’s to all the capacity builders who create the opportunity for dialogue – especially through the arts.

Bits & Scraps, Threads & Stitches

Remnants of fabric connected by intricate stitches, are a mirror for a woman’s story. With leftover bits and scraps, loving hands delicately construct warm, protective, beautiful coverings. Quilts are metaphors.

During  the era of my Great Grandmothers, quilts and blankets were created out of need. There was a form and a function. Just like the family structure. Women were the center of their homes. Their identities defined by being wives and mothers.  Yet like women throughout time, our foremothers found ways to amplify women’s experiences by telling and re-telling each other’s story. Many women found creative, personal and even political expression through Quilting.  Individual personalities showing in each finished piece. Form and function overlayed with decorative design. They created a legacy stitch by stitch. Quilts are stories.

In ‘How to Make an American Quilt’ directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse, based on the novel by Whitney Otto, we witness the sharing of wisdom that occurs as a group of friends gather, as they often have before, to stitch a quilt. The quilting circle is the conduit for the revealing of deeply personal stories, confessions of their joys and heartbreaks, all the while imparting life instruction to an apprehensive bride. This young woman, played by Winona Ryder, in her search for her own answers, takes these stories being told, these scraps, and pieces them together as a sort of armor of comfort. One of my favorite images is a young Ryder lying under the quilting frame, listening, absorbing the voices and experiences of the women stitching the fabric above.

Quilts are maps. The fabric pieces reveal a life’s journey; threaded side by side. Random or precisely laid out, stitch after stitch weaves another pattern, like tributaries meandering from the river. Patterns chosen tell a broader story or give the reason for the quilt – wedding, new home, anniversary, birth of a child translated by patterns with names such as Double Wedding Ring, Log Cabin, Pinwheel, Applecore, Patchwork, made without machine, cut, pieced, assembled and stitched.

Quilts are art. To take remnant pieces and make something functional is a talent, but quilting goes farther. The finished quilts are moving works of art. The ‘herstory’ of generations of women whose hands lovingly threaded the bits and pieces, the remnants, and created the protective blankets that sheltered new born babies, wrapped young lovers, comforted the sick. When I run my fingers over the old threads, I am remembering the lives of the women who sewed the quilts, honoring the stories that were told over and through each careful placement of fabric and delicate stitch. Quilts are prisms.

 

 

Variations on a Theme

Musicians and Actors love improv. Exploring a theme’s potential, far beyond its typical path. Many of our favorite SNL and SCTV characters were discovered through improv. It is well documented that JS Bach, the master of classical music, used improvisation extensively in his contrapuntal inventions. Through experimentation we discover unexpected ways of sharing a message or discovering a truth.  It is through improvisation we find our unique voice.

All creative explorers are searching for the same thing – their own voice. It is the collective journey of all artists yet unique to each. How we convey our message is equal in importance to the message itself. The hand-painted porcelain dish is as important to the meal as the carefully chosen ingredients.

A choir can sing in harmony or in unison, but as soloists we are heard above the rest. A crowded room is a jumble of sound, challenging to distinguish one person from another – if you compete for attention, the din just increases! But whistle and you can get that full room’s attention.

A ‘flock’ adequately describes a group of birds. Thanks to the inventive English language, however, we can give bird species more apt wording – starlings ‘murmur’, crows ‘murder’ and Larks ‘exalt’! An ‘exaltation’ of larks is a gorgeous use of words to describe this beautiful singing bird’s collective path of flight. The need to individuate, even with birds, is about allowing their unique characteristics to be recognized. A ‘parliament of owls’ couldn’t be more perfect.

Whether we sing with the flock or strike out on our own, the explorations are as endless as the artists.  Variations on a theme indeed!

There is something to be said for lending your voice to the group! Check out this astounding murmuration of starlings as filmed by National Geographic:  https://youtu.be/V4f_1_r80RY

Gord Downie. Land and Sea. Poetry and Music.

Canadians possess a fierce pride of identity. One vital thread of our complex cultural history is so young that we can reach back and be within a generation or two of touching those pioneers who, along with the First Nations strong voices before them, helped forge our identity. And from those markers we can draw a direct line to each generations’ cultural benchmarks. Our sense of self as Canadians is etched on the landscape where we first identified with these distinctly Canadian heroes. The Canadian Shield, the Rockies, the Great Lakes, three Oceans and the Hudson’s Bay.  From which birthed the Group of Seven and their compatriots who painted what we felt, to poet Al Purdy considered by some the quintessential voice of Canada , giving words to those same feelings. Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, and on to the Tragically Hip. Their music echoes the rough wildness of the land, laced with the most sophisticated and graceful turns of phrase. Land and sea. The poetry and the music. The Hip sound like our Canada. Just as Emily Carr’s and Tom Thomson’s paintings look like our Canada. gd

Like Purdy, Gord Downie’s poetry and lyrics do not shy away from the stark, the harsh, the vulnerable, the real. Without pretense. On a cold February night in 2013, a friend and I sat in Koerner Hall, Toronto, for a fundraiser supporting the preservation of Al Purdy’s A Frame cabin. Al Purdy’s home at the edge of Roblin Lake in Prince Edward County Ontario had always welcomed artists and would continue to be an education resource and home of cultural discovery. A place of legacy and cultivation. Gord Downie performed.

“I am drinking yellow flowers

in underground sunlight

and you can see that I am a sensitive man.”

You could be forgiven if you attributed this line to a Hip lyric. It is from Al Purdy’s “At the Quinte Hotel”. The thread from Purdy to Downie re-stitched. I marveled and also reveled that for Canadians, a poet’s home was worthy of preservation. That our cultural stars believe in the importance of place – identity, legacy, cultivation.

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Gord Downie reading ‘At The Quinte Hotel’

Flashback to early summer 2000. I am spending the better part of a week recording soprano Barbara Dunn-Prosser and pianist Brian Jackson at The Bathouse, the recording studio created by The Tragically Hip. Dunn-Prosser’s ‘Till We Meet Again’ was the first classical recording we were told, to be recorded at the studio. I opted to stay on-site, immersing in the space that had an extraordinary Canadian pedigree, trying to absorb as much as I could to  in some intangible way, infuse it back into the recording. The state of the art studios, driveway basketball hoop, wild rhubarb patch through the path out the back door, Lake Ontario at its front doorstep and the warm Bathouse Team. Creating the capacity for Canadian musicians to fulfill their artistic visions. A place of legacy and cultivation.

I’ve never met Gord Downie but he has had a tremendous influence on my creative career. It’s very Canadian to feel a familiarity with our cultural stars.  Lyrics and poetry resonate because they are drawn from our collective landscapes. Our stories are intertwined. Yet we are also determined to etch out our own destinies and this is what Gord Downie continues to inspire. Brilliantly. His path and that of the Tragically Hip, have been uniquely theirs. We can’t help but say, uniquely Canadian. This final summer tour solidifying our collective identity, securing their legacy as they write their own history.  Gord Downie continues to be the author of his own story. And in doing so, he has become the hero of ours.

(You can see Gord Downie read ‘At The Quinte Hotel’ in a wonderful short film shot in 2002, here: https://youtu.be/vPKeczB3wrg )

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Al Purdy’s A Frame Cabin

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The Bathouse Recording Studio