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Music lover

Profile: Debbie Atkinson

by Jane Ledwell

Debbie Atkinson (photo: Buzz)Debbie Atkinson volunteered for the first East Coast Music Awards that came to Charlottetown, in 1996, out of love of music and challenges. Debbie says: “I caught on with traditional music, and I didn’t know I would. I didn’t think I would love fiddles.” Debbie has now been part of bringing live traditional music and storytelling to every corner of Prince Edward Island for ten years, as festival manager of the PEI Mutual Festival of Small Halls.

Despite growing up in Charlottetown surrounded by music, “I had never really been put in front of really good fiddle music,” Debbie says, “but I could see the talent of these guys. They were not just out of the barn.”

Debbie volunteered in the office for the 1996 ECMAs because “My kids were growing up, and I didn’t have a job that year,” she recalls. Electrified by the talent she saw, she continued work in the music business, as performance coordinator for the “huge production” of Bridge Fest in 1997, and as event manager when the ECMAs returned to PEI in 2001: “I was terrified I was going to fail, but I didn’t.”

The timing was right in 2008 when Ray Brow and Ward MacDonald dreamed up a traditional music festival for small halls across the Island. They approached Debbie just six weeks out from that first proposed festival. “I have to pay homage to Ray and Ward. Neither is involved now, but they invented the festival; they were the brains, and I was the admin at first.” That first festival “worked, and it worked well.”

“People would be amazed how many people come to PEI just for the cultural experience,” Debbie says. “On PEI, we have talent that can rival anywhere in the world.” Debbie credits festival programmer Cynthia MacLeod for “a fantastic Festival this year,” adding, “I am deeply indebted to her for her work for many years with the Festival.” Cynthia programs 40% from “away” and 60% artists from here; they put on 40+ shows, year after year, and people come out and pay to hear the locals as much as the “from aways.”

The festival and its sponsors have a rural feel, Debbie says. “I grew up in Charlottetown,” she says, “and I didn’t know where Lot 7 was, or Lot 16 or Munn’s Road. And now I’m running the roads, seeing these gorgeous venues in beautiful places, and the sweet hospitality. It’s a typical ‘Island’ thing to do.” Many of the small halls across the Island are run by volunteers, and Debbie says, “I’ve loved getting to know them. I never imagined that I would know the Island like I do now.”

She smiles, “I’ve moved to Cornwall now, but in my mind, I’m in the country.”

Debbie gets to every show she can—“certainly every day of the festival.” This year, she is especially looking forward to “reprise” shows Cynthia MacLeod has organized, to bring back shows from past years that people particularly loved. Often, Debbie says, “I have to emcee a show, or take tickets or serve food. We have to do whatever we have to do.”

Sometimes, at a late-night, post-show jam, she will add her own guitar to the melee of instruments. “I’ve played guitar for years, as a church youth leader, around campfires and with youth groups. I play guitar in a rock band at church. It’s great for mental health. Some people cook, some people garden—I like music,” she says.

When the PEI Mutual Festival of Small Halls begins, “I’m just a cog in the wheel,” Debbie insists, but she laughs, “I’ve been a constant cog—I’m the only original cog left.

“Every year for the festival, we have to hire new staff, and they are often 20-somethings with not a lot of knowledge of traditional music, Debbie says. She gets to see them awaken to it, just as she did, to discover “the value of music handed down from one generation to the next.”

This happens “in rural kitchens everywhere,” Debbie says, and she’s proud to support small halls across PEI that are like kitchens more people can fit into.

Fine design

Profile: Elena Herweyer

by Jane Ledwell

Elena Herweyer (photo: Buzz)Design, like culture, surrounds us in the tiniest and most seemingly insignificant details of our lives, a visual and functional language we all speak. Consider professional fine artist Elena Herweyer a skilled visual linguist. “We can’t express everything verbally,” Elena says, and, to her, “every language is complementary.”

In her journey from the Ukraine, where she studied fine art and graphic design and worked twelve years as an art director in an advertising agency, to Prince Edward Island, where she arrived eight years ago and founded the award-winning design and branding company Art Fresh, daily attention to the details of design and a new culture are the makings of a rich life.

Elena’s rich life was particularly full when we arranged to meet: she had successfully competed and been selected for the worldwide jury of the prestigious A' Design Award and Competition, and she was on a deadline to judge 200 design entries from around the world in each of the six categories she was chosen to judge. The award is based in Italy, “where design is born,” she laughs, and it attracts world-famous brands.

“I love to see ideas and how people think from around the world, to see work from designers and creative agencies from around the world,” Elena says. Seeing her colleagues’ work expands her vision, and also changes her understanding of the world: “Now, we are very connected. It’s possible to work with others internationally. In my case, you can show it doesn’t matter where you live or your language, you can connect with the world, contribute to the world, and experience the world.”

Art Fresh’s clients are a mix of local and international businesses, and she says, “It is always interesting to get to the roots, to understand a client’s business, to represent the uniqueness and value.” Clients have created their business out of love, she says, and a branding agency can help find “how they want to express this.”

Elena is also a skilled visual artist who longs for more time for painting, which she does mostly in oil—figurative, landscape, and whimsical canvases with bold graphic style. “I follow my love in what I do,” Elena says. “Art became my profession, but it is also my hobby,” which to her means a balance of hard work and joyful creation. She loves to do both fine art and graphic design and can’t choose between them.

She is inspired by PEI’s “beautiful nature”—“I had never seen so bright colours,” she says of the Island landscape—but even more inspiring is the creative community. “Everyone expresses ideas and has creative hobbies to do something, to share their feelings, in art and in craft and in what they do.” People “inspire each other,” she says.

“Every day, I love to learn something—to see different works. To contribute to a vision, especially, is very inspiring.” An immersive creative environment, she says, “becomes a synthesis to enrich each other.”

She also loves that in a small place like PEI, you “see all the nationalities here,” and interact with them all in a way that you might not in a big city, where it would be more possible to stay within your own cultural or language group. She loves to cook and share cultural traditions with new neighbours and friends, and what she would love most to introduce of Ukrainian culture in PEI, she says without hesitation is “Cuisine!”

As an encouragement to others, Elena earnestly sums up her ethic as an artist-newcomer: “Always learn and be open… Try to find your place. Follow what you love to do. Be confident and don’t give up. Develop (your talent) and learn every day. Work hard. See how you can contribute to a new place.”

She smiles warmly, “This is what I try to do, every day.”

Speaking of her new home Island’s creative community, she says, “When we speak the language of creative ideas, we can speak the same language.”

Homing instinct

Profile: Emily Smith

by Jane Ledwell

Emily Smith (photo: Buzz)The population of Victoria-by-the-Sea, PEI, increased from 104 to 107 in 2011 when Emily Smith, her husband and young son moved back to the community where she had grown up and where her parents, Pat Stunden Smith and Erskine Smith, founded the Victoria Playhouse.

After graduating from university, Emily moved as far away as possible from the hours (and income) of a seasonal, not-for-profit theatre in a tiny community: “My first job was with a huge multinational insurance company, with benefits, a pension, and 9:00 to 5:00 hours.”

While she admits that growing up, she had “off and on” imagined working at Victoria Playhouse, it took drama to make her seriously consider accepting her current role, as assistant manager.

Five years ago, Emily’s father Erskine died unexpectedly on the eve of the summer season. “My father, of course, was artistic director and in many ways was the Victoria Playhouse,” Emily says.

“The board was stuck on a succession plan,” Emily recalls, and her mother asked if she would be interested in working at the Playhouse. The stability was not promising—the Playhouse has yet to achieve full-year, full-time payroll status, but Emily said yes. “I knew I could be really passionate about it,” she says.

Her passion is “particularly for seeing my father’s vision carry on—for egalitarian theatre. Something he did, maybe differently from others, was pulling in (to the theatre) farmers and fishermen and members of the Women’s Institute with Canadian comedy that was contemporary, light, and fun—accessible to all incomes and education levels.”

Part of maintaining this vision for Victoria Playhouse is choosing the right plays, and after Erskine’s death, the Playhouse board chose not to hire a new artistic director. Instead, they moved to an artistic programming committee.” And, while she admits it felt like a challenge to bring the 2018 season together before everything fell into place, the committee approach “continues to make sense.”

Together, they are “pretty excited” about this year’s two choices, a Canadian premiere of an American play and a play by a new Canadian playwright, fulfilling a commitment to emerging Canadian works. “It’s a challenge because we also do try to stay with comedies,” she notes, and many emerging Canadian writers write heavier stuff. “We’ve found, through trial and error, that they don’t suit our audiences.”

Working full-time with her mother Pat in a tiny office has been wonderful, though Emily says with some surprise, “We have discovered just how different our opinions are.” Their aesthetic is similar when choosing plays with the programming committee, and they have learned to use their complementarity selecting concerts for the summer concert series—but she laughs that they still have unreconcilably different taste in imagery. Their proudest innovation? “We’ve started doing children’s theatre classes at Victoria Playhouse. I am convinced introducing kids to theatre is a really good thing.”

Both Emily and Pat do a little bit of everything. By summer, a day could run from “getting in the car and driving around on a brochure run, to being at the performance to open the show”—not to mention, trouble-shooting. Last year, just as a show was to open, an actor got sick. “It was completely unexpected and beyond anyone’s control. It could have been a disaster, the end of the season. We could have been done” as a theatre. But they managed, thanks to an actor willing to fill in “on-book” for a weekend, and the support of audiences.

Emily says beautiful Victoria-by-the-Sea is “different from the Victoria of twenty years ago,” busier in summer and fall, with new residents and new businesses, too. “People have looked at Victoria and seen opportunity,” she says, with pleasure to be part of that renewal.

As April arrives with what passes for spring in PEI, Emily is looking forward to “getting the hall open, breathing life into it. It’s a big, old space that’s hard to heat”—so not much goes on during winter. “We want to open the doors again and get people in the seats. The building is just a building until there are people in the seats—and then it becomes a theatre.”

In the dialogue

Profile: Monica Lacey

by Jane Ledwell

Monica Lacey (photo: Buzz)For the Art in the Open festival one year, Monica Lacey created an installation conjuring an abandoned house in the woods. “Drunk teenagers stumbled into it,” she recalls. “I don’t even know if they knew it was part of the festival—but they started to have a house party…The suspension of disbelief they had was so magic.” Eventually, she had to kick them out to take the artwork down. “They all could have just fallen back out into the forest,” she laughs, “But they all went out the door.”

Monica says, “I like to create environments people can enter into,” and while her varied art practice isn’t all installations in the woods, her artwork and work as this town is small’s program coordinator create space for art and dialogue.

Monica’s new studio is in The Vessel, the new rent-a-studio art space and concert venue downtown in Charlottetown, alongside founder Becka Viau and other artists.

“My daughter is three in March,” Monica says, “and the past three years I have focused almost exclusively on photos and video… I’m glad I did zero in,” she says, but in her new studio space this winter, she left her computer home. “Moving in here, I thought I was done with painting, but now I’m painting and drawing again, things I haven’t done in so long… I’m getting back into actual materials… I’m letting myself play, and I don’t even want to attach an outcome to it. Putting that on it affects even how tightly I hold the brush.”

A graduate of New Brunswick College of Craft and Design, Monica started art school “quite late, relatively speaking,” at 27, after a decade of wanting art school but worrying about the viability of her plan. “I wish I had gone ten years sooner,” she admits, “but when I did choose where I wanted to go—it was perfect for me.” She was the first student allowed to craft an interdisciplinary degree—working in clay, printmaking, textiles, felt, surface design, encaustic, watercolours, acrylic, and installation work. “I was doing too much,” Monica laughs. “The feedback was always, ‘I like what you’re doing but rein it in—polish.’”

Monica loved that art school legitimated her art practice “It gives you a context; you’re surrounded by people on the same path. You’re not just an anomaly in a sea of accountants.” What she has been missing about school since being in The Vessel studio is “being in dialogue.” She says she can’t imagine being a doctor and having no one to talk to about symptoms and diagnoses and developments in the field—and yet “a lot of people (artists) are working in a vacuum… We need more spaces where artists can just bump into each other, and have those catalyzing conversations that don’t happen as much.”

As a result, she is coordinating this town is small monthly “crit nights,” hosting critical dialogue focused on a particular artist’s work in visual art or other media. “Feedback from someone else with a critical eye will push (your work) in ways you’ll never get to yourself,” she says. Even after participating in one crit, Monica says, “my work is more interesting to me.”

With Art in the Open now incorporated as its own independent festival “in a process of evolving,” and no longer a program of this town is small, TTIS is focused on year-round programming and professional development for artists. For example, the gallery in The Guild this summer will pay artist fees for exhibitions for the first time, something Monica calls “a game changer.”

Monica will be working this spring on a conceptual portrait series, with “pop-up portrait studios, school-picture style.” Subjects will get a list of experiences that shaped Monica’s identity and choose those experiences they’ve also had. It’s a chance to “explore commonality,” Monica says. “I’m not looking to oversimplify connectivity among humans, but I love getting into that dialogue.” Like the house in the woods or crit nights, Monica Lacey loves how much art pieces and artists can “grow and change through interaction with the public.”

Owning it

Profile: Ashley Condon

by Jane Ledwell

Ashley Condon (photo: Buzz)It wasn’t Ashley Condon’s plan to launch a full-length album of songs (Can You Hear Me, with many collaborators) and a brewery (Montague’s Copper Bottom Brewing, with her husband Ken Spears) within weeks of each other in one busy fall.

Ashley has found two ways to deal with surprising synchronicities: hard work and relentless planning. “It took six years to bring the brewery to reality,” Ashley says. “We pushed through so many resistances.” But the result of the hard work is, “A work ethic is showing up in all aspects of my life,” building not only a brewery but Ashley’s sense of herself as an artist: “I am enjoying owning being an artist 360 degrees,” she says.

But Copper Bottom Brewing right now is “all-consuming.” When Ashley met her partner Ken nine years ago, he was a huge craft beer fan, and she was “a middle-of-the-road Keith’s drinker.” She says, “He joked about having a brewery someday,” but as they built a home on PEI, and he built a career as an electrician and Ashley “was moving towards music, and doing it full-time,” the joke became a dream and gave way to a business plan for the first craft brewery in eastern PEI. 

Two years ago, Ken suggested Ashley be part of it in a bigger way—“but I was touring as a musician,” Ashley recalls. “I had all these other things going on…” 

Soon, it became clear to her it could be “a marriage of both our passions.” Ashley says, “As an artist, I like the sustainability of owning a business that stays in one place. There are trends in music that come and go, but there is no time of year that people don’t sit to drink a beer.”

As an artist, she also says the Copper Bottom space “is like a canvas, and … the colour palette is endless. We have had people approach us for so many kinds of purposes.” While music is at the top of that list, they want a space for all art forms, “an eastern space for projects to happen.” The brewery has already welcomed knitters, birders, runners, and musicians.

Ashley hasn’t yet gotten out to promote her latest album, Can You Hear Me, via live performance, but something is brewing. “I was really thoughtful about this record,” she says, “I worked really hard on the record.”

After a lot of collaborative writing, beginning with David Francey, producer of Ashley’s last full-length album, The Great Compromise, and continuing since, the singer says, “Really, for the first time in my life, I feel like a songwriter. I feel excited about … writing a song many can sing with conviction.”

The album, she says, is “a step outside the really personal.” She worked with Dale Murray as producer and says, “The production is very tasty, very warm, very inviting. There are a lot of musical ‘moments,’” where the track was kept “even if the vocal was not perfect—if the performance was interesting, and the feeling was there.” The album “is a representation of me in a place and a time, the only way it’s honest.”

Ashley says, “Music feels fun again, and I’m eager to play, and that was a feeling I was starting to lose. I was tired of the grind...

“I will get out to support this record in a way that works for me,” she promises. But she’s looking for more impact: less touring, more build-up—“almost a business plan for a tour,” she laughs. 

The combination of new album and new brewery made for an appealing story for national media, about what Ashley calls, “the changing landscape of music industry artists taking other roles.” For Ashley, the story is fundamentally about touring artists “getting back to your community.”

She says, “There’s so much value in building something in the community. It really fills my cup, growing something important.” Ashley reflects, “I’m passionate about showing artists that other paths and other journeys”—far from being a distraction—“only make you better as an artist. They make you realize how much work goes into creating something special.” 

School Break

Profile: Nikkie Gallant

by Jane Ledwell

Nikkie Gallant (photo: Buzz)Nikkie Gallant had been out of school for ten years when she went back in 2008. Her last award-winning singer-songwriter album came out in 2005. Three years later she started with business school, with the idea to support her music better. Ten years, a couple of diplomas, a degree, some library courses, some cultural resource management courses, and so on, she laughs, “Now, I can’t stop,” but chastises herself, “I need to start easing up on the school.”

The year Nikkie has lined up leaves little time for coursework. This summer, she was named site director of Eptek Art and Culture Centre in Summerside, and this winter, she’s returning to the recording studio for an arts grant-supported EP of new songs.

In the past year, Nikkie gave herself the challenge to write thirty songs, and she has finished at least twenty. “That’s a lot for me,” she says. And, she adds, “I’m really trying to be experimental, and not direct it.” She may start writing one song on guitar, but another by piano, and another with a build-up of vocals as a backing track.

“Half [the new songs] are wacky and weird and not at all what I usually do, and the other half are strengthened by the experimentation,” she says.

Nikkie had slowed down on performing over the past years, and not only because of school. “Because I was not doing a lot of writing,” she says, “I had to perform songs I wrote ten years ago, and they didn’t feel as relevant to me… But I really miss sharing—that connection when a song that really means a lot to you means a lot to another person too.”

She has remained involved in other people’s music, especially artists who record at The Nest in Summerside, the studio co-owned by her husband. “I like supporting other people’s music with my voice.” She adds, confidentially, “I almost like doing harmonies more than I like doing lead.”

Nikkie says, “There’s something about doing harmonies that brings you back to being little and your first musical experiences, listening to music and singing along.” But with so many of her own new songs, she says, “I want to perform more. I want to do things that are part of me that are screaming to be done again. I am excited to have my muse back.”

Known for writing sad songs and social justice themes, Nikkie admits, “I’m already not the person you choose for your kitchen party.” She says her songs are more reflective than anthemic, and recording is the best medium for some songs—“People can sit with [the song] when they want to.”

Following her curiosity in coursework has also helped establish another kind of career in the arts, at Eptek Centre, which she describes as “a very inspiring environment. Besides its heritage aspects, [the Centre] supports local artists and gives them a ‘stage,’ letting them find their audience.”

Nikkie worked as the administrative and curatorial assistant for three years, half of a two-member year-round staff team. That job included tasks as varied as “mounting exhibits, taking sales in the gift shop, and making a lot of tea.” To that variety, as site director she adds new responsibilities: “program planning, getting ready for exhibits, writing funding applications.”

Is there anything exciting she can tell us about 2018 at Eptek Centre? She asks herself out loud, “Hmm. Can I tell you about this?” before remembering, “I’m in charge of deciding that now!” The secret is out: Eptek Centre will mount a show of Island comic book arts in the summer. Nikkie can’t wait. “The talent we have here in that medium is phenomenal.” She says she expects the show “will have a wider appeal than even I think.”

But before summer will be the new recording: “It’s happening. It’s a real thing. Thirteen years later.” With so much going on for 2018, Nikkie still seems to have to remind herself: “I have to slow down on school. I might just take one course.”

Practicing art

Profile: Glen Strickey

by Jane Ledwell

Glen Strickey (photo: Darrell Theriault)Little did Glen Strickey know as an eager-beaver twelve-year-old that some of his uncle’s Sunday afternoon jam-session guests, who welcomed him to play saxophone with them, were world-famous musicians like Oscar Peterson or Oliver Jones.

It may be Saturday nights in Charlottetown, rather than Sundays in Cape Breton, but Glen still plays his saxophone with guests in the Winterjazz series at The Pourhouse. With Glen, Alan Dowling, Deryl Gallant, and Ian Toms as the house band, Winterjazz is in its eleventh season, and Glen says he still plays “just for the joy of playing with those other three guys. We thoroughly enjoy playing together, and know each other and communicate musically so well,” he says.

“It’s better every year, with a stronger lineup of guests.” And the “magical part of the show” is like those magical Sunday afternoons: “We always back up our special guest.”

Proceeds from Winterjazz go to a scholarship fund which is parcelled out at the end of the season among graduating PEI students going on to study jazz. “For me, it’s been great,” says Glen with enthusiasm. “I remember when I was in high school in Cape Breton, where everybody plays the fiddle, (a scholarship to study jazz) was the validation for me, that jazz was a valid choice of career or course of study.”

Supporting students to continue artistic studies is Glen’s professional calling, too. His day-job is as an art teacher at Bluefield High School. “I have a job working with creative students all day,” Glen says. “It keeps me excited about art to be around these young, unbelievably talented students. It encourages me that the arts are far from dying. There are a lot of creative people here.”

He and another Bluefield teacher, Jill Coffin, have implemented an advanced academic diploma program in the arts at their school, including coursework, development of a portfolio, co-op placement in the arts, and visits to artists and to universities with fine arts programs.  “I think we have created a really strong core in our school,” he says. “I have seen so many students go on and have careers in the arts in all different disciplines, it gives me hope.”

When he was in high school himself, music and drama were his mainstays, but in university he branched out to visual arts. He credits the late Carlo Spinazzola with the inspiration to experiment with new media. But Glen’s busy life and diverse interests don’t give him time for the sustained attention he needs for drawing or painting—so he found his visual medium in photography.

“Outside my teaching job, photography is what I spend more time on than anything else,” he says. “Photography fulfills that part of my visual art–creating need. It fits well with my lifestyle.” He especially loves long-exposure nighttime photography that takes him into nature in the silent darkness.

He adds, “Once you learn the medium really well, the world opens up as far as what you can do with it.”

December will see him open an exhibition of photography with his wife, Rosalyn. He and Rosalyn imagined photographing the day-to-day life of the Island’s Buddhist monks and nuns for a year, “being on the inside, seeing the selfless things they do all the time, every day, baking bread for the food bank or shovelling snow,” he says.

Glen and Rosalyn ended up travelling for six months and didn’t have as much access as they hoped—but in travels throughout Nepal, Thailand, and South-East Asia, they got to “explore visually” the practices of Buddhism, and also Hinduism, “where it is ingrained in the culture.” Their photographic project, yoking photos of religious practice happening here and away, became “a year of learning what motivates people to be compassionate, through the lens of a different culture.”

Where do art practices intersect for Glen? He says, “I’ve always played in colours, textures, and tones—feelings and emotions… I am always thinking visually when playing music.” On the other side, he says, “Doing photography, that sonic awareness adds a dimension to the photography.” Like many Islanders active in multiple art forms, Glen adds dimensions to his days.

Singsong

Profile: Kelsea McLean

by Jane Ledwell

Kelsea McLean (photo: Buzz)Students at Morell High School where choral leader Kelsea McLean is music teacher say she sings when she teaches. She admits she’s been accused of being “singsongy.” “I don’t think I’m a ray of sunshine,” she says, “or even all that optimistic—it’s just the delivery!” She laughs, melodically.

“I know all the kids in the school,” she says, “even if they aren’t my own students—even if some kids don’t want me to know their name… I’m lowering their street cred in the hallway, one (singsongy) ‘hello’ at a time.”

Choir “hooks people into community,” Kelsea insists—and by that measure, she’s very hooked in, as artistic director of Sirens women’s choir (a choir “trying to produce a professional-level choral aesthetic”) and Harmonia girls’ choir (another choir “demanding excellence,” through “vocal training in a group focus”). She also has directed the Indian River Festival chorus for two seasons.

Kelsea’s commitment is to music education and learning. “A large part of what I do is give singers something to work for,” she reflects. And letting loose her inner teacher, she adds, “The repertoire is the curriculum.”

Kelsea was raised by music-educator parents: at her small-town Saskatchewan high school renowned for music programs, her father ran the band program; her mother, the choral program. “Home was a little intense at times,” she says. “It forced me to be critical of my own musical skills, to be self-reflective.” At one moment, she and one of her brothers, a band director, could have taken over the music programs at their old high school: “We could have stepped into our parents’ roles,” she says.

Instead, she ended up here on PEI, where her husband’s family originates. “I moved here in 2012 and didn’t know anyone in the music world—and it all just fell into place,” she says. “In Saskatchewan, everyone knew me by my last name”; on PEI, “I don’t have those endless connections that some people have here—but I feel I’ve been embraced.”

She arrived with “an assumption that on the East Coast, there would be choirs around every turn,” and while there are many, she had to find where she fit. She met Andrea Ellis and Jennifer Gillis who were just beginning Sirens. Kelsea was instantly desperate to join—“And it’s a funny story,” she says, “but apparently, when they told me about Sirens, I played it really cool. I wasn’t playing it cool on the inside!”

Sirens started without formal leadership, but when it needed direction to grow, Kelsea says, “It just happened that I became artistic director.” The Sirens family grew to include Harmonia Girls’ Choir, which is in its third year. Kelsea says, “When I see the way the girls relate to each other, it makes me so happy and joyous.”

The group has recently incorporated as a not-for-profit organization as Sirens Choral Association Inc. to raise funds and especially “to help support the education aspect of the work.”

Sirens is also working on an exciting commission of original music, in partnership with the Mi’kmaw community. “Sirens has done Canadian programs and the choir repertoire includes amazing Canadian folk songs,” Kelsea says, “But it feels like the Indigenous voice has been missing.” The challenge was to avoid cultural appropriation; the answer was collaboration.

For the commission, Matilda Knockwood has recorded a legend—“with a focus on the sea and sustainability and mermaids—very appropriate for ‘Sirens,’” Kelsea smiles—and this will be presented in parallel with music that draws inspiration from the legend. The world premiere will be at the “Podium” national choral festival in St. John’s next summer.

Despite her work with women’s and girls’ choruses, Kelsea is a champion of boys’ singing. “I’m so worried choirs get deemed as a female activity,” she says. The key, is to “keep boys singing through the intermediate level” (which coincides with a “tumultuous time” in teens’ lives – and boys’ voices).

“I grew up with a band program running alongside a choral program,” Kelsea says, “and I’m bound to make it happen.” Kelsea’s goal is a choir for everyone and everyone in a choir—one singsongy “hello” at a time.

Events Calendar

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