“When I made that decision to go for it, there was no stopping me”: Interview with Singer-Songwriter Amanda Martinez

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Amanda Martinez’s latest album Libre is available now. Photo Credit: Johnny Lopera.

Amanda Martinez is a renowned singer-songwriter who has performed across Canada and on stages worldwide. She has played sold-out shows at Toronto’s Koerner Hall, New York City’s Blue Note Jazz Club, and the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara. In June, Martinez released her fourth album Libre. It is hard to believe the Toronto-born artist almost pursued another path entirely.

Born to a Mexican father and South African mother, Martinez grew up household founded upon a strong work ethic. Her father came to Toronto with virtually nothing. He and his brother rode their bicycles to Canada from Mexico. The brothers had $100 to their name. Martinez’s father always told her that there are no shortcuts in life. “It’s all about working hard.”

Acting on the advice of others, Martinez shelved her dream of pursuing a music career full-time so she could follow a “more secure path.” Martinez would go on to earn a Bachelor of Science from the University of Western Ontario and a Masters in International Business from York University’s Schulich School of Business. In time, Martinez landed a job in TD Bank’s trade finance department. Music remained a hobby.

As time went on, Martinez became increasingly worried about her future. She feared growing old and looking back on her life with regret. It manifested “in a bit of a crisis.”

“I just realized that I had been going along with what everyone had told me,” she said. “I had never really given myself the chance to pursue what I had always known in my heart, that I loved music, and I loved to perform.”

At the age of thirty, Martinez left the corporate world to pursue a singing career. It was not long until she landed her first gig at Alleycatz, a jazz club in Toronto.

“I walked into this jazz club and convinced the owner to let me audition with the house band,” Martinez said. “I was very enthusiastic. When I made that decision to go for it, there was no stopping me. He said: I like your attitude, I’ll give you every Monday night. That led to me knocking on doors at clubs around Toronto.”

In the beginning, Martinez sang a lot more in English than she did in Spanish. The singer noticed that “people really responded” when she sang in Spanish.

“They could tell that was what lit me up,” said Martinez. 

When she was not performing at Sassafraz or the Rex Hotel, Martinez was busy auditioning for television. She became the host of Ontario Lottery Tonight, allowing her to give up her temp job. She landed roles in Mutant X, This is Wonderland, and Monk. Martinez also provided the voice for a character in the critically acclaimed video game Rainbow Six: Vegas.

In 2005, the singer embarked on a new chapter in her career. JAZZ.FM91 hired Martinez to host and produce Café Latino, a weekend radio program dedicated to Latin jazz from around the world. 

“I feel like that got my name out there,” she said. “People got to know me on-air, and they would come to my gigs.”

Martinez recorded her debut album Sola during her tenure as host of Café Latino. “It was always my dream to record an album.” The album released in 2006. She left Café Latino in 2008 to focus on her music career.

“I wouldn’t have had a clue that years later I would have four albums to my name,” Martinez said. “And people would still be buying tickets to come see my shows. There was always that dream, but you never where you’ll end up.”

From knocking on doors to performing sold-out concerts, Martinez’s nearly twenty-year-long career is truly remarkable. And there is still much she wants to accomplish in her career. Martinez recently filmed an episode of Private Eyes in which she plays a Mexican actress visiting Toronto. A fan of musical theatre since high school, Martinez hopes one day she can bring her love for music and acting together. “I don’t know if it’ll be something I produce myself, but I would love to use both those sides of me.”

Touring more often is another career goal for Martinez, who performed across Ontario and Quebec this fall.

“I have been doing a little bit of touring but not a lot,” said Martinez. “There are so many places I would love to visit and bring my music to. It’s always a challenge with having young children at home and with my husband [Drew Birston] touring too. I hope to continue performing outside of Canada.”

Reflecting on her days performing at Alleycatz, Martinez says she feels lucky to still feel the same excitement to get on stage as she did back then. Yes, she may have “fewer wrinkles” in pictures from those years, but none of that matters for the 48-year-old singer. Martinez is thankful for the years of life experience that she brings to her music and shares with her audience.

“As the years have gone on, I feel so much more comfortable with myself and what I’m doing,” she said. “I remember when I first started, I was curious about people’s age. Oh, that person is x years old and still doing what they’re doing and loving it. People are still enjoying their music. That brought me comfort.”

“And I remember when I was hosting Café Latino, some of my favourite albums featured these seasoned singers from Cuba. There was this character to their voices. You could hear it in their voices — their life and their experience. That brings me back when I do feel anxious.”

What advice does Martinez have for young people? Follow your gut and try not to second-guess yourself.

“A lot of momentum that I got, especially in the beginning, was through being bold and going after little ideas or opportunities that came my way,” she said. “Even the radio program, I remember thinking who am I to host a show? But then I thought you know what, who am I not to? I can learn. If you maintain that attitude of being open, a lot of doors can open for you.”


Amanda Martinez’s latest album Libre is available on iTunes, Amazon, and Spotify. 

Learn more about the artist:
Official Website

Follow Amanda Martinez: FacebookInstagram / Twitter / YouTube

Christina Martin Talks New Album, Life on the Road, and Taking Care of Business

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Christina Martin’s latest album Wonderful Lie is available now. Photo credit: Lindsay Duncan.

“I did not want to turn 40,” Christina Martin says from her home in Port Howe, Nova Scotia. We are talking on the phone. It is a sleepy morning for Martin, home after touring Newfoundland. Martin and her husband/guitarist Dale Murray are enjoying two days of rest before hitting the road again in the morning. Their Canadian tour will take them as far as British Colombia. “I didn’t want to turn 30. I don’t like the idea of aging. I think it has to do with the industry I have chosen to be in.”

Last month, Martin released Wonderful Lie, the award-winning musician’s seventh album. As part of the Wonderful Lie Tour, the singer-songwriter will perform in Fredericton at The Muse Cafe, November 22. The venue is not far from where Martin grew up in the capital city.

“Both my parents are from Saint-Léonard,” Martin says. “I was born in Florida. We moved to Harvey Station when I was about eight months. Not long after, we moved to Fredericton. I grew up in Fredericton with my parents and two brothers until we moved to Rothesay when I was around nine. I lived on University Avenue.”

Martin remembers wandering the neighborhood and catching burdocks on her clothes in the field behind her home. Behind her home, too, was the train. 

“That train went off the tracks while we were still living there,” says Martin. “Nobody was hurt. It did damage some of the homes, though, just around the corner from my house.”

In 2002, Martin released her debut album Pretty Things while living in Austin, Texas. 

“It was a soft launch,” Martin says. “I did record an album and it was available, but I had no concept of what it was to promote an album outside of the town I was living in. As an artist in Austin, I was focused on trying to be a better musician and learning the ropes. I only started thinking about how to properly launch an album independently or with the help of partners once I moved back to Canada and became a resident of Nova Scotia.”

Martin’s attitude towards her craft changed when she began learning how to develop and grow her business as an independent artist. “Before it was all oh, I don’t need to learn that or do that. I’ll just focus on writing songs.”

In her tour journal, Martin speaks openly about managing the details of her business. “We do the best we can and it’s not always glamorous,” she writes. I ask Martin about the journal entry and the work that goes on behind-the-scenes.

“I do it because I have to,” she says. “This is my business. I have to pay the bills, and I want to grow. At this point, I can’t afford to hire somebody full-time or part-time. It really is a full-time job. It could be two peoples’ full-time jobs. I’m doing a lot of it myself. It’s hard. You are trying to find time to write and to record and to tour and to also have downtime to be healthy. All I can say is I just try to do the best I can. I make mistakes. I wish I could do more.”

The work comes with Martin on the road. While Murray drives the vehicle, Martin is answering emails, working on funding reports, and taking care of booking. 

“You are always thinking ahead because you got to plan the next tour that’s like half a year, a year, even two years ahead,” says Martin. “I always feel that pressure, you know. You have to book this now because, otherwise, these venues are going to be busy. You aren’t going to have work. That’s always a fear of mine. That I’m not going to have work, and I’m not going to be able to pay my bills. I won’t be able to continue the mission, which is to build connections with the music and the messages.”

I ask Martin about life on the road and how she stays healthy. Martin says she tries to stick to a routine that includes exercise and drinking plenty of water. “If I don’t exercise, I feel really anxious and just not centered.”

Exercise has always been a major part of Martin’s life. She was an athlete in her teen years.

“If it was sports season, I wasn’t experimenting with alcohol or drugs,” Martin says. “It was when the sports season was off that I started experimenting with alcohol and drugs. Because my brother struggled with addiction, I knew that could be something that I might struggle with. That might not be good for me. I went through a couple of years, on and off, of overdoing it with alcohol. I was conscious of it because of my older brother. I was cautious because I knew the negative effect it had on his life. I was scared that would happen to me.”

In her early twenties, Martin made the decision to stop drinking alcohol. 

“That was around when I started singing,” says Martin. “I was very busy with other jobs. I learned early on that if I wanted to be a singer and manage all these jobs and my music career, I couldn’t. I had to take care of myself physically. That included staying away from drugs and alcohol. Being in the entertainment business, it’s hard to say no and to not be the life of the party. It took until my mid-thirties that I became comfortable saying I don’t drink alcohol. Or to really say no and not feel that pressure to please people.”

Martin recently celebrated her 40th birthday.

Growing up, Martin received negative messages about aging. “The message I got was in the music business if you weren’t young or a prodigy right away, you wouldn’t make it. You would never be a star.” Today, she knows there is no single definition of success. Still, the idea of growing older is something the musician struggles with.

“I suppose it’s ingrained in me that as I get older, I will no longer be useful or wanted,” Martin says. “It’s such bullshit, but it’s still there. It’s a fear. It also keeps me going and working hard. I want to do more. I want to do more in my career and be better.”

And that is why Martin strives to live a healthy, positive lifestyle.

“I would like to be a role model as someone who is aging and kicking ass at what they do,” says Martin. “And breaking negative cycles. Those are important things to me.”

Our conversation turns to the new album and its release.

For Martin, a lot of the details involved in releasing an album are “a pain in the ass.” The details, she explains, take time away from creating more work. Where the magic lies for Martin is in the writing and dreaming of the concepts, as well as the collaborations along the way. “I get excited when I know I can get on that journey again to write and record.”

Wonderful Lie opens with Martin covering ABBA’s “The Winner Takes It All.” I ask Martin how she decided on recording the song for the album.

“Growing up, I loved ABBA’s music,” Martin says. “I started going through the material, and I landed on this one. It’s the one that stands out to me as a really beautiful song. I picked up my acoustic guitar and tried finding the right key for my voice. It felt good. It felt right to sing it.”

Before our conversation comes to an end, I ask Martin about her Patreon page.

Patreon is a subscription service where fans can help fund artists and creators. The membership platform offers exclusive content for patrons. Martin tells me that initially, she was hesitant to start an account with Patreon. “Who am I to ask for money? People are going to think I’m begging them.” What changed Martin’s mind was when she realized that in order to sustain her career, she was going to need to ask for help.

“I felt the pressure financially that I needed to change something,” says Martin. “I love touring but, you know, sometimes it kicks you in the ass. Like if you get sick on the road. I have been scared many times where I didn’t know if I could keep touring.”

Knowing, too, that historically, artists have relied on patron support also motivated Martin to sign up with Patreon. “I think it’s really no different today.”

Among the perks Martin offers to her subscribers is a tree planted in their name. Martin plants the tree on her property in Port Howe and sends the subscriber a yearly update about their tree. She calls the initiative her Plantreeon Family.


Christina Martin will perform in Fredericton at The Muse Cafe, November 22. Tickets can be purchased here.

For more tour dates, visit Christina Martin’s official website.

Follow Christina Martin: BandcampFacebook / Twitter / Instagram

“I have an unwavering belief in what I’m doing”: Interview with Comedian Tranna Wintour

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Tranna Wintour is a Montreal-based comedian, singer, and writer. Photo credit: Jess Cohen.

“I wish October could last all year,” Tranna Wintour says from her almost vacant apartment in Montreal. Wintour and I are speaking on the phone just a few days before her big move. After nine years of living in the same apartment, Wintour is moving into a new place. “This is the month where I can wear whatever I want without wearing a giant winter jacket.”

Raised in the suburbs of Montreal, Wintour is a transgender comedian, singer, and writer. She is one half of the CBC podcast Chosen Family. On the podcast, Wintour and co-host Thomas LeBlanc discuss sexuality, pop culture, and community with guests. Guests have included comedian Margaret Cho, actor and director Amy Jo Johnson, and pop duo Tegan and Sara. 

Wintour is back home from Toronto where she recorded a live episode of Chosen Family. The live recording was part of JFL42, where Wintour also participated in a panel discussion about podcasts (“The World of Podcasting”). I ask Wintour how she feels about the recognition she has garnered from listeners and the industry.

“It’s super lovely, ” Wintour says. “But it’s just. We work so hard on the podcast. We take it so seriously. Of course, it’s always nice to have your work be recognized. It’s not an expectation. For all of us, you can’t go into things with the hope of recognition or validation. That’s just a recipe for disaster. If you buy into the good, you have to buy into the bad. At the end of the day, it’s more important to stay focused on the work.”

The work can be all-consuming. That is, she explains, the risk of doing something you love.

“You pour so much into it,” says Wintour. “I feel like I’m basically working 24 hours a day. Even when I’m not specifically working on something, it’s always on my mind — this constant, endless to-do list. It’s been six years of this to-do list.”

Wintour is not shy talking about her relationship with doubt.

Doubt plants itself in Wintour’s mind when career accomplishments fail to produce the expected results. The results, she says, are often internal. “Okay, if I reach a point where I am able to achieve this and this and this, I will feel secure and be able to relax a little bit.” Those feelings of security and stability do not always follow, and that is when doubt begins to set in.

“Fundamentally, I have an unwavering belief in what I’m doing and that it will work itself out,” Wintour says. “If I didn’t, I don’t think I would be able to continue.”

Our conversation turns back to the podcast.

Wintour tells me that the podcast’s listenership has yet to reach its target. “It’s not disappointing, but we are already doing everything that we can.” Wintour is trying not to think too much about the metrics. In her personal experience, focusing on the end result removes joy from the creative process.

“I’ve noticed that I’m happy in the moment that I’m creating,” says Wintour. “I’m super happy when we are doing a great interview. I’m super happy when I’m on stage. I have found for myself that the joy is so short-lived because as soon as those moments of creation are over, I’m back into the mindset of the results.”

Moving away from that mindset is easier said than done.

“Under capitalism, we have all been trained to focus on the end result,” Wintour says. “We tie up the value and the worth of ourselves and the work in the result which is so toxic. It is so hard to deprogram that way of thinking. That’s what I’m really working on.”

Growing up, Wintour’s mother always had music playing in their home. “My mom is a music lover, but she’s not a die hard fan of any specific artist.” As a result, Wintour had no concept of “The Artist.” That all changed when she discovered Alanis Morrisette’s 1995 album Jagged Little Pill. It was the first time Wintour felt a connection to a single artist.

“That was transformational for me on so many levels,” says Wintour. “I was only eight or nine years old. It was the first example of what it would look like to live your life as an artist. In that connection to Alanis, I knew that one way or another, that was going to be me. That was what I had to do.”

Next year, Wintour will release her debut album Safe From Your Affection. The album, produced in partnership with Mark Andrew Hamilton, will be available on vinyl and digital platforms. Recording an album was something Wintour dreamed about for years.

“Somewhere along the way, I gave up on that dream.” Wintour says. “It was a dream that was always there, but then it became a dream that I thought a lot less about. I can’t believe it actually happened.”

It is a Thursday morning. October has just begun. Change is on its way, and Tranna Wintour is in its path, standing tall.


Tranna Wintour:  Official WebsiteFacebook / Twitter / Instagram / Bandcamp /

Chosen Family: CBC Podcasts / Spotify

Laila Biali on Her JUNO Win, Learning from Failure, and New Album

Laila Biali is an award-winning jazz pianist and singer-songwriter. She is also the host
of Saturday Night Jazz, a weekly program on CBC Music that features jazz music from Canada and around the world.

In 2018, Biali reintroduced herself with a self-titled album that saw the Toronto musician bring together jazz and pop. The album won Vocal Jazz Album of the Year at the 2019 JUNO Awards.

Let’s go back a few months. Your self-titled album receives the JUNO nomination for Vocal Jazz Album of the Year. What is going through your mind?

Shock. Because I live in-between the worlds of jazz and other genres, I really didn’t expect to get a nomination at all. I have only submitted an album once. It didn’t get nominated, but it was the last record that I put out called House of Many Rooms [released under Laila Biali & The Radiance Project], which was a total departure from jazz. You don’t want to get your hopes up. You want to focus on the reason why you make music in the first place which is not necessarily to get a JUNO or to receive a nomination.

Of course, I was also thrilled because it felt like affirmation of this direction I have been going in which blends jazz with other genres.

While preparing for this interview, I found an interview with you from 2005. How do you think 24-year-old Laila would have reacted to your JUNO win?

Oh my gosh. You know what? I think 24-year-old Laila would have expected it more than 38-year-old Laila. I was more optimistic and, to some degree, not more confident…a part of me was seeking my sound, which I think I have settled into more authentically now than ever.

Back then, I was a little less beat up, just by virtue of years on the planet. I hadn’t weathered the ups and downs that come with being in the music business. I would have been like yeah, man, I could get a JUNO.

You were already making waves. You won the CBC Galaxie Prize at the National Jazz Awards in 2003, and then two years later you won SOCAN Keyboardist of The Year and Composer of the Year.

Yeah! It felt like the world and the industry, and what we might have called gatekeepers back then, were more on board with who I was at that time. And then I went through this spell of 10 plus years of searching. During that time, I started to question — Is what I do viable? Who am I? I love jazz so much, but I really love pop and mainstream music. Is there a way to combine those worlds? Or am I always going to be too pop for jazz and too jazz for pop?

But we are now in an era where artists like Esperanza Spalding are all over the map. Jazz has claimed Snarky Puppy and yet the Grammys they’ve won have been in different categories, like contemporary instrumental. Jazz really embraces them as a fusion group because those guys all come from and respect jazz. It is an integral part of their sound, even if it’s not jazz as many people would conceive of it. I feel like I’m in this neat creative time where the idea of what jazz is, is becoming more expansive and allowing more room for play and crossing over.

I want to go back to the 10 year period you just mentioned. It seems like it was a difficult time for you. What is your relationship with failure, and what lessons have you learned from it?

It’s a real cliche, but it’s a cliche for a reason. You know how they say the journey is as important as the destination? In a way, that is completely my motto, musically speaking. Anybody who’s gone backpacking or travelled knows there are always ups and downs. Challenges. Missed flights. Illness. Maybe the destination you get to isn’t even the destination you expected. You have to allow for that as part of the process and embrace that for what it is knowing that it is, I think, as important as the destination.

You also can’t let it define you. The process is not the destination. They are not to be confused. When somebody writes a really critical article, or you put out a song that doesn’t do well, that can be a teaching moment. There might be some good you can take from that. You can allow it to shape you and inform steps forward. Or, if you disagree with it, then hopefully it enables you to focus all the more on the places where you think the truth lies for you.

Failure is a refining part of the process. It’s like when people talk about the crucible. When you want to refine gold, you put a flame to it. If you think about the equivalent for us as people, it’s like “Aah! That hurts! That is not comfortable.” But you come out a little more focused, a little more purified, and hopefully a little more you.

You mentioned that sometimes a song doesn’t get as much love as you would have liked. Is there a song or project that you wish had picked up more attention?

Yeah, House of Many Rooms. We got so much love from this whole other community of younger listeners and the college radio crowd, kind of the indie-alternative world. But because I was known as a jazz musician, very few within the jazz community really embraced that project. They were like, what is she doing? That kind of hurt, because that was like my music family. And so, I felt like a woman divided. I really had hoped that I could still be Laila Biali the jazz musician, or the contemporary jazz musician, and then have this other project that would signify to people that it was a different approach but equally me.

I remember reading an article in Rolling Stone about Taylor Swift and her transition from country to pop. Even though she is wildly famous, that was actually a very difficult transition for her. She kind of wanted to be in both worlds, but she went through this period where she was getting rejected by both. She said, and this is a loose quote, you can’t chase two rabbits. The genres representing the rabbits. I was like, oh, maybe I’m chasing two rabbits. That was when I was like: what happens if we try to combine these worlds? That’s what I felt like I did on the self-titled record which is why we made it self-titled. It felt like it brought these two formerly disparate aspects of my artistic self together.

It seems that these days, there are a lot of things competing for people’s attention: Netflix, YouTube, podcasts. Where do you think jazz music falls in the mix? Do you think Canada’s jazz scene receives enough attention?

I think we are lucky in Canada to have grants bodies like Canada Council for the Arts, all the provincial arts councils, and then also SOCAN Foundation and FACTOR. They are getting behind all the genres, including jazz. Jazz musicians are able to pursue their art without packaging it in a way that gives it its best chance of commercial success. So, you are getting a lot of music in our country that is distinctive and has managed to reach more listeners because of the grant support and being able to hire publicists. It gives album releases the campaigns they deserve in terms of marketing, radio, and publicity. I think that’s kept our scene more diverse.

In terms of the general public, I actually think audiences are increasingly open to different styles and the blurring of the boundaries between different genres. I do think the appetite for longer form music has decreased to some degree, but then at the same time, we are engaging with music a lot of the time as the soundtrack to our lives. In that sense, and especially with Spotify, it doesn’t matter if a track is seven or ten minutes long and is less radio friendly. People will have access to it anyway. And if they really enjoy what they are hearing, then they are going into incorporate into their day, even if it’s just as background.

Since 2017, you have been the host of Saturday Night Jazz on CBC Music. Has the program changed the way you listen to and appreciate jazz?

Yes! Other than the fourth hour which is intentionally a little more experimental, I am reminded of what makes jazz, jazz in terms of its traditional roots. There is a real sense of the tradition and the roots of the tradition. It’s good for me to be reminded of them because sometimes an artist like myself is at the risk of breaking away from those roots altogether. 

My producer Lauren chooses all the music. A lot of the times she chooses songs I wouldn’t choose myself. And so, it stretches me which is healthy!

What keeps you grounded when life gets too stressful?

My family. They are my northern stars. They are the constant. And my faith. People have come at life from many different faith perspectives. I was raised in the church and then moved away from the church in my late teens and early twenties. I came back to it with a different and more broadened worldview, but it still provides a real sense of anchoring and where I want to go as a human on this planet with one life. Those two things are very centring. Faith, family, and friends — if you want to go with alliteration!

How do you organize and schedule your day?

My husband is a freelance musician. We are constantly colliding and trying to manage co-parenting and everything else. We routinely have a morning meeting, because we don’t have day jobs. One of us, or both of us, will drop off our son at school and we will come back home for tea/breakfast. We will sit together and talk about the day, sometimes the week, sometimes the month, or sometimes the next few months. We lay out what we can. We might say a prayer together to get our hearts focused in the right direction. And then, we dive into the work, but also try to be flexible when things arise, which they often do.

We don’t lock into our schedule obsessively, but in a time like this season where I have a pretty tight deadline to come up with a new record, we have to map things out and stick to those commitments as much as we can.

Can we talk about the new album? Going into this new album must feel pretty good with a JUNO under your belt.

It’s also terrifying, because I’m like, aah!

What do you want to achieve with this album?

It sounds so cheesy and so basic but be myself without judging so much. I think the thing that’s my undoing now and in some ways more than ever in light of the JUNO is: are people going to like this? Is this jazz enough? I won a jazz vocal JUNO, so now I have to be a jazz musician — that thing is creeping back in. Instead of allowing the songs to dictate the direction we go in. My husband, who is co-producing the album and co-produced the last one, always reminds me of the importance of that.

Once you have birthed these songs into the world, they no longer belong to you. They belong to everybody who listens and for whom they take on meaning. You have to let that be what it may be. That’s the beauty of being an artist. For me, the goal is to express and then connect. That’s what I’m hoping to accomplish on this one.


Laila Biali will be playing Saturday, May 25 at the CBC Music Festival in Toronto. The festival will feature performances from Alvvays, Coeur de pirate, Peach Pit, and many more!

She will tour across Canada starting next month. For more information, visit: https://lailabiali.com/

 

JUNO Nominee Alison Young on So Here We Are and Learning to Let Go of Perfection

 

Alison Young, saxophonist.

Alison Young’s So Here We Are is up for Jazz Album of the Year: Solo at the 2019 JUNO Awards. Photo Credit: Lisa MacIntosh Photography.

In January, saxophonist Alison Young earned a JUNO nomination for her debut album So Here We Are. The album is up for Jazz Album of the Year: Solo at the 2019 JUNO Awards. The Toronto-based jazz artist remembers feeling shocked when the news broke.

“Initially I thought, that’s got to be a mistake,” Young said. “It’s my first album, and that it got nominated is a big deal for me. The recognition is so meaningful to me. It feels really important to be acknowledged like that.”

“You never know if you are going in the right direction or if people like what you are doing. You feel heard.”

The Ottawa native has been active in Toronto’s jazz scene since the early 2000s. She studied music at the University of Toronto, and since then has toured across North America, Europe, and South America.

Young describes So Here We Are as a “musical hello” and an amalgamation of all the music she likes to play.

“I’ve been wanting to put out an album for years,” Young said. “I’ve been trying to talk myself into it for five or six years. It’s easy to get distracted from my own projects.”

Movement on the album began when recording engineer Jeremy Darby of Canterbury Music Company offered Young studio time.

“The way it happened was Jeremy Darby gives away a day of free recording time to people he thinks deserves it, “ Young said. “It was a real push, him awarding that to me. That really forced me to get the band together and actually lay it down.”

“I felt like I wasn’t ready. I felt stressed out. It was hard to make decisions about how the songs should be presented,” Young said about recording the album. “By the time we did the second session, it was a lot more fun and cool and not as stressful.”

Young recorded the album with her band the Alison Young Quintet. The band has played together since 2012. “We are all friends and have played together in various bands and also as a band. It’s a good hang. It’s good musical chemistry there.”

Young has learned many things over the years as a jazz artist, but perhaps the most important lesson she has learned is to let go of perfection.

“I actually quit playing after going to university, because I over thought everything so much. I thought I needed to make music more complicated than it needed to be.”

“You just have to start. You’re always going to learn as you go. Let go of the idea of ever attaining any kind of perfection,” Young said. “The more you know, the more you don’t know. Be okay with it always having to be a learning process. That’s the thing about music, it’s really beautiful and daunting, but you never get there.”

What’s next for Young after the JUNO Awards? In June, Young is going on the road with Corey Hart, the latest inductee into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. After the tour, Young says she hopes to play music festivals with her band.


The 2019 JUNO Awards will be live from Budweiser Gardens in London, ON on Sunday, March 17 at 8 PM ET and broadcast live on CBC, CBC Radio One, CBC Music, the free CBC Gem streaming service, and globally at cbcmusic.ca/junos.

Learn more about Alison Young at alisonyoungmusic.com

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Dr. Wendy Freeman Talks Conducting and Building Trust with the Ensemble

In her senior year of high school, in Grandville, Michigan, Dr. Wendy Freeman auditioned for the position of drum major. She won the position and enjoyed a successful year with the band, which performed all across the state of Michigan. While Freeman had always loved music, practicing flute from an early age and singing in the church choir, it was this leadership opportunity that sparked her interest in music as a conductor.

“I actually thought I was going to be an architectural engineer,” says Freeman, speaking on the phone from Westmount Charter School in Calgary. “After I realized how much I enjoyed being at the helm of the music, that sort of took over my scholarship applications and my dreams.”

Today, Freeman is the music director at Westmount, where she conducts students from grades 5 to 12. She is also an adjunct professor for the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary. (Freeman received a Master of Music in Conducting Performance from U of C.)

“I teach the undergraduate education students interdisciplinary learning,” says Freeman about her duties at the Werklund School. “I’m a field instructor, so I’ll watch the student teachers teach and give feedback on their lessons.”

And at the U of C’s School of Creative and Performing Arts, Freeman helps with the Music Education courses.

“I’m a pretty busy gal.”

“I decided early on that I didn’t want to just be a tenure track professor,” Freeman says. “I wanted to have a farther reach. Part of that for me is seeing young people grow their technical capacity and being able to influence future teachers.”

When I ask about the work that takes place before rehearsal, Freeman tells me there are two essential things that happen: “picking repertoire that suits the ensemble well” and rigorous score study.

“Before you can get on the podium and lead a group, you have to be able to sing every possible part,” Freeman says. “You have to know the music inside and out, and you have to have a vision for how you want it to go.”

Score study is important for building trust between the conductor and ensemble.

Respect is earned, says Freeman, when it is clear that a conductor has studied the score and they can deliver feedback that helps make the music sound better.

“I think in adults, anyway, it garners a certain amount of respect.”

With younger people, it’s more about “communicating effectively.” When a change is made, Freeman helps her ensemble to listen to the sound result. “We always refer back to, do we like that better? And if so, why?”

But building trust can also happen outside of rehearsal. “I try to know as much as I can about my musicians and who they are as people. I think it’s about caring for the whole person.”

“And when they do trust you and you have a journey in a concert that goes well, there’s also that sense of shared joy. If you can get to a place of shared joy, I think that’s really important.”

“And also [shared] disappointment. It’s how we handle the challenges that teaches others who we really are as people. You could be a crazy conductor with horrible stick technique, but if you are a lovely person who cares about the people in your ensemble and you can show empathy and you can be a kind person off the podium I think that goes a long way for adults and children.”

What advice does Freeman have for young conductors?

“Breathing with the musicians,” says Freeman about conducting orchestral and/or wind band musicians. “That’s really key for young conductors to remember, that they want to take the same breath with the musicians to start each phrase, to start each piece or to start each new entrance as they would use to play their own instrument.”

“If you breathe with the musicians, they will breathe with you. You will get a much more beautiful attack or start to the phrases. That’s something that young conductors often forget, to breathe with the musicians. It’s weird, because we don’t actually play. The baton isn’t making the music. We have to remember to breathe, because when we breathe with them they also take a nice breath.”

And practice self-assessment: “In my master’s journey, I videotaped every rehearsal.” Later, Freeman would go back and think about what gestures were helpful (or not) for musicians. She also considered the effectiveness of what was said to members of the ensemble.

Freeman also recommends watching videos of the great conductors and “going to a lot of symposia over the summertime.”

What does Freeman find rewarding about music?

“What I love about music is that it breeds a feeling of community and belonging. Whether you are in an orchestra or a wind band or a school band, you belong to something greater than yourself.”

“We always hope that the end performance will be the best time that we’ve ever run the work and we often do find that it is. To me, the hard work, the best work, and the most rewarding work is done in your eight rehearsals that led up to the concert. That’s where the team really grows.”

That brings Freeman to her last piece of advice for conductors.

“When you take a bow at the end of the concert, you are also doing that on behalf of the players that made the music. After the concert, I think it’s really important, no matter what age level, to say thank you.”


The Calgary Wind Symphony will be presenting Starry, Starry Night on Sunday, December 16th at 2:30PM. The concert will be held at the Eckhardt-Gramatte Hall (Rozsa Centre, University of Calgary). 

About Starry, Starry Night: “A collection of music to highlight the best parts of a Canadian winter, including the endless night sky.”

Dr. Wendy Freeman, an associate musical director with the CWS, will be conducting part of the concert.

Tickets are $20 (12 & under free) and can be purchased online.