TOM PARKER OF COLONEL TOM & THE AMERICAN POUR DECLARES “SO MUCH OF CONTEMPORARY POP CULTURE IS MEDIOCRE AND BASED ON MARKET RESEARCH RATHER THAN ART. DOESN’T SEEM LIKE IT HAS A VERY DEEP SOUL TO ME – A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS

JAMES STRECKER: If you were asked for 50 words for an encyclopedia to summarize what you do, or have done, in the arts, what would you say?

TOM PARKER: Tom Parker is a Toronto-based traditional country music singer, songwriter, educator and instrumentalist. He has led a number of bands, recorded 5 albums of old-time and “classic” country music, both acoustic and electric, and currently leads the honky tonk group Colonel Tom & the American Pour.

JS: What important beliefs do you express in or through your work?

TP: I think that traditional country music, as opposed to “new country” or “big country”, deserves to be heard and celebrated today. To my mind the songs of traditional country music are to the genre as American standards are to jazz music.

JS: Name two people, living or dead, whom you admire a great deal and tell us why for each one.

TP: Hank Williams: with an economy of words and melody he could create timeless songs that get right to the heart of humanity. Love, loss, longing, loneliness. Universal feelings, and to my ear universal songs.

Alex Pangman: (full disclosure…she’s my wife!) a woman who has against all odds not only survived CF and two double-lung transplants but has excelled in her field of classic jazz. She lives, eats and breathes music. It startles me every day!

JS: How have you changed since you began to do creative work?

TP: I’ve always been what you’d call a “creative”. I can’t remember a time (other than when in a slump) where I am not working on some sort of idea. I think if anything I’ve had to change to be less reliant on being creative and be more practical over the years (see below).

JS: What are your biggest challenges as a creative person?

TP: Monetizing my creativity. It is very difficult to make a decent living as a traditional country musician at this time. I am also very bourgeois (!) and have never been willing to take a vow of poverty for my art. This is why I have been teaching music for the last 26 years.

JS: Please describe at least one major turning point in your life.

TP: When my wife Alex had to go through her surgeries I really had to step up and make sure that I was there for her all through the processes. I think it goes without saying that she and I both have a keen appreciation of life, and all that it has to offer.

JS: What are the hardest things for an outsider to understand about what you do?

TP: I think that some people have a hard time getting their heads around the fact that I am both a teacher and a musician. It seems like they want to categorize me as either one or the other, when I am in fact both.

JS: How and why did you begin to do creative work in the first place?

TP: I grew up in a musical family, and I’ve always been attracted to playing music. It just became natural. I was also lucky to meet up with a great bunch of people in Toronto and get involved in different musical groups over the years. Toronto is also a great place (in that it’s sort of the cultural capital of Canada) to make connections in the music industry and advance my career.

JS: What haven’t you attempted as yet that you would like to do and please tell us why?

TP: I have never attempted an international tour with any of my bands, largely because many of us in the bands I’ve played with maintained day jobs. We were able to play many festivals across Canada in the summer season, and into the states, but I have yet to play a tour of Europe.

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

TP: I played in a band called the Backstabbers Country Stringband back around the year 2000 that garnered a national reputation in the old-time acoustic music scene. Our music was getting played on the radio and we got a great deal of attention and print media, as well as getting placed in television and film. We also got to play the biggest stages in the Canadian folk festival circuit. It was fun to be treated like rock stars!

JS: What advice would you give a young person who would like to do what you do?

TP: I would say the phrase “Don’t give up your day job” is not necessarily a bad saying. Particularly now that some of my purely music-playing colleagues are getting into their 50s and 60s and finding it difficult to get by.

JS: Of what value are critics?

TP: In my case, extremely valuable. A music critic from Toronto’s NOW magazine named Tim Perlich had our band as a cover story and suddenly our shows went from being very well attended to completely packed in the period of a couple of months. We also had some attention from the national press just after that which made a big difference in terms of people recognizing who we were.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

TP: I don’t really ask anything. Sometimes I ask if anyone will buy me a drink when my glass is empty! Otherwise, I just hope people have a good time, laugh at the funny songs and cry with the sad ones.

JS: What specifically would you change about what goes on in the world and the arts?

TP: I don’t know if I would change anything, but I get sort of put off by the fact that everyone seems to obsess over pop culture. So much of contemporary pop culture is mediocre and based on market research rather than art. Doesn’t seem like it has a very deep soul to me.

JS: If you could relive one experience from your creative life, what would it be and why would you do so?

TP: I really enjoyed when one of my bands was at the height of its popularity and we could reach a lot of people. We got to play on stage to thousands of people at a time. Part of working as an educator is the fact that I have not been able to pursue my music career to the most of my ability. I made personal decisions or sacrifices, and this has come to affect my fan base, as it were. Let’s just say that I’m getting used to playing smaller crowds now.

JS: Tell us what it feels like to be a figure who is presented somehow in the media. What effect does this presence have on you?

TP: I’ve always enjoyed, and never taken for granted, everything that the media has done for me. I think that when you are presented this way to people, it gives you something that you need to live up to.

JS: Name two places you would like to visit, one you haven’t been to and one to experience again and briefly tell us why

TP: I would like to travel to Japan someday. The culture intrigues me, is very different from my own, and I think it would be fantastic to play music there.

Of course, the city that we go back to again and again is New Orleans. The rich culture and resilient people make it different every time we return.

JS: Please tell us about one or more projects that you have been working on, are preparing, or have recently completed. Why do they matter to you and why should they matter to us?

TP: My band Colonel Tom and the American Pour is a very steadfast and traditional country music act. I like to think that we are doing our part to keep this music vibrant and alive for contemporary listeners. I write songs in the style, and hope that we can make it modern sounding and attract new fans to the genre.

JS: Let’s talk about the state of the arts in today’s society, including the forms in which you work. What specifically gives you hope and what specifically do you find depressing?

TP: Well, one great thing about playing in a honky-tonk band is that you can get your music out into the bars, where there is a lively audience. I really enjoy playing our music for kids in their 20s who just want to come out and party their asses off, blow off some steam at the end of the work week. One of the sad things recently is that more and more people think that music should be free and that musicians should just give their music away. So, while it is relatively easy to get one’s music to peoples’ ears, it is getting more and more difficult for me to pay my musicians properly!

JS: Finally, what do you yourself find to be the most intriguing and/or surprising thing about you?

TO: I am intrigued by the fact that, despite me being very urban, postmodern, relatively well educated, somewhat snobby about art and food & etc. I continue to absolutely love simple, straightforward, and very old-fashioned country music.

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LORI YATES: SINGER-SONGWRITER NOTES THAT “MUSICIANS THESE DAYS MUST BE THEIR OWN AGENT, MANAGER, RECORD COMPANY, PUBLICIST, WEB SITE DESIGNER, POSTER DESIGNER” – A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS

JAMES STRECKER: If you were asked for 50 words for an encyclopedia to summarize what you do, or have done, in the arts, what would you say?

LORI YATES: Singer, songwriter, creative spirit, writer, photographer, promoter.

JS: What important beliefs do you express in or through your work?

LY: I think my work expresses: hope, determination, triumph over fear.

JS: Name two people, living or dead, whom you admire a great deal and tell us why for each one.

LY: Patti Smith the poet/musician for the connection with both the words & music. Frida Kahlo because of her sheer desire to create. Both strong women mentors.

JS: How have you changed since you began to do creative work?

LY: I’m not sure how I’ve changed since I’ve been doing creative work since I was a young gal of 11 years old, when I started writing poetry daily. I began songwriting at age of 14, and went into music professionally at 18.

JS: What are your biggest challenges as a creative person?

LY: Probably time management! I have tons of ideas and often there’s not enough hours in the day to complete them all. I battle with the depression of rejection, so I just try to keep my head down and do the work, not look for results.

JS: Please describe at least one major turning point in your life.

LY: A major turning point was when I decided to quit my job at the community centre and use the ticket that Sony had sent me to fly to New York to meet with them about a recording contract. It was the first time I was on a plane.

JS: What are the hardest things for an outsider to understand about what you do?

LY: Maybe the hardest thing to understand is how many different things I do; music gigs, run songwriting workshops, private mentoring lessons, photography,

JS: How and why did you begin to do creative work in the first place?

LY: I had a burning desire to create that just wouldn’t go away. It started with writing, morphed into singing and songwriting.

JS: What haven’t you attempted as yet that you would like to do and please tell us why?

LY: I started writing short stories, poems when I was a wee kid but when I got older music really took over and I mostly wrote in the form of songwriting. Lately I’m drawn back to the beauty of words alone. I’m really fascinated by memoirs so I might try to pursue that style of writing.

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

LY: Having my lyrics immortalized in steel in Gore Park, being given a City of Hamilton Arts Award, Juno awards.

JS: What advice would you give a young person who would like to do what you do?

LY: My advice would be very corny; follow your heart, find your own voice and never give up.

JS: Of what value are critics?

LY: I love a good review and bad ones hurt but in the end its just one person’s opinion.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

LY: That they have a good time, listen a little but not religiously lol

JS: What specifically would you change about what goes on in the world and the arts?

LY: I’d like to see artists be able to have more of a living wage, have street artists have more respect here in Canada.

JS: If you could relive one experience from your creative life, what would it be and why would you do so?

LY: It may be the first time I heard my song on commercial radio. I dropped to my knees, shrieking, the bacon burning in the pan. My boyfriend thought someone had died.

JS: Tell us what it feels like to be a figure who is presented somehow in the media. What effect does this presence have on you?

LY: Years ago I was a guest on the Tommy Hunter show. I had a room on Indian Rd, in a “dirty mansion”. My old landlord saw the broadcast, and immediately tried to raise my rent, the assumption being; you’re on TV, you must be rich riding around in limos. Social media is definitely a false reality.

JS: Name two places you would like to visit, one you haven’t been to and one to experience again and briefly tell us why.

LY: Definitely Mexico…would go back there in a second. I feel a big connection. And I guess my ancestral homeland of Ireland where I haven’t been yet but hope to soon.

JS: Please tell us about one or more projects that you have been working on, are preparing, or have recently completed. Why do they matter to you and why should they matter to us.

LY: I’m putting together some of my black & white iphoneography photos for a show “Chasing Shadow & Light” which will take place at Hotel Hamilton boardroom 195 James St. North during May art crawl…Friday May 12, 7pm

JS: Let’s talk about the state of the arts in today’s society, including the forms in which you work. What specifically gives you hope and what specifically do you find depressing?

LY: Well the whole middle class has fallen out of music, the days of 5 night gigs are long gone, as are most of the record companies. Musicians these days must be their own; agent, manager, record company, publicist, web site designer, poster designer. I find all this extra work tiring and depressing, but at the same time liberating. At least when something is working, you know why because you’re doing it yourself!

JS: Finally, what do you yourself find to be the most intriguing and/or surprising thing about you?

LY: Ok, this may be the most difficult question; I’m not sure there’s anything intriguing about me! But what might be a tad surprising is that I’m a bit of a book nerd who, as much as I come off as an extravert, I usually need to spend at least half the day alone to feel balanced. An introverted extrovert, my friend wisely called me.

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DAVID LEE: BASS PLAYER, PUBLISHER, AUTHOR, JAZZ WRITER, RECORDING ARTIST, AND MUCH MORE: A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS

JAMES STRECKER: If you were asked for 50 words for an encyclopedia to summarize what you do, or have done, in the arts, what would you say?

DAVID LEE: Born in Mission, B.C., after studies at UBC, in Toronto David Lee became known in the Canadian arts community as an editor, publisher, writer, and player (double bass and cello). His books such as Commander Zero (novel) and Chainsaws: a History reflect a highly personalized perspective of Canadian culture.

JS: What important beliefs do you express in or through your work?

DL: The need to create systems to which everyone can equally contribute and have their contributions acknowledged, and in which there is no one who does most of the taking and least of the giving. This is above all important on the level of the planet itself, where so much of the population has been conditioned to think of “success” as a state where one can take as much as possible, and give little or nothing back.

JS: Name two people, living or dead, whom you admire a great deal and tell us why for each one.

DL: Duke Ellington. A great musician who conceived of nothing in isolation: his compositions, for example, were very much about how the score and the improvising players can work together. He saw his music as being closely connected to the culture and politics of African American people, and he could fit that culture, in turn, into a broad global vision of humanity.

Gary Barwin. Talented both as a musician and writer, with a generous and inclusive attitude towards the work of others, whether they be beginning students or experienced professionals. He maintains a great deal of integrity in working across a range of disciplines.
Both Ellington and Barwin were, and are, very hard workers.

JS: How have you changed since you began to do creative work?

DL:I think I gradually have acquired a clearer picture of who I am.

JS: What are your biggest challenges as a creative person?

DL : Probably the biggest challenge is the discipline of taking the time to do the work. There are so many distractions, chief among them the need to make money.

JS: Please describe at least one major turning point in your life.

DL: When I was 24, my mother died suddenly and unexpectedly. I had been procrastinating about following my interest in the double bass, but very soon after her death, I found a bass advertised in the Buy and Sell and bought it, and have played it ever since.

In 1989, my wife Maureen and I were running Nightwood Editions on a shoestring, and our first child was born. I found that all my nurturing interest went into Malcolm (joined a few years later by his brother Simon), and into raising children in general, and I lost all interest in being a small publisher.

JS: What are the hardest things for an outsider to understand about what you do?

DL:I think the most difficult thing for most people to understand, and the most difficult thing for me to explain to them, would be where one finds the courage, the cunning, and the craftiness to manage to follow one’s interests, and still survive. I think a lot of people put a tremendous amount of energy into suppressing their interests, and never make the leap of faith (or more accurately, one leap of faith after another) into following their own interests, and trying to build those interests, and their accompanying tactics-for-survival, into a lifestyle.

JS: How and why did you begin to do creative work in the first place?

DL: I wrote a few stories and so on as a child, because I liked reading and so I wanted to be an author. I think that’s why many people begin writing: they want to be writers. The test is whether they develop a similar affinity for actually doing the work. Later in my teens, as I developed an interest in music, I decided to develop that – partly because I wanted to have some sort of social life in the arts, and I was afraid that writing was a terribly solitary pursuit.

JS: What haven’t you attempted as yet that you would like to do and please tell us why?

DL: I would like to write a novel set on the Canadian prairies.
I would like to write something about the Northwest Rebellion.
I would like to write some kind of critical work about the three 1950s Quatermass serials by Nigel Kneale, and even write a screenplay for a new adaptation for one or more of them.
I would like to compose musical settings for improvising groups of various sizes.
I would like to devote serious study time to the double bass.

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

DL: Successfully raising two children to adulthood and especially being able to enjoy raising a young family as much as I did, especially in the serious financial straits in which my wife Maureen and I often found ourselves. Sustaining a working marriage for over thirty years. Writing books that people have actually read and enjoyed, books that have been important to at least some of the people who read them. Given my patchy musical background, and the fact that I started late, being able to play and record and associate with some really excellent musicians. Contributing to a number of very different cultural groups in a wide range of communities. After a couple of decades working in publishing, taking on blue-collar jobs in the resource-based businesses of a small west community, and finding I could actually do them well.

JS: What advice would you give a young person who would like to do what you do?

DL: Go after what you really want to do in life and try to do it. If you’re lucky, you will fail. Then you will need to fall back on a plan B. It is the plan Bs that really make a career.

JS: Of what value are critics?

DL: Critics are of immense value for their ability to infuse some degree of cultural importance to works of art. There is a shortage of critical outlets both for writing, and for alternative musics these days, and that is a disaster for the artists. The success of a book, for example, can often depend on a handful of reviews. Without those reviews, a book can, in some ways, effectively not exist. Similarly, if a musician issues a recording, one or two reviews can make a huge difference.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

DL: When I look at or listen to a work of art, I try to judge it on its own terms. What were the creators trying to do? Once that question is answered, the next question is, how well did they do it? Speaking for my own work, I find it hard to say who the audience might be. It is best to make music that will work with, and for, the other musicians. As for books, as far as fiction goes, I feel like my imagined readers for each book are the characters who are in that book … I supposed because I feel like I am trying to tell the story in their terms.

JS: What specifically would you change about what goes on in the world and the arts?

DL: In Canadian writing, a few more periodicals are needed that would critique literature from across the country on its own terms. In general, Canadian literary media are dominated by a relatively small number of writers and publishers (often big multinationals) who have entered the CanLit canon.

JS: If you could relive one experience from your creative life, what would it be and why would you do so?

DL: I remember the publication of my first book as being exhilarating. It was a guidebook to the back roads of southern Vancouver Island, so it wasn’t a literary milestone, but still, it was a book with my name on it. I had met pianist Les Fowler and percussionist Jim McGillveray and trumpet Monty Rolston at the Pender Harbour Legion, where I think we were meeting to discuss the Pender Harbour Jazz Festival, but I brought the book and it dominated the conversation for some time. I have a book out! The great thing is, if one continues to write books and have them published, one can relive such an experience a number of times.

JS: Tell us what it feels like to be a figure who is presented somehow in the media. What effect does this presence have on you?

DL: Once a book has given me a presence in the news media, every time afterwards that I look at news media and I am not presented there, it seems like an absence, as if either the people at the media have screwed up, or I have somehow fallen short. This is one reason that writers keep producing books!
JS: Name two places you would like to visit, one you haven’t been to and one to experience again and briefly tell us why

DL: I would like to spend a few months in some Spanish- or Portuguese-speaking place, where I would be forced to learn the local language. I have never really travelled to such a place.

My wife and I went to Paris a couple of years ago and I would like to return there – again, for a residency of some kind where I would really have to exercise my French. It would be great to get some sort of artistic or teaching residency – I am not much of a tourist and prefer working trips. I also would like to visit Batoche in Saskatchewan.

JS: Please tell us about one or more projects that you have been working on, are preparing, or have recently completed. Why do they matter to you and why should they matter to us.

DL: I have just had the 300-page draft of my PhD dissertation scheduled for defence. It is an account of improvised music in Toronto from founding of the Artists’ Jazz Band in 1962 until the years that I was active with the Bill Smith Ensemble and other Toronto groups, ending in 1985. Because I was active as a musician and writer in that scene, it is a very personal work for me. It is also a scene that has been largely undocumented.

This summer I hope to write a decent first draft of a sequel to my 2015 YA novel, The Midnight Games. Writing this book was very enjoyable, since it enabled me to launch a fictional premise in which H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos comes to life in Hamilton’s east end. I believe it opened up new possibilities for the publisher, Wolsak and Wynn, as well as for myself as a writer. Most inspiringly, I have met several young people who enjoyed the book and want to know how it continues. The idea that a book of mine might be, to these young people, one of those Big Important Books like the ones that I read as a kid is touching and exhilarating, and motivating.

I play double bass in a trio with guitarist Chris Palmer and saxophonist Connor Bennett, and we’ve recently released a CD called The Phantom Hunter. I would very much like to continue working, and expanding a repertoire, with this band.

JS: Let’s talk about the state of the arts in today’s society, including the forms in which you work. What specifically gives you hope and what specifically do you find depressing?

DL: I began working in avant-garde jazz/ improvised music in the late seventies and the community was tiny – maybe a couple of dozen people across Canada. Now the community has grown and improvisation’s expanded musical language has spread into a wealth of different musical forms.

I have also just published a novel in the Young Adult category, a genre that is being encouraged by the publishing and education industry, as it is so important to get young people into the extended realms of thought that one can enter by reading books.

The rise of the internet and digital media is at once exhilarating since we all, particularly artists, love information, and now we have all we want. It is also depressing because, economically, it seems to work to reinforce the “”one percent” rule that is becoming so prevalent, where a tiny number of people make a huge amount of money, and everyone else makes little or nothing.

JS: Finally, what do you yourself find to be the most intriguing and/or surprising thing about you?

DL: I am always stunned and embarrassed when someone says they like or respect my work.

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DENISE GRANT: A PHOTOGRAPHER WITH THIS CONVICTION: “PHOTOGRAPHING THE ESSENCE OF A PERSON IS SO MUCH MORE IMPORTANT THAN TAKING A PICTURE OF A BEAUTIFUL FACE” – A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS

James Strecker: If you were asked for 50 words for an encyclopedia to summarize what you do, or have done, in the arts, what would you say?

Denise Grant: I have recorded the arts with photography for 40 years; from garage bands to Celine Dion, I’ve worked with artists of all stature and level of creativity. I’ve been fortunate enough to shoot the nominees for the Toronto Arts Foundation for the last few years and learned about other areas of the arts that I was unfamiliar with. I’ve also been lucky enough to be a Juno judge and be allowed to assess other artists’ album cover design—-all of it an education and an honour.

JS: What important beliefs do you express in or through your work?

DG: Important beliefs? That passion is beautiful. That creativity is admirable and should be documented. That photographing the essence of a person is so much more important than taking a picture of a beautiful face. That money means nothing. That having time to do what you want is power.

JS: Name two people, living or dead, whom you admire a great deal and tell us why for each one.

DG: I admire my father who died in 1998. He was a cinematographer who was a prisoner of war in the British army in WW11, captured in Tobruk; he spent 3 years in POW camps and after the war had to support a family which meant developing award winning photographs in my mum’s mixing bowls because there was no money for real equipment. He just got every job done at any cost.

I also admire Amy Dauphinee. She was my grade 5 teacher. I came from a very tough childhood with alcoholic parents; Mrs. Dauphinee seemed to intuit it and began taking me home to “work on a fudge recipe for the bake sale” or “to help with her workload” and she ‘accidentally’ brought two apples or two sandwiches a day to class so shared with me. I was the kid whose mum didn’t get around to making lunches. When I was 60 years old, I tried to find her son to thank him. Instead, I was put in touch with her. She answered the phone and I said “Hello, Mrs. Dauphinee, you might not remember me but my name is Denise”…I got no further. She replied “Denny? About time you called.” It had been about 50 years. I went through my whole story of how she’d affected my family life and given me hope and she replied “just today I asked God why he let me live so long and now I know. I had to wait for this call.”

This was a woman who didn’t only adopt hurt children, but also adopted two children in a 3rd world country and had her class do fund raising every single year so that those kids could go to school and have productive and happy lives.

JS: How have you changed since you began to do creative work?

DG: How have I changed? I’ve become more comfortable in my own skin (as happens to anyone who gets older) but also much less judgmental. I don’t have to like someone else’s art to value it; I don’t have to agree with another person’s opinion to give it credit. Taste and opinion are subjective. Some of what I feel are my strongest shots have gotten very little response from the public, but I recognize that taste is subjective. It’s a liberating epiphany.

JS: What are your biggest challenges as a creative person?

DG: Biggest challenges? A 70 hour work week. I have no idea how anybody else does it, but I work a 70 hour week. And before you tell me I’m a workaholic, ask yourself this: if someone said you could be paid to do your hobby for 70 hours a week, would you do it?

JS: Please describe at least one major turning point in your life.

DG: Major turning point. Having children. I had to decide whether I was going to give up photography or put my children into daycare and continue. I did neither. I started by shooting clients in my dining room while standing on a couch in my living room and having the baby on the floor. In time, I rented space and we cashed in pop bottles and took the subway to the studio every day; my kids played and grew up there while I worked. Aside from my daughter, Hayley, discovering the “your account is overdue, please remit payment” rubber stamp and then stamping all my papers, books and photos with it, the whole situation worked out beautifully.

JS: What are the hardest things for an outsider to understand about what you do?

DG: I don’t think outsiders see past pictures of beautiful people. If I had a nickel for everyone who looked at a gorgeous guy or girl in my shots and said “Boy, I wish I had your job,” I’d be driving a Ferrari. They simply don’t understand the work behind the scenes.

JS: How and why did you begin to do creative work in the first place?

DG: I began as a photographer when I failed at everything else. True story. I dropped out of school 3 months into grade 11, hitch-hiked across Canada and ended up living the hippie life in Vancouver in the 60s which was THE BEST. By the time I was 21, I’d held 23 jobs. I finally decided I’d have to teach myself a craft, so I bought a used set of the Time Life Photography books and taught myself photography. No looking back.

JS: What haven’t you attempted as yet that you would like to do and please tell us why?

DG: I’d like to write a humorous book about my life; I’ve been fortunate enough to have many adventures before and after having children—and have been able to see the humour in all of them.

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

DG: Most meaningful achievements? Hmmm…I’m going to assume you mean other than motherhood, which has been the highest peak I’ve ever reached. I think having my dad read Kim Campbell’s biography when she became Prime Minister, and him reading the part where she mentioned me by name…my dad faxed me a letter that I treasure to this day. He said I was his proudest accomplishment – and this was a man who’d never said “I love you.” (mind you, he might have sent the same fax to my brothers…)

JS: What advice would you give a young person who would like to do what you do?

DG: Advice to a young person: if you’re not willing to put your personal life second, don’t even attempt this leap. Working as an artist means sacrificing your personal life and compromising on familial commitments—- the idea of having a social life is alien to me.

JS: Of what value are critics?

DG: Critics are invaluable. Aside from making you aware of your weak points, they also serve as a way to reinforce your own feelings about your work. If I love something I’ve done and someone criticizes it, I simply assume they have different taste and I don’t take it personally. I was unable to detach ego when I was young, but as you get older, you recognize that critics can be a force that help you find your own line in the sand.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

DG: I ask people to keep an open mind.

JS: What specifically would you change about what goes on in the world and the arts?

DG: There are a lot of things I’d change about what goes on in the world and the arts, but primarily..? I think we should stop judging people who make a living commercially as not being artists. It makes be crazy when people assume that you’re not an artist if you’re making a decent living. I would have thought that artists, of all people, would be less likely to judge—but that’s not necessarily true.

JS: If you could relive one experience from your creative life, what would it be and why would you do so?

DG: Relive one experience from my creative life? The first time I spoke to 400 high school students when I was lecturing for Kodak, I was so nervous that I didn’t focus. I’d like to redo that and really look at their faces and read their responses. I was told afterwards not to say that I’d dropped out in grade 11 because it was sending the wrong message, so in further lectures, I dropped that. I regret that decision. It’s important for kids to know that not everyone functions well in a structured educational system and you’re not a loser if you drop out. Some people dance to a different drummer.

JS: Tell us what it feels like to be a figure who is presented somehow in the media. What effect does this presence have on you?

DG: I’ve been on various panels and had my work featured in the press, and people assume I must be sociable and they want me to embrace that world. But I’m a total recluse.

JS: Name two places you would like to visit, one you haven’t been to and one to experience again and briefly tell us why.

DG: I would like to visit Scotland again because my people came from there centuries ago and it resonates with me. I would love to visit the Arctic, not only to photograph it but to talk to people who live there. I send food packages to a family in the Arctic and their priorities are so wonderfully simple and admirable to me.

JS: Please tell us about one or more projects that you have been working on, are preparing, or have recently completed. Why do they matter to you and why should they matter to us?

DG: I was working on a “nightmare series” which wasn’t embraced the way I’d hoped—people are repelled by scary images, but I love them. Something else I want to work on is a series based on literature. My first shoot will be Miss Havisham, from Great Expectations, by Dickens.

JS: Let’s talk about the state of the arts in today’s society, including the forms in which you work. What specifically gives you hope and what specifically do you find depressing?

DG: I think things are in a good place in Canada; several agencies funding grants, social media being a place to promote art at no cost. So, what do I find depressing? Nothing. I’m a Pollyanna. There’s always a glad thought if you look hard enough.

20. Finally, what do you yourself find to be the most intriguing and/or surprising thing about you?

20.) Most interesting or surprising thing about me? I think the fact that I lived in a dysfunctional household, led a (very) wild youth and then settled down to raise 3 children and maintain a happy 37 year marriage is surprising. I have implemented all the traditions that my family never had. I’ve raised children in a gender unbiased household and have nurtured all of them. I’ve taught them all to be readers, have wonderful table manners and respect people from any and all walks of life. Who would’ve thought it? Not me.

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RECONNECTING WITH MUSIC AFTER A FIRE – PART 1

After the fire of December 1, I didn’t listen to music, or do much of anything for that matter really, until just recently, almost five months later. I had lost a huge collection of recorded music on CD, LP, 45 rpm, 78 rpm, and audio cassette, all collected over decades and in many genres. Our neighbour, Steve, loaned me one of his guitars, since all my instruments had been too damaged in the fire and smoke to repair, and although my fingers at the moment feel heavy, stiff and clumsy as lead pipe, I do find delight in slowly trying out things I used to do. This will take time.

In the meantime, I am pleased at how much music I am starting to listen to music from all over the creative map, music that awakens me from a numbed-out condition of fatigue and sadness, music that feeds every part of me and, even at its gentlest, thrills me. Often there’s a personal connection of some kind to the music I’m playing, memories begin to take shape, and I smile. So, allow me to talk now and then about just some of this music.

Okay, of course I never met the conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler. But once, in Toronto, soprano Emma Kirkby declared after our interview that she would arrange for my interview with her friend David Watkin, the Oscar winning cinematographer, who was currently filming in town. In turn, after our ensuing interview – thank you, Emma – David asked, “What do you think of Furtwangler?” and before I could answer, he said, “You have to hear this.” “This” turned out to be the last movement of Brahms Symphony No. I, recorded in Berlin on January 23, 1945.

I have rarely been consumed as much by a recording, and for almost twenty minutes sat motionless and silent and gradually emptied out of anything that was not this performance. So I came to understand why some call Furtwangler the greatest conductor who ever lived. He was a master of musical development, proportion and timing in a work, aware like a theatrical director of all its architectural nuances, able with uncanny insight to build suspense in what always seemed an organically-realized metaphysical narrative.

One experiences, deeply, in a Furtwangler performance, an almost ineffable sense of meaning being born in one’s consciousness, as if music and metaphysics speak their minds as one. I’ve been listening to Furtwangler’s Beethoven and Brahms symphonies of late and, each time, hold my breath at what this master’s dedication achieves.

With Anton Kuerti’s Beethoven Sonatas arrived in the mail, it was first, of course, opus 31, especially No. 2. Again, as with Furtwangler, I felt an artist completely present to all the dimensions and implications of a musical work at hand. And what an unyielding pianistic presence, one with a confident percussive quality that still shows both delicacy of emotion and nuance in concept in each meticulously realized lyrical passage! What a blend of passion and mind, when Beethoven would have it so!

How many years ago was it that, Anton, performing in Hamilton that night, called up and suggested we go have a vegan lunch, which turned out to be bagel sandwiches as we sat outdoors on Locke Street. I was humbled by the range in his conversation as we later drove through the city. His recitals are always thrilling, much as his conversation is challenging.

Now here are some of my favorite recordings of songs: ‘The Banks of the Nile,’ ‘Famous Flower of Serving Men,’ The Bold Poachers,’ ‘Jim Jones on Botany Bay,’ ‘Prince Heathen,’ ‘Rigs of the Time,’ ‘The Death of Young Andrew,’ ‘The Bonnie Lass of Anglesey.’ Yes, they’re all by Martin Carthy, called by many the most influential of folk singers, an artist from whom Bob Dylan and Paul Simon borrowed or stole, your pick, an OBE, and a master of imagination in how he puts songs together with his instrument. I love the way Martin holds the beat back on the guitar, as if resisting the tempo, even as he provides a solid foundation for a tune.

I first met Martin when long ago, by happy chance, he sang for a class of my college students. Another time, over an Indian supper in London, he explained how he came to write most of ‘Famous Flower.’ Once, I gave a depth psychology workshop in Ottawa, flew to Pearson, drove to Toronto, parked on Spadina, ran to U of T’s Con Hall, and just as I entered the auditorium, Martin and the Watersons, his in-laws, began singing another fave, ‘The Good Old Way.’ Thank you again, fate, for that one. Norma Waterson, his wife, is celebrated for an exquisite earth-rooted voice in traditional music. She has smiled the times I called her my favorite jazz singer.

The music of sarod master Ali Akbar Khan, whom Yehudi Menuhin called the greatest musician in the world, is also essential to me. It’s music that inspires, yes, an immediate connection, but more than that, an actual state of being, one of rhythmic spirit, one that takes over the listener’s body. I first heard him at -memory time, folks – the Eaton Auditorium in Toronto in the late sixties. It was love at first Alap.

Several decades later I found myself interviewing Ali Akbar Khan in someone’s bedroom in suburban Mississauga. All the while, during talk of music’s potent effect on one’s spirit and the possibility that, if he hadn’t finished what he was here to do, he might be reincarnated to continue, we smoked cigarettes and his were – appropriately- king size. I guess all important music feels like home, in a way, to the listener, and the ragas of Ali Akbar Khan always do that for me. The man found peace in his music and he gave it too. I have gone to his music often.

In Hymns of Heaven and Earth, composer Peter Togni proves himself most expert in creating and sequencing musical effects. Each one takes form through his instinctive, it seems, sense of balance and proportion in composition. Each one makes great emotional impact through his restraint and understatement. Here simplicity, in the use of one’s many creative resources for creation, gives birth to a work full of implication, tension, ambiguous resolution, and a challenge to the listener to fill in where the composer has shown restraint.

That much said about Togni also describes his ideal collaborator in Stacie Dunlop, a soprano with a voice that is at once crystalline and gutsy, ethereal and sensual, vulnerable and defiant, very theatrical and very musical at once. Where Togni’s writing demands technical versatility, Dunlop delivers also a spot-on emotional precision. Where Togni sets up a musical framework, Dunlop inhabits, with graceful passion and ease, the endless subtle shifts of the composer’s musical language. Hers is a very engaging performance of Pablo Neruda’s esteemed verse.

Backstage at a St Patrick’s Day concert one time, fiddler Martin Fay walked up to me and, as he declared, “You should have this!” slapped a shamrock with adhesive onto my left shoulder. Alas, I had only the week before broken that same collar bone while somersaulting unintentionally down a hill in Pennsylvania -don’t ask. But what the hell, these were The Chieftains who, any time they perform, on stage or on disc, they and we are made of lyrical yearning and undeniable toe-tapping that shows us to be alive in music.

Mind you, a recorded interview you’ve have with band leader Paddy Moloney, a man thick of accent, is not easy at all to decipher for weeks afterwards, but the man burns with enthusiasm for his music and the warmth is infectious. So, it means a lot to have found again copies of Irish Heartbeat: Van Morrison & The Chieftains and The Chieftains Live from 1988. On the latter you hear Martin Fay, a most lyrically soulful fiddler, and harpist Derek Bell who, backstage elsewhere, told me a delicious tale that he later repeated for me in a letter. It was written as it should be, in a bold and impish hand, one that took on the whole tight-assed world and mocked it as it should be mocked. I miss Martin and Derek.

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HANNA SHYBAYEVA: BELARUSSIAN-BORN DUTCH PIANIST DECLARES, “I WOULD ERASE MUSIC COMPETITIONS FROM THIS PLANET, BECAUSE THEY GIVE VERY WRONG IDEAS TO YOUNG MUSICIANS ABOUT WHAT’S IMPORTANT IN ART:” A REVIEWER INTERVIEWS PEOPLE IN THE ARTS

JAMES STRECKER: If you were asked for 50 words for an encyclopedia to summarize what you do, or have done, in the arts, what would you say?

HANNA SHYBAYEVA: Classical pianist by education who is strongly influenced and inspired by other genres of music such as electronic, contemporary, jazz, rock and more. Equally active in every musical setting form from solo to a large ensemble performance.

JS: What important beliefs do you express in or through your work?

HS: I believe music can heal, educate and change people, and I hope I play my little part in bringing this belief over to them.

JS: Name two people, living or dead, whom you admire a great deal and tell us why for each one.

HS: Admiring people for me is easy, since there is so much talent around and I always admire people who did or do the best with their gifts and talents and let them flourish to the maximum for the benefit of all of us and the world. But there are too many of them to mention here.

JS: How have you changed since you began to do creative work?

HS: Life experiences made me more daring and less insecure about what I do and I guess this brings more colour, form and depth into my playing. I also at some point realized that I have to do what I believe in and like and not do what others think is right for me. That realization opened a totally new level of ways and forms to be creative in classical music.

JS: What are your biggest challenges as a creative person?

HS: To be a business lady. To be a good sales/PR agent and sometimes my own accountant. Next to what I do, these are for me extremely hard to combine.
Also, to be social and be at my best when I am not. People who paid money to hear me play shouldn’t care if I haven’t slept for two days or have a 39 degree fever.

Also, to somehow still have a ‘normal’ life sometimes which includes cleaning, buying food, going to see parents and friends.

JS: Please describe at least one major turning point in your life.

HS: Leaving my home town and country for good at the age of 18 made an impression. Though I travelled a lot through Europe since very young age, it was one of the major turning points in my life, a point that lasted for 1.5 years since I couldn’t find a place where I felt I wanted to stay and study further. At that stage I questioned everything I had done with my life before and didn’t know how I wanted to go further and even if I still wanted to go on playing piano.

Meeting my teacher and therefore moving to The Hague was the second big turning point, since it gave me a second musical life, a strong wish to live with music again and that was the start of what I am today.

JS: What are the hardest things for an outsider to understand about what you do?

HS: This after the concert question: ‘Your piano playing is great, but what do you actually do for living?’

Some people think we just do this for fun, as a hobby, because we’ve got a good job aside that pays the bills and they don’t realize that this 1.5 hours’ program I just played for them is a full-time job with months of preparation.

A lot of people don’t realize how physically and mentally demanding what we are doing is. Physiotherapists compare piano playing (and not only piano, of course) with a heavy sport training and sometimes I know for sure I lose a kilo or two after a solo recital.

Another point which is hard to realize for an outsider is that we basically don’t have weekends and ‘evenings off after work’ since that is when most concerts take place. That being a musician is not a job, but an existence, and that we don’t have working hours, we work on music and live music all the time.

JS: How and why did you begin to do creative work in the first place?

HS: My mom is a conductor and there was always music in the house. We also had an upright piano which my mother played for me regularly, so naturally I started touching the piano keys early enough and apparently was learning very fast< which brought me to the special music school soon after. So, you can say that my parents decided for me to be a musician, but I am glad now that they did.

JS: What haven’t you attempted as yet that you would like to do and please tell us why?

HS: I have to learn how to really improvise and I want to be able to play real jazz…It fascinates me how different jazz musicians’ brains work and I believe it would do a lot of good to my creativity as a classical musician. Maybe in my next life….

I want to open a music centre with practice rooms and a recording studio with a small concert hall for musicians to gather and meld ideas, where all genres of music are going to be equally welcome. I know a place, but have no money to buy it, so if somebody wants to donate, please let me know.

I also want to attempt to learn how to dance flamenco I have always danced a lot and it’s an amazingly liberating feeling.

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

HS: I don’t know how meaningful it is for the rest of the world, but I think my last recording production was the most important and made the most sense to me. I made my first LP production which was recorded live with an analog ‘direct-to-2-track’ system, and this meant no edits and corrections were possible, what you hear is what you get. I believe it is important to stay real in what we do and don’t agree with the nowadays fashion of recording in classical music where everything has to be perfect, with no possible wrong note or a pedal squeak allowed. In the end, we end up with a lot of recordings that are so perfect they all start sounding the same. I believe we should take a step back, relax about our imperfections, and let the public hear real music which is played once and once only.

I also for the first time used a recording technique with the microphones very close to the instrument and almost without reverb. My sound concept is the opposite of what is common in classical piano recording where the piano often sounds loud but far away and an ambiance of a big concert hall is being created. I believe in a close and more intimate sound where the listener should feel like I am playing in his living room. Basically, I think I am reaching out to the old recordings’ sound and this was my first attempt, and I know there will be more experiments in this field for me and can’t wait to try again!

JS: What advice would you give a young person who would like to do what you do?

HS: First of all, ask yourself if you really love music or is it that you love yourself in music. The difference is crucial and can make you either happy or a very frustrated person for the rest of your life.

JS: Of what value are critics?

HS: You mean people who write bad things about others and get paid for it? Just joking.

They can be of a great value if they know the subject and are able to remain objective. In this case, you read really interesting meaningful reviews and it doesn’t matter if it’s positive or negative. However, too many of them are using the motto ‘I don’t like it and therefore it’s not good’ or they just praise whatever is in fashion at that moment.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

HS: I love my public and I hope they like me back. I don’t ask much of them, because it’s my choice to play for them and I am happy to see them when I come out on stage. I ask of them to forgive me if I have a bad day.

Maybe sometimes I want to ask of them to be a little more understanding right after the concert when I am still trying to catch my breath and not to be invasive or only want to talk about how their far away family member also plays piano and want to know how many hours I practice per day.

JS: What specifically would you change about what goes on in the world and the arts?

HS: What goes on in the world and the arts is unfortunately the same: egoism, vanity and greed.

To change these things I guess is impossible, since it’s never been different in history, or has it?

Hypothetically, I would force the whole world to start its day with one obligatory hour of dancing and singing together on the streets where presidents would be forced to dance as a couple with a cleaning lady and a Muslim person together with a Christian!

If I could change something really in arts, I would erase music competitions from this planet, because they give very wrong ideas to young musicians about what’s important in art and why we choose to do what we do. In music, it’s not about being better, faster, stronger, greater, or prettier.

JS: If you could relive one experience from your creative life, what would it be and why would you do so?

HS: No, I don’t think I want to relive any, I only want to make and live new ones.

JS: Tell us what it feels like to be a figure who is presented somehow in the media. What effect does this presence have on you?

HS: None whatsoever. I am not that much in the focus light that it would start to become disturbing. In my case, it actually helped me a little since I was always very shy and introverted. Having to deal with media taught me to be more present and express myself better also in words and not only through playing piano.

JS: Name two places you would like to visit, one you haven’t been to and one to experience again and briefly tell us why.

HS: I have to go to Iceland one day, I find everything about that country extremely intriguing.

I want to go back to that place in the middle of nowhere in the countryside somewhere between Berlin and the sea where a little pretty house stands, hear and feel again that strong wind and warm sun on my face, and experience that peace of mind I haven’t had in years.

JS: Please tell us about one or more projects that you have been working on, are preparing, or have recently completed. Why do they matter to you and why should they matter to us?

HS: I am always busy with ideas inside me, they have to grow and take shape and sometimes it takes time. Every solo program I come up with is a project for me, to think it, cherish it and make it blossom in the end. The important thing for me is to always have a surprise element in every program I make, and let’s say even if I have a quite conventional program there always will be a piece that nobody knows or expects. In every program I make I try to bring in a little educational aspect, to not only let my public hear what they already know, but always integrate an element of the new and unexpected, maybe then it becomes more meaningful for all of us.

Recently I am also preparing a contemporary tango project which might turn into a recording as well. I love dancing, as I told you before, and tango is one of my passions too. I found a lot of contemporary composers who apparently felt the same way and I think it’s interesting and also entertaining to bring this out as one project.

Another exciting project to come is a theatre piece I and my colleagues are working on, based on improvisation in music and also in acting. We are trying to expand our boundaries and show our public totally different sides of us as musicians.

I am always busy with my two-piano duo, Pianologues, with an amazing jazz musician Gianluca di Ienno who taught me so much about jazz. Based on improvisation and mutual feeling of the moment on stage, this project is growing into something that I cannot tell you yet.

JS: Let’s talk about the state of the arts in today’s society, including the forms in which you work. What specifically gives you hope and what specifically do you find depressing?

HS: I have the feeling that the arts, including my field, somehow are coming to standstill at the moment.

We are pressed by promoters, concert halls and all other mighty parties to come up with new ideas and exciting projects to make the arts move further, but I feel that under a lot of pressure, and especially time pressure, those ideas don’t have time to form themselves into something real.

On the other hand, the same promoters are quite scared to see something new or something they personally don’t know in our programs and the phrase ‘Our public will not understand this’ or ‘This is too difficult for our public’ is what I hear so often. How do they know if they never tried??

We end up repeating the known repertoire over and over again because today things have to sell and preferably sell easy and fast, but there is so much interesting and exciting music still to find out and perform! I have nothing against the great repertoire of the past and will never stop playing it, but I also feel it is almost the duty of my generation of the younger players to not forget to look around and embrace the repertoire that is being created for us right now.

Also, what always sells is sex appeal, I find it dangerous for young artists when a label or a powerful promoter gets them to dress up and behave in a certain way just to sell a lot of tickets and CDs. There should be no place for that in what we do, in my humble opinion.

The hope is that there are enough young greatly talented musicians who don’t go with this philosophy and stubbornly go on creating new interesting things, music and projects, at all costs, without thinking only about how to make a fast and glamorous career.

JS: Finally, what do you yourself find to be the most intriguing and/or surprising thing about you?

HS: I am surprised myself that I am breaking a lot of barriers for myself and am not afraid to go out of the framed image of ‘a classical musician,’ something I never thought I would be doing.

The intriguing and the exciting thing is that I don’t know where else this will bring me.

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BOOK REVIEW: CLOUD MESSENGER: LOVE AND LOSS IN THE INDIAN HIMALAYAS BY KAREN TROLLOPE-KUMAR

Cloud Messenger, a memoir by Karen Trollope-Kumar about “Love and Loss in the Indian Himalayas” resonates, in understated yet evocative prose, with many passages that cling to the reader. Try this: “……I could see that flowers had burst into bloom. But something strange had happened. The world around me was like a black and white photograph – the colour had disappeared, leaving nothing but shades of gray…. Weeks passed and I remained lost in my shadow world……. The long hours of daylight dragged on, until I was desperate for night to come.” If you’ve known depression, or maybe if you’ve avoided the blunt fact that you are depressed, or could be, you may shiver in recognition and awaken to new unsettling depths in yourself.

But Trollope-Kumar’s subtly seductive narrative is many things –including a firm yet humane account of her many realizations during her spiritual development. This is shown as by no means an easy journey: “I had come to Garhwal filled with naïve enthusiasm and I had created naïve expectations for myself about building a medical program with specific outcomes and goals. The failure of these expectations had perhaps been inevitable…. Yet my outer life had always been intimately related to an inner movement of mysterious dimensions……That inner journey had led me to ever-deepening layers of understanding: how people of a different culture live and work, how they experience their bodies in health and illness, how they create meaning within their lives. At another level I had experienced the meaning of love – for Pradeep and my Indian family, for my children, and for the people of Garhwal.”

At a profound level, the author “felt a sense of unity or oneness with the natural world” and “deep” connection “with others.” She sums up, “My spirituality lay in the mystery of pattern, within nature and within human lives.” And later “I offered a prayer to remember the attitude of the true pilgrim – to be open, aware, humble, and mindful.” This she concludes after eleven years as a Canadian who, with her Indian husband, works as a medical doctor in remote regions of the Himalayas. Here she gradually grows into the culture, becomes more at one with it, as it were, and both the country and the author develop in complexity before the reader’s eyes.

The reader, however, does not remain a neutral observer, since both the country’s revelations and the author’s awakening require a thoughtful reader to share Trollope-Kumar’s probing attitude and to question so much that is taken for granted by a Westerner. Try this passage, one that I reread several times to let its implications start to settle in: “My brain swirled in confusion. I’d never seen a condition like this in my medical work in Canada and the symptoms just didn’t make sense to me.” Her husband, Pradeep, a doctor raised in the pulsations of Indian culture, comments in response: “This problem of safed panni is very common in India…. In Lucknow, we were seeing many women like her.”

To which Trollope-Kumar responds: “But a condition like that doesn’t even exist in Canada…. It’s as if people’s cultural background affects the way they experience their bodies – even someone’s symptoms can be different depending on the culture they grew up in. Isn’t that amazing?” To which Pradeep replies: “Maybe it’s because we people in India never used to think of the body like a machine with lots of parts. We think of the body as having flows of energy – something that is always changing. It’s a different idea completely.” Trollope-Kumar becomes “lost in thought: “Perhaps to become an effective doctor in India, I’ll need to decipher the language of the body……I suspect that this is a skill far more subtle than simply learning to speak Hindi.”

One beauty of Cloud Messenger is the frequent and clear articulation of nearly ineffable spiritual wisdom and of potent personal realizations. Friend Bill observes: “The problem with you is that you are still attached to the idea of ‘I’ as the doer. You need to pray to understand the movement of Divine will in your life. In that moment of surrender, you will find the peace your heart is seeking.”

Trollope-Kumar then reflects: “God, pray, Divine will, surrender, these are all words that arise in a faith tradition in which the Divine is perceived in the most intimate terms in an ‘I-thou relationship…. Yet what do these words mean for a Buddhist, a Daoist, or for an agnostic? What do these words mean for someone like me, who has so many questions? ……If we think about the universe as a dynamic dance, can we transcend the need for words like God and Divine will? The dance of the universe is revealed in the richness of the world, in the myriad names and forms that surround us. Suppose the seeker strives to attune herself to that cosmic dance, to move in its rhythm – will she then find the peace her heart is seeking?”

Meanwhile, Pradeep’s determined spiritual search has led to one realization that he should move with his depressed wife to Canada – “You’ll feel better in your own country”- and also this: “I am no more interested in NGO work. In fact, I am no more interested in the practice of medicine at all. It is time for me to take a new direction in life.” Before, when his wife teased him that he could have been a well-known guru, his response was: “Having disciples is the last thing I want…Too much power comes with being a guru, and most people can’t handle it.” Meanwhile, Trollope Kumar worries that “all that work” the two have done will “go to waste.” And she reflects, “Perhaps I was drawn to India in pursuit of that adventure. Perhaps Pradeep was just part of that romantic fantasy…”

In Cloud Messenger, we learn much, say, about India’s culture, everything from daily diet to the ways of childbirth and the treatment of women. Also about the perils of trying to deliver health programs, with limited resources and undertrained staff, to rural India. Also about a westerner’s unending adjustment to an intensely complex and elusive way of life that India is. Also about ideals confronted by a hostile world – a swami does get murdered, after all. Also about the fibre of love and friendship in their many manifestations. Also about human need and denial and the impact of each one.

Like the country she describes, the author’s intensely personal memoir draws one in and doesn’t sit still for passivity to be one’s response. It’s a fascinating and very readable tale, often rich with subtle humour and insightful lightness of being, that begins: “’Expect the unexpected,” I had been told when I left Canada for two months of medical studies in India.” Cloud Messenger shows itself to be a wise and gentle life shared. It’s a life that – by trying to move beyond intention and expectation and denial of one’s truer self- indeed earns its wisdom.

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KARINA GAUVIN: A SOPRANO CONSIDERED “ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL VOICES IN THE BUSINESS” SINGS HANDEL AND VIVALDI IN TAFELMUSIK’S “THE BAROQUE DIVA” FROM MARCH 23 TO 26, 2017 AT KOERNER HALL: A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS

Photo by Michael Slobodian

James Strecker: What important beliefs do you express in your work?

Karina Gauvin: Staying true to the composer’s wishes and paying special attention to style. Style defines every era in music, and I try to mould myself to this as much as possible. Some singers like to put their own stamp on the music they perform and oftentimes, I believe, it distorts the original message and what the composer intended. I like to think that the composer was the best one to know how he wanted his music to be performed.

JS: Name two people, living or dead, whom you admire a great deal and tell us why for each one.

KG: I can’t tell you how often my colleagues and I have wondered what it would have been like to meet and work with either Handel or Mozart. Such fascinating human beings who wrote so magically for the human voice. What it must have been like to be in their presence, be guided by their requests and be given music that was being created right then and there, on the spot -the music of the time.

JS: How have you changed since you began to do creative work?

KG: I have changed immensely over the past two decades and mostly in my vocal range and my ability to stretch my limits. I constantly strive to improve what I do and try to stay open and fresh. Singing at a high level takes years and years of painstaking work. Listening to oneself and constantly taking a finer and finer grain of “sand paper” to refine what one is doing. My teacher used to always say, “cent fois sur le métier remettez votre ouvrage”. Which basically says: take what you have woven and put it back on the loom and weave again. A concept that many find hard to grasp in this day and age of fast, easy and discardable!

JS: What are your biggest challenges as a creative person?

KG: There are many challenges one faces in this career. Being a singer, we “live” with our instruments in our bodies 24/7. Being sick with a sore throat or cold, having indigestion or working long days on little sleep is part of what we have to deal with on a regular basis. Oftentimes, the biggest challenges an opera singer has to deal with do not have to do with the creative process at all. In this business, lots of travelling is required of us. Touring sometimes under very difficult conditions, rehearsing AND performing all on the very same day. Then we are required to set everything aside and to perform like angels. So before entering the stage, it’s about letting all of those extraneous worries behind and concentrating on the task at hand.

JS: Please describe at least one major turning point in your life.

KG: My work with [the late] Alan Curtis and the many recording and concert projects I did with him. When I met him, he changed my life forever and I will never forget it.

JS: What are the hardest things for an outsider to understand about what you do?

KG: Sometimes certain people do not understand the work that is required to get to this high level of performing. They think all we have to do is basically get up, open our mouths and sing! I say, you try it sometime and let’s have a chat afterwards….

JS: How and why did you begin to do creative work in the first place?

KG: Creativity was in the family. My mother has always been a creative person. She was a singer herself and was interested in many forms of art. This of course stimulated 2 of her 3 children to venture on the creative path.

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

KG: Besides all my work and recordings with Alan Curtis in particular, I would have to say how I pulled myself out of a very difficult divorce some years ago. After going through deep depression, I emerged a stronger, better person and definitely a better singer. Stepping out of darkness definitely makes you appreciate the light!

JS: What advice would you give a young person who would like to do what you do?

KG: It takes time. A lot of time and then some. More than you can ever imagine. One has to be very patient in this business. There are many factors that contribute to a successful career and many, many sacrifices have to be made. You have to be ready to accept that or you will be very unhappy. To be a performer is very demanding and you have to be able to leave all your cares behind before you get up in front of an audience. No one wants to see a sour face. They have paid good money to hear you sing. You have to be joyous and the audience has to hear it and see it!

JS: Of what value are critics?

KG: Any musician will tell you, when criticism is constructive, it’s useful. When critics can guide and inform people about music they know little about, it’s useful. When critics can make a liaison between the audience and the artist, something can be learned. However, when it gets personal and vindictive, that’s when we have to step out of the arena. Malicious and nasty comments have never helped anyone.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

KG: I am happy they have come to hear me. It’s wonderful when people are open and receptive to what is happening on stage. A couple of requests though, please don’t pull out your bag of chips or your cell phone during a performance. It’s annoying. We can see so much when we are up there on that stage!!!

JS: What specifically would you change about what goes on in the world?

KG: We all need to listen more to one another. In this day and age of social media, everyone has an opinion. Opening a doorway to compassion and exchange is how we can heal ourselves and others around us.

JS: Tell us what it feels like to be a figure who is presented somehow in the media. What effect does this presence have on you?

KG: Being a classical musician is definitely not like being a Hollywood celebrity. It’s not invasive, I have my private life and it’s not being discussed in the tabloids. So, all is good as they say.

JS: Name two places you would like to visit, one you haven’t been to and one to experience again and briefly tell us why.

KG: I would like to go to India for the colours, the people, the food, the silks, I would love to visit a workshop where they do hand block prints and experience the utter culture shock of it all. I would also love to go back to the Highlands of Scotland. When I lived in Glasgow for a year during my postgrad, I got to see them only once and it was pouring rain that day. I’d like to be able to take my time the second time around!

JS: Please tell us about one or more projects that you have been working on, are preparing, or have recently completed. Why do they matter to you and why should they matter to us?

KG: I have several projects on the horizon, a few with a wonderful European orchestra. I don’t know if they would matter to anyone, but they certainly matter to me because I feel I am in such a good place in my life and in my voice now. I am at that place where my life experience can deliver a meaningful message and that I have the vocal strength to deliver that message. This matters to me and, who knows, maybe it can “speak” to someone out there as well.

JS: Let’s talk about the state of the arts in today’s society, including the forms in which you work. What specifically gives you hope and what specifically do you find depressing?

KG: The classical world has definitely “glammed” up in the past two decades. This has been good to clean up and modernize the image of musicians at large and make them more approachable to the general audience. Our classical world definitely needed a dusting off and getting up to speed. However, I fear that now, it’s a lot about that, and certain artists (singers) are being looked over because they don’t have that Hollywood/ supermodel glossy appearance that so many presenters are looking for nowadays. Yes, we need to present artists that are appealing to the public but we all need to hear and see people that have something to express through their art. I want to be moved and stimulated when I go to a concert or the opera. It is first and foremost about music, not a fashion show!

JS: Finally, what do you yourself find to be the most intriguing and/or surprising thing about you?

KG: How resilient I have been all these years, working at this career. Someone told me once, very early on, that I was too much of a fragile flower to aspire to this business. I would be lying if I didn’t say that there weren’t many frustrating moments and many tears along the way, but lo and behold, here I am over 20 years later, still going strong.

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KAREN TROLLOPE-KUMAR: AUTHOR, PHYSICIAN, MEDICAL ANTHROPOLOGIST, AND EDUCATOR ON HER NEW MEMOIR “CLOUD MESSENGER, LOVE AND LOSS IN THE INDIAN HIMALAYAS” AND ON FINDING ONE’S “ESSENTIAL NATURE” – A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS

James Strecker: If you were asked for 50 words for an encyclopedia to summarize what you do, or have done, in the arts, what would you say?

Karen Trollope-Kumar: Well, I don’t think I can come up with 50 words – how about 5? Memoir writing, scientific writing, teaching, journaling and public speaking.

JS: What important beliefs do you express in your work?

K T-K: First of all, I believe in connections of the human heart – that it is possible to build a bridge of love across the divides of religion, language, class, culture and ethnicity. In my book, Cloud Messenger, I reflect on the ways that I connected with so many people in the Himalayan foothills. Ultimately, I think this was my greatest achievement in those years I spent in India. Not the medical work that I did, but in the friendships I made.

Second, I believe that each of us has an essential nature – a set of personality traits, gifts and talents we were born with. When we try to fight against our nature or to try to be someone who we are not, then inevitably we’ll feel frustrated and disappointed. But when we begin to understand our true nature, we can find ways of expressing our gifts and talents in our daily life. It took me a long time to learn this life lesson, but it is so essential for happiness.

JS: Name two people, living or dead, whom you admire a great deal and tell us why for each one.

K T-K: Both of the people I’ll mention are also described in Cloud Messenger. John Last has been my mentor and friend for many years. He’s a renowned public health physician, who was one of the first scientists to write about the health consequences of climate change. I admire him greatly for his work, but also for his role as a mentor to hundreds of students over the years. He always took time to spend with students, and many of those students became lifelong friends. HIs encouragement for my writing has been invaluable. The second person is another friend, Ginny Shrivastava. She grew up in Canada, and as a young woman she met and married a graduate student from India. They moved to the state of Rajasthan in north India, and Ginny has lived there ever since. She’s done remarkable work with tribal women, helping them to organize and use their collective strength to improve their living conditions.

JS: How have you changed since you began to do creative work?

K T-K: I’ve always wanted to write, but I’ve certainly struggled a lot with “writers’ block”. I am rather a perfectionist about my writing, and as a result I have a lot of unfinished writing projects. Now that Cloud Messenger has been published, I think it will be easier for me to move on to other projects and actually finish them!

JS: What are your biggest challenges as a creative person?

K T-K: Probably my biggest challenge is trying to overcome perfectionism and self-doubt about my writing. Also, I need to be more disciplined about setting aside time for writing. I am still working as a family physician, and I also have numerous volunteer commitments in the community. Sometimes, I feel too busy to set aside some quality time for writing. I need to work on that.

JS: Please describe at least one major turning point in your life.

K T-K: Certainly, the biggest turning point in my life was that moment when I decided to leave Canada, move to India and marry Pradeep. It was a huge leap of faith, because I really didn’t know him very well and I certainly didn’t know much about India. That decision changed my life in every possible way – and I don’t regret it for a minute. My worldview has been broadened by the experience of living in another culture, and marrying someone so different from myself has been a fascinating journey. Pradeep and I have now been married for 32 years, and we are still very happy. Although we live in Canada primarily, we have deep connections to India and we spent part of every year there.

JS: What are the hardest things for an outsider to understand about what you do?

K T-K: Many people who have read Cloud Messenger say to me, “I just don’t understand how you could have decided to leave Canada in the way that you did.” I believe that some decisions are made on a deep intuitive level, and that was certainly the case for my decision to leave Canada. Somehow I knew that by moving to India I would embark on a great voyage of self discovery. There were many hardships and crises during those years I lived in India, and the work we tried to do had only limited success. But what an adventure it was!

JS: How and why did you begin to do creative work in the first place?

K T-K: As a child, I used to enjoy writing journals and short stories. I also used to like to make up stories and tell them to the kids I was babysitting. As an adult, I’ve written a number of articles on medical subjects during my career as a family physician. But “Cloud Messenger” is the first book I’ve ever written, and it took me a very long time to write it. I think that a memoir presents particular challenges – how do you decide what to include and what to leave out? How personal and revealing will the narrative be? How do you represent people in the narrative who are still living? Lots of questions to be considered! In writing the book, I began to perceive so much more about those eventful 11 years in India, and subtle patterns emerged that I had never considered before. It was a wonderful experience to try to capture that period of my life in prose.

JS: What haven’t you attempted as yet that you would like to do and please tell us why?

K T-K: Right now I am attempting to get Cloud Messenger more widely known. Since the book was published last fall, I’ve spoken at a number of different venues in Hamilton and Toronto. I’ve been getting excellent reviews, which is encouraging. But it would be exciting to see if Cloud Messenger could attract a national or international readership. That’s my next challenge!

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

K T-K: I’ve worked as a family doctor for over 30 years now, both in Canada and in India. It’s such a great privilege to work as a physician, because we become witnesses to such significant events in peoples’ lives. I’ve always loved that part of my work as a family doctor, and I treasure my memories of all the patients I’ve gotten to know over the years. I’ve also done a lot of teaching over the years, mainly to medical students, and I’ve tried to impart my love of the humanistic side of medicine to them. In my personal life, being a wife and mother has been a fascinating (though often challenging!) journey.

JS: What advice would you give a young person who would like to do what you do?

K T-K: I quite often have medical students asking me about my work in global health. I encourage them to get some experience at living and working in different environments. By crossing a cultural barrier, you learn so much about yourself. The experience of learning to see through someone else’s eyes changes you forever.

JS: Of what value are critics?

K T-K: Critics play an essential role for any creative person. It’s often difficult to see our own work objectively, and a critic can provide valuable insights and perspectives. When I was writing Cloud Messenger, I was fortunate enough to have several readers who provided me with excellent critiques of early drafts. My daughter was one of my sternest critics, who would tell me when I was beginning to sound pedantic or when my prose was filling with medical jargon. She encouraged me to write a much more personal narrative, and I think her critique improved the book immensely.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

K T-K: In Cloud Messenger I describe the joys and challenges of 11 years of life in Himalayan foothills. Some of my experiences were frightening and disillusioning, and at times we faced problems of corruption and violence. But these negative experiences were far outweighed by the beauty and joy of those years in India. I would hope that people reading Cloud Messenger will see that this book is ultimately about the power of love. My greatest insight of the journey was the realization that it is possible to build connections of the heart across the divides of culture, class and religion.

JS: What specifically would you change about what goes on in the world?

K T-K: What saddens me most about the world today is that instead of moving towards a greater sense of unity among people, we seem to be moving in a direction of deeper divisions. This will diminish us as human beings. Our challenge should be to deepen our understanding of others, not to focus on differences.

JS: If you could relive one experience from your creative life, what would it be and why would you do so?

K T-K: It was that marvellous experience of finally breaking through a persistent writer’s block and feeling the narrative begin to pour out of my heart onto the page. I’d been struggling to write this book for years before I actually managed to do it – It seemed like such an impossibly difficult task to capture those 11 years of adventure and learning in prose. But once I finally broke through that block, I experienced such marvellous creative joy in the process of writing.

JS: Tell us what it feels like to be a figure who is presented somehow in the media. What effect does this presence have on you?

K T-K: I am not known as a writer as yet – I hope that one day I’ll be able to answer this question!

JS: Name two places you would like to visit, one you haven’t been to and one to experience again and briefly tell us why.

K T-K: I would love to visit New Zealand, which seems like a country of extraordinary beauty. Also, the New Zealanders I’ve met have all been kind and interesting people, and one of them became a special friend of mine. A place I’d like to visit again is a remote spot in the Himalayan foothills known as the Har-ki-Doon valley. I hiked to that place years ago with a couple of friends, and it was truly magical.

JS: Please tell us about one or more projects that you have been working on, are preparing, or have recently completed. Why do they matter to you and why should they matter to us?

K T-K: My daughter Sonia was ill with a severe eating disorder for a number of years, though thankfully she’s now recovered. When she was ill, we were both shocked to realize how little good information is available for parents as well as people suffering from these devastating disorders. Recently, my daughter started an advocacy and support organization for people with eating disorders called Body Brave. I have been working with her on several initiatives to promote positive mental health. We’ve started working on a book that shares the experiences of a parent and a child throughout the course of an eating disorder. I think it will be very helpful for families in which a loved one is suffering from one of these illnesses.

I’m also working on a writing project with my husband, called “The Seven Colours of Love”. My husband has been pursuing his spiritual life ever since I first met him, and he’s developed a set of teachings called Naturality. He describes this as a way of living that is neither religious nor spiritual, but natural. He’s written several books about his ideas and experience, and I think that “The Seven Colours of Love” will be a significant addition to this body of work.

JS: Let’s talk about the state of the arts in today’s society, including the forms in which you work. What specifically gives you hope and what specifically do you find depressing?

K T-K: Since Cloud Messenger has been published, I’ve been learning about a whole new world – the world of books, writers, and publishing. I’ve discovered some great sites online, such as Goodreads, where you can interact with other people who love books and get ideas for the next book to read. I’m also connected with some book bloggers and have attended some literary events. For me, it’s all completely new and I find it fascinating. The publishing world is undergoing a great deal of upheaval, but I don’t see this as a negative thing – I think it is opening up lots of interesting possibilities. Indie publishing is booming, and this certainly gives many more people a chance to see their work in print (including me!). The downside is that there are so many books on the market that competition for readership is fierce.

JS: Finally, what do you yourself find to be the most intriguing and/or surprising thing about you?

K T-K: On the surface, I look and sound like a calm, sensible family physician – which I am, of course! But what many people don’t realize is that I also have an adventurous and quirky side that leads me on all sorts of improbable journeys. Readers of Cloud Messenger will soon become acquainted with that side of my nature!

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KATE TROTTER: ACTRESS WITH OUTSTANDING STAGE CAREER AND OVER 100 CREDITS IN TELEVISION AND FILM -ALSO AN ACTING TEACHER AND PROFESSIONAL COMMUNICATION COACH- DECLARES, “I AM AN ACTRESS. I WAS BORN AND RAISED ON A FARM. WHAT GOT ME FROM THERE TO HERE IS A MYSTERY.” -A REVIEWER’S INTERVIEW WITH PEOPLE IN THE ARTS

JAMES STRECKER: If you were asked for 50 words for an encyclopedia to summarize what you do, or have done, in the arts, what would you say?

KATE TROTTER: I started my career under the guidance of Douglas Rain and Martha Henry at NTS. Under Douglas, the school had a classical tradition both in style (we called him “Mr. Rain”) and in focus. Douglas believed if you could do Shakespeare you could do anything. As a very young actress I was a part of the early seasons at The Blyth Festival and years later Janet Amos asked me to return there to direct. As a result of my training at NTS I worked all across Canada doing wonderful classical roles and even found myself on tour at The Kennedy Centre in the States. I spent my 30th birthday working on stage at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto and did several fabulous seasons at both the Shaw Festival and the Stratford festival. When my daughter was no longer young enough to drag around the country I began doing more on screen work. I was offered really wonderful roles on TV and in film often due to my classical training. I played Marie Curie in a movie about her life as well as the delicious part of a Shakespearean actress on Murdoch Mysteries. I have worked opposite many great international stars ranging from Sophia Loren, Angelina Jolie, Charles Bronson, James Woods and all three of the Carradine Brothers. I played a continuing role for Warner Brothers on the series Kung Fu: The Legend Continues. I have been nominated for numerous awards – and won several. I have had a rewarding and exhilarating career which still astonishes me. A recent film (Tru Love) won me best actress awards in Wales, Mumbai India and San Diego. All in all, it has been a wonderful ride and I am continually grateful for the opportunities I have been graced with.

JS: What important beliefs do you express in your work?

KT: I think I always express and explore the necessity of love and belonging. Often (and not surprising) it is the love of a child. I think my characters are always struggling to understand their own motivations. I think I express the belief that we should seek to know ourselves better. It is through that knowledge that we can live better lives. I do believe that the arts can (and do) change lives. I believe that connecting with other human beings (often they are part of an audience) is an honor and a privilege. I believe we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. I believe that it is an honor to be an actress and speak the words of great writers. I believe that when it comes right down to it we all struggle with the same needs and fears and eventual loses. I believe that the arts give us the arena and the platform to both discuss those things and to share them. Because of these things, we are less alone.

JS: Name two people, living or dead, whom you admire a great deal and tell us why for each one.

KT: Well – (#1) Shakespeare of course – because he said it all and he said it brilliantly. Through his works we still ask the fundamental questions and we still seek to answer them. Doing The Winter’s Tale at Stratford was an honor. Shakespeare is a joy to perform. And (#2) Clare Coulter because she is the perfect actress. She simply cannot be false. She is a woman of great integrity and fierce intelligence. She played my nurse when I was Juliet and my daughter when we did Top Girls. She was astonishing in both. And I loved her in both – as both the character and the person. (…And of course Brent Carver for all the same reasons and many, many others). Now that is my answer if you want people in the arts: if it is someone not in the arts it would have to be my daughter Kathleen. By being born she showed me how to love and live and perform and dream. She continues to astonish me with her humanity and her drive and her courage and her determination to improve the state of the world one person at a time.

JS: How have you changed since you began to do creative work?

KT: I am less insecure and less anxious about pleasing people. It is a great relief. It is partly age and partly experience and partly that I have the good fortune to work with directors who have believed in me. There is not much more thrilling that being hired to be exactly the actress you are and having a director clear the way so you can do your work.

JS: What are your biggest challenges as a creative person?

KT: I think my biggest challenge as a creative person is to not lose hope between jobs. It is easy to forget I am an actress if I am not acting or preparing for a role. One has to have faith that right part will come along and the right director will be directing – sometimes that faith seems illusive. And this may seem superficial but it is a challenge to keep myself open and available to delicate and subtle suggestions, ideas and emotions on set. Sometimes people can chatter too much and I lose the delicate threads that are connecting me to the moment and to the scene and to the heartbeat of the character. When I am working, I get lost in a role. And I love that feeling. It is often a challenge to ensure that that can happen. One has to be open and friendly on set but still be able to establish the boundaries one needs when one needs them without upsetting or insulting anyone. Sometimes it is a tricky balance to strike.

JS: Please describe at least one major turning point in your life.

KT: Without a doubt the most important one was the birth of my daughter Kathleen. When Kathleen was born, I began to understand what was important and what was not. I understood there was a business side to being a performer – because I had to make enough money to raise her and put her through school. I understood the need to be present and honest and open and real and generous and available. I understood my limits and my failings. I understood that love was possible. There have been also been several roles that have been turning points. When I was offered a continuing role by Warner Brothers it was a huge turning point partly because then I was a lead on an American series. And that is a pretty fabulous thing to be offered out of the blue. And I was offered it without an audition which was even more astonishing. Playing Marie Curie was a turning point because I understood that acting was something important – and not a vain activity. Playing Miss Alma (in Summer and Smoke) showed me the power a piece of theatre could have. I think playing Miss Alma was when I decided with certainty that I would not leave Canada. The decision to not make the move to the States was a turning point and one I have never regretted. It was an important turning point when I turned down a fabulous offer to work at Stratford (under the guidance of Robin Philips) to honor a contract I had already signed to work at Theatre New Brunswick. I knew that integrity would always trump opportunity. It was a big decision but again, not one I regret. I got to work with Robin years later for which I am and forever will be grateful. He was a genius.

JS: What are the hardest things for an outsider to understand about what you do?

KT: It is hard work. And the goal is to make it look effortless and easy. Also, an actor is an unusual combination of qualities – and usually there is an emotional wound at the centre. And finally acting chooses you – you don’t choose it.

JS: How and why did you begin to do creative work in the first place?

KT: I had no choice. It was as much a surprise to me as it was to my family. There were no performers in my background and I had no aspirations to be an actress. I was raised on a farm and acting was not a topic at the dinner table. Somehow at university I discovered literature and somehow the fates arranged an audition for NTS. I spent the first year at theatre school thinking they had the wrong applicant. Every acting job I have ever done has been a gift and a surprise.

JS: What haven’t you attempted as yet that you would like to do and please tell us why?

KT: I have not done enough directing. I’m not sure why. I have had several wonderful experiences directing and been asked what I wanted to do next. But I haven’t followed those openings or opportunities – I’m not sure really why. Acting has always been front and centre and I was so fascinated by what might be waiting for me as an actress that I just didn’t carve out the time to invest in directing. And now I have discovered psychotherapy and it too has claimed my heart. Perhaps there will be room for directing down the road. I certainly love coaching and working with students of acting – and that is a form of directing. I’d like to do more.

JS: What are your most meaningful achievements?

KT: Well – Kathleen – if one can claim someone else’s life as an achievement. And loving and caring for my pets. I think I might say that I feel I have led an honorable life to date and that feels like an achievement. And it would be ingenuous if I weren’t to say that I am deeply proud of the acting awards I have won and been nominated for.

JS: What advice would you give a young person who would like to do what you do?

KT: Try to be honest with yourself about what you ‘need’ and want from your life before you commit to a life in the arts. It isn’t easy and often it isn’t financially rewarding. But if it is something you are called to do, do it with your heart and soul. Make connections with people of all ages and all stages in their careers. Never burn a bridge if you can help it. Care about your scene partners and help them be the best they can be – and they will do the same for you. No one does this work alone or in a vacuum. Don’t imagine you will succeed on your own. Have a full life outside your work so you don’t need your work to be your entire world. Love an animal. Love a child. Volunteer. Do things that seem unrelated to acting. See other actor’s work as often as you can and support what others are doing. Don’t be too critical. Develop your skills as a human being (kindness, generosity, humanity, curiosity) so you can hone them as a performer.

JS: Of what value are critics?

KT: They are of enormous value. They set a bar for excellence. They shape careers. They record history. And they give young and old performers courage. They validate the art form and they validate the artist. We could not do without the good ones. I still remember receiving my first review while I was in theatre school. Jamie Portman said I was an actress to watch for. And you – Jim Strecker – wrote me a poem after Summer and Smoke. I felt validated and supported. It kept me going through the lows and helped me celebrate the highs. Critics can be destructive and mean and dangerous. And I have certainly had to recover from the whips and scorn they have sent my way. But they can also be (and often are) the foundation we stand on.

JS: What do you ask of your audience?

KT: Ah – to show up. And also to let me take chances so that I grow as an artist. If I don’t try new things and risk failing I will never get better. If I don’t grow and learn and develop as an actress I will never be able to give them the performance that will open their hearts to new feelings. So – I suppose I ask them to occasionally give me a break – to believe in me. It is a big ‘ask ‘I guess. Maybe it is too much to ask?

JS: What specifically would you change about what goes on in the world?

KT: I would like animals and children to be safe from abuse and cruelty. I would like more therapy to be available for people in crisis. I would like the arts to be more accessible.

JS: If you could relive one experience from your creative life, what would it be and why would you do?

KT: I had to come back to this question because it took me a long time to think of an answer. But I think I would not have done a production I did of Jungle of the Cities (Brecht). It was too cynical and too harsh and I didn’t have the stamina or a thick enough skin to survive unscathed the rehearsal or the run of the play. I was also in a fairly fragile personal space and I don’t think I was able to understand the piece or my place in it. It would have been better if I had turned that one down.

JS: Tell us what it feels like to be a figure who is presented somehow in the media. What effect does this presence have on you?

KT: The media has been good to me – only a couple of reviewers have been unnecessarily mean. I suppose like everyone I have had my detractors and those reviews are seared into my brain. I have felt hurt by one reviewer who I felt used my friendship carelessly. But I think I can honestly say that the media has been good to me. I have not been trivialized or sexualized. I have been taken seriously as an artist. I think I have managed to skate the fine line between privacy and public presence with success. I have never gone to an interview with trepidation and I have often been sincerely grateful for what has been written or said about me. Again – I feel incredibly lucky. I don’t think everyone could or would say this.

JS: Name two places you would like to visit, one you haven’t been to and one to experience again and briefly tell us why.

KT: I would return to Ireland because it is in my blood. My father’s family came from there and many of my relatives still live there. If I could have made a living in Ireland I think I might have moved. The arts feel like the life blood of the country. One can strike up a conversation with anyone. When I have performed with an Irish accent I have gone to Ireland to do personal research. I have sat in restaurants with a tape recorder – or in my aunt’s living room reading dialogue. It was glorious. I would also return to Prague because it is stunningly beautiful and I loved filming there. I haven’t been to the northern part of Canada – and I would love to go there. I think it is partly to know more about this country I call ‘home’ – but I think I would also like to feel totally challenged by the weather and the silence and the vast landscapes.

JS: Please tell us about one or more projects that you have been working on, are preparing, or have recently completed. Why do they matter to you and why should they matter to us?

KT: There is a film project in the works that is being written and directed by a director I love and admire and have worked with previously. He has spoken to me about a role and I am hoping it all comes together. But it is his story to tell and not mine so I can’t say any more. And I am just about to complete a degree in an area of study that is new to me. I wanted to expand my horizons and I have …. It has been and continues to be a fascinating journey. Again I won’t say more just yet – as the journey is still in progress. I did a lovely episode of Heartland recently. When I was doing that series, I was reminded just how much I love to act and how much I love being on set. It was so great to be reunited with Chris Potter and so lovely to be welcomed into the fold. I also got to do some work with John Harrison on Anne of Green Gables. It is so lovely when a director asks you to come and “play let’s make a movie”. And that is what he did.

JS: Let’s talk about the state of the arts in today’s society, including the forms in which you work. What specifically gives you hope and what specifically do you find depressing?

KT: I find none of it depressing. The young minds and hearts of the new generation give me hope. I love working with the kids that are finding their way in this wonderful world of acting. I did a weekend intensive at Sheridan College last year called “Understanding the Actor”. It was designed specifically for the students studying directing, producing, editing and stage craft. I loved teaching and I loved the students. At the end of each day I fairly danced home. They were wonderful. They are the new generation and they make me very proud. And here I am – at 63 – still being asked to bring my experience and ‘talent’ to the table. I am treated well. I am given a lovely cup of peppermint tea when I need one. My agent still cares and thinks there is a place for me. Casting directors ask me to come and audition. Directors ask me to play ‘let’s make a movie’. How lucky I am. Now, I certainly can’t begin to understand all the latest forms of broadcasting, web series and production. I don’t know how to do a web series – but that’s ok. Others do. I just drink the peppermint tea, learn my lines and try not to bump into the furniture.

JS: Finally, what do you yourself find to be the most intriguing and/or surprising thing about you?

KT: That I am an actress. I was born and raised on a farm. What got me from there to here is a mystery.

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