Stories From Home - Heather Bambrick

Every week, we ask a different local artist to provide their unique perspective on the pandemic experience from a musician’s point of view. Through words, video and music, each musician will share their story, along with an audio or video sample of a recent project, and a link to purchase their music so that you can support their work.

This week, vocalist, educator and radio personality Heather Bambrick digs deep into the importance of an audience, creating against all odds, and being okay with not being okay.

"Living through the pandemic has dramatically affected my work, pretty well in every way possible, starting with the simple fact that so much of the work has gone away. In 2020 I was scheduled to do a tour of Southern and some parts of Northern Ontario with the Canadian Jazz All-Stars; a tour across Newfoundland with a show called Rise Up: Songs, Stories, Soul with Bill Brennan, Andrea Koziol, and Jim Vivian; and a Jazz cruise through the Caribbean with Guido Basso and Friends. I was also in the process of planning a tour of Western Canada in the spring of 2021 with my own band in support of my latest record. That all went away, as did every other “one-off” gig that was planned. And of course the longer this continues, the more gigs are postponed into 2022 or indefinitely (gulp).

There have also been changes to how I work. I love the experience of interacting with an audience, as well as with my band-mates. Every show is different because every audience is different, and that adds excitement and uniqueness to each performance. Without that audience interaction, I feel a massive part of who and what I am as a performer has been taken away. I’m learning to embrace the idea of streaming shows, and have a couple of these booked for the summer, so it will be interesting to see how these go.

When we were about 6 months into this, I was chatting with a friend of mine (whose name I won’t drop, but who is one of the bigger names on the Canadian / International rock scene) and she made the excellent point that for performing artists who truly enjoy the live-performance-with-an-audience-and-band experience, this is quite challenging - we benefit from being on stage our fellow musicians, performing our music, engaging with an audience, chatting with them after a show, etc., etc., etc. For us, this is therapeutic - performing gives us the outlet, release, and therapy that we need to manoeuver our way through the most challenging times. However, here we are in what for many is the most challenging time of our lives and it’s the very issue we’re facing (a global pandemic) that is cancelling our ability to do what we do that helps us to cope with, and through, things like this. It’s all very challenging.

The final element is the lack of collaboration with my band-mates, who are more than just colleagues - they are my friends, my musical family. I’m not someone who easily writes, arranges, etc., by myself. I miss the sharing of musical ideas and other “germinations”. I miss just being able to “hang” with my band-mates. As the Shuffle Demons put it so well: “It’s all about the hang!”

During this time I’ve learned to "let go" a little bit, I think. I’ve also learned what makes me tick as an artist. I don’t think I realized just how much I connect with an audience when I perform, and how much that’s what makes me tick. I guess I’ve realized just how much of a co-dependent relationship I have with audiences. (Ha – there’s something to chat about with my therapist!)

I’ve also learned to release some of the pressure I put on myself to try to keep up with what everyone else is doing. At the beginning of it all, I have to admit, I enjoyed the “downtime”, and the easing up of the ol’ schedule that wasn’t my doing, so I didn’t have to feel guilty about it. (Ah, the good, old-fashioned Catholic guilt…more things to mention to the therapist!) Then, as time went on, I looked at what some of my colleagues were doing, and I began to put unnecessary pressure on myself to “keep up”. I began being very critical of myself if I wasn’t always practising, or writing new music and/or arrangements, or creating live streamed shows, or learning to use Pro-Tools and producing singles to release. One of the biggest lessons for me is that it’s ok to simply admit that this is hard and I might not be motivated. On a personal note, this year saw a lot of loss for me: beyond the work, I lost my dog, my aunt, my Godfather and dear family friend, and the biggest and hardest one - my Dad. So, the lesson I got from all of this is that it’s ok to not be ok, sometimes. I learned to be gentle with myself.

I’ve worked with my dear friend, the wonderful Diane Leah, on a couple of things this year - the first thing she and I did also involved Colleen Allen. Diane sent me a piano track for the Joni Mitchell classic “Both Sides Now”. I recorded a vocal, Colleen recorded a sax track, and we put it together about 2 months into the initial ‘lockdown’. Our friend Kevin Coutu put a video together for us and we posted it on social media as a bit of a “hopeful message”. A few months later, when things opened up a little, Diane and I got together to do some writing and we created a tune that, while seasonal, expressed the honest ideas of loss and frustration that people were feeling, but also hinted at the idea of sort of hopefulness. The song was called “(Maybe We’ll Have) Christmas This Year”. We went into the studio with Colleen, Ben Wittman, Ross MacIntyre, and Ted Quinlan and recorded two different versions of the tune. Drew Jurecka added strings to one of them and the result was something we were really happy with. Carlos Coronado created a couple of gorgeous videos for them and we released them just before the Holidays. Diane and I have been doing some more writing, and look forward to continuing that.

I’ve also been fortunate enough to continue hosting The Heather Bambrick Show on JAZZ.FM91. With so many other things on hold, I’ve been able to focus some more creative energy into the show, creating some fun features like “The Bunker Report” with my pal Brad Barker (including coming up with musical stings and themes), and both “Feast from the East” and “Zest from the West”, allowing me to shine the spotlight on fellow musicians from the East and West ends of the country who might not normally get the same sort of air play on the station. It’s been great to support my colleagues in this way. And, yes, being there for the listening audience helps to fulfill that “co-dependent” thing again. (I really have to talk to my therapist about this!)"

Support Heather by purchasing her music from Bandcamp:

Here's Heather singing "Both Sides Now" with Diane Leah and Colleen Allen:

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