Variations on a Theme

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

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

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

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

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

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



I am thrilled to announce the inaugural Revelations has inspired a larger project currently in development. In the coming weeks more details will be revealed – we can’t wait to share!


A multi-discipline performance of theatre, poetry and spoken word, as well as music, song and dance. The vignettes are linked and bridged with solo piano. Nine women perform a variety of works, revealing a shared history, understanding or personal discovery to each other and their audience.

Conceived & Produced by Louise Fagan
Directed by Valerie Manatis Barnet

FEATURING: Meisha Adderley, Kathy Dunleavy, Robyn Hussa Farrell, Latria Graham, Teresa Hough, Arialle Kennedy, Ruth Littlejohn, Crystal Pace, Janice Wilkins, and actors in training from Converse College.

This sculpted original staged event is bridged with solo piano underscoring stories that range from poetry, spoken word to monologues and scenes. Music, stories, laughter and joy!

Each piece is like a jewel. Individually lovely but their real strength and beauty is when they are side by side – like a string of gems on a bracelet.

Gestures of Love Live On

Two very dear and deeply loved women who had great impact in my personal and professional life died a week ago. Accomplished, smart,talented, beautiful and blessed with a lovely streak of mischief. Beacons of joy, they radiated love and kindness. Cruelly, both were ravaged by disease.

janetJanet Heerema battled ovarian cancer then acute leukemia fighting until her last days when she finally, gracefully, stopped. In the midst of her illness, Janet organized a ‘Celebration of Life’ which was a monumental sold-out concert raising thousands for Ovarian Cancer research. Janet had a way of inspiring, bringing out the best in people. She created community, using music as a balm and an inspiration. The times I needed counsel, Janet would offer thoughtful, experienced, kind reflection. She lived fully, with the belief love was the reason and the answer. Her example is one I will always draw upon.




Lesleigh Turner’s battle was also courageous. Struck down by the relentless illness of depression, Lesleigh put a brave face on her struggle finally succumbing to her disease by taking her own life. An unfair end to an unfair diagnosis. An incredibly talented woman – photographer, actor, director, producer, creator of community. Over her challenging final years she moved heaven and earth to build a home for her family. Lesleigh was a great friend, a great collaborator and a champion of everyone she knew. She loved and lived fiercely, an example I will carry.


My friend Donald D’Haene beautifully described Lesleigh as having ‘drowned with love’. I would say that Janet was ‘buoyed by love’.  The world shifted with the loss of these powerful women. It’s a different place this Sunday then it was a week ago. I don’t believe Janet and Lesleigh knew each other but they have impacted my life and our communities through similar gestures of love.

Living too far away to be able to attend their memorial services and life celebrations, this reflection is my way of honouring the lives and my friendship with Janet Heerema and with Lesleigh Turner.






Gord Downie. Land and Sea. Poetry and Music.

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

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

“I am drinking yellow flowers

in underground sunlight

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

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


Gord Downie reading ‘At The Quinte Hotel’

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

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

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


Al Purdy’s A Frame Cabin


The Bathouse Recording Studio

As seen on MindBodyGreen: Being Nice is Overrated

…and Other Things Turning 50 Taught Me.

(link to original article: Mind Body Green )

On the cusp of my 50th birthday, I found myself especially sensitive to offhanded, brusque comments from acquaintances, feeling unusually hurt by close friends, and generally dissatisfied with life. The milestone had made me more introspective, and I began to realize that I’d allowed an unhealthy pattern to emerge in my relationships. I took the opportunity of turning fifty to reassess the way I interact and start fresh.

Like charms on a bracelet, eight jewels of clarity came to me. Here are the things that will help me cultivate better, healthier relationships for the next 50 years.

1. Words DO hurt.

I have felt the affects of harsh words and I have witnessed the pain caused by my own thoughtless comments. Tom Hanks’s character in You’ve Got Mail describes this moment beautifully: “when you finally have the pleasure of saying the thing you mean to say at the moment you mean to say it, remorse inevitably follows.” Whether you’ve wounded another or been wounded yourself, the scratches on our hearts take much longer to heal than any physical scar. For some, they never do.

2. Kindness trumps niceness.

When I was younger, I thought being nice was a badge of honor. But I realized it came from trying too hard to please people. Now, I choose to be kind. Kindness takes real effort. You have to channel reserves of grace, self-control, and maturity. It garners respect, rather than disregard.

3. Intentionality and determination are superpowers.

If I ever questioned that I had superpowers, a thorough review of my past would allay those doubts. Stating a desire or goal is the first step to realizing it. My best moments were born from the powerful declaration of my goals. Intentions, though they aren’t strict paths, are an offering to the universe. Saying, “I am ready for a new career,” or “I am ready for love,” we open up the possibility for success and fulfillment. Those things may not arrive by the means or in the package we expected, but that makes them infinitely more exciting.

4. I am 50 percent responsible for 100 percent of my relationships.

If I want successful, healthy relationships, I have to take full responsibility for my actions and reactions. I’m talking all kinds of relationships here — family, friends, colleagues. Further, I must be intentional about not taking responsibility for anyone else’s part of our relationship. Relinquishing control of other people’s behavior allows them to live up to their part of the bargain. We meet each other half way. Exactly half way. Which brings me to my next realization.

5. Drama doesn’t deserve attention.

It’s easy to find yourself in the middle of a crisis that is not of your own making. Most people who try to involve others in their drama are addicted to the surge of adrenaline provided by a perceived crisis. Having an audience (that would be you) is how they validate their behavior. People confuse drama with having an interesting life. But I have learned (and I hope you will, too) that ditching drama makes space for so many more compelling pursuits.

6. Shame is not productive, but accountability is.

I’ve made huge, cringe-inducing mistakes in my life. But never once has theself-loathing or self-flagellation I responded with actually helped me move on, or make better choices. Now, I’m choosing to acknowledge my mistakes, take responsibility for them, and then let go.

7. All the world’s ills can be solved with homemade soup.

Maybe it’s the meditative element of chopping, mixing, stirring. The rhythm and repetition are calming. When I make soup, I slow down. In that quiet space, I have room to be creative, and my mind fills with possibilities. The rest of the world disappears. And the result of my meditation is a tangible, delicious dish that’s nourishing to my body and my soul.

8. To place proper value on myself, I must make boundaries.

Too many times I’ve compromised myself by giving time or trust to someone who didn’t deserve it. I’ve given the best of my ideas and talents to groups that did not respect my contributions. I’ve given my affection to people who undervalued me. Eventually, I realized that this was my fault. I was letting people take advantage of me because I did not sufficiently value myself.

These things feed on each other. Creating boundaries is a way of telling yourself that you have value, and your needs and desires deserve to be honored. Valuing yourself makes it easier to prioritize yourself, and not let other people’s needs trump your own.

Self acceptance is at the core of all of these realizations. If I value myself, then I am accountable to myself. I am responsible for my words. I am kind. I can focus my power for good, live intentionally, and when necessary, create boundaries with grace. I hope the lessons I’ve learned help you inform and improve your life — whether you’re 28 or 82.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Pencil, Pen…Ink…Blood

“I was working on one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.” Oscar Wilde

If you have a story, love to write, love the idea of writing, or wish you knew where to start, how to keep moving or when to stop, then you should join our Writing Workshop. Spend an evening or a day with kindred creative people who scribble, jot, type, eat, mull, procrastinate and then eat again, all for the sake of the story. Whether you are just beginning or you are well into your work, a few hours in an artistically nurturing and stimulating environment can do wonders for your personal creativity!

This is about writing your heart out, in your own unique voice, telling the story you’ve held, writing the poem, novel or memoir that has patiently percolated waiting for your attention. Structure, voice, dramatic arc, strategic advice, small hurdles or the big picture, we will cover what you need.

If you are beginning a musical work, in the middle of a story, not sure how to end a script, or are looking for some guidance with your artistic work in progress, there is nothing like a ‘comrade in arms’ to champion your work while providing meaningful support.

Private tutorials are held on Skype or Google Chat. These one hour sessions focus on your specific work and strategize moving your projects forward.  It can be detailed editing or general discussion – often it is both. Writers, musicians, creative explorers are welcome!

Message me for details and we can discuss your work further.

Creativity Lives Here!


The Promise

Promises are sweet. As I have grown I have learned to be more judicious with the promises I dole out. Living has shown that promises aren’t to be given out on whims and fancies. A true promise is heartfully rendered. A thoughtful quiet proclamation that connects us deeply with each other. And because I now understand this, I don’t have that many to share. They require attention, a gentle upkeep – they are responsibilities and so take time. I also now truly and better value the promises that are given in return, holding very close the gesture and the promise giver. I believe and trust better, in myself first and then in those whose promises I choose to accept.

Quiet promises given and received.

The Promise, by Aaron Copland, is a composition that captures the true nature of a promise offered, the gentlest ripple resting on an epic undercurrent of repercussions. A statement of a people and country but also a personal gesture.  Given from one to another. Simple and sweet. Lyrics by Horace Everett.

The Promise of Living,

the promise of giving,

the promise of ending

 is labor

and sharing

and loving!