Many people come to know the public persona of an artist and wonder what they are like off-stage. I may not be the best person to paint that picture, but let me try.
I grew up in rural Manitoba, Canada, the daughter of a nurse and a livestock dealer and enjoyed a fairly free and easy rural childhood. I aspired to be a veterinarian as a child but, in the way that “the best laid plans get sent sideways”, I found that music chose me rather than me, it. Interestingly, even after many years of performing, I don’t consider myself to have the strong extroverted personality best suited for a career in music, but rather one which is more comfortable on a farm, in an informal gathering of friends.
I became smitten with what is now referred to as Celtic music in the late 1970s, but it was only when I started to connect with its history that my journey really began. At an exhibition of Celtic artifacts in Venice in 1991, I learned about the geographic and historic spread of the Celts. I found myself drawn into a rich, ancient tapestry of sounds and rhythms and stories. I discovered myths and traditions that resemble one another from far corners of the globe, people who share traits and yet are distinctive.
My starting point is the belief that, in one way or another, we are all an extension of each other’s history. Wanting to learn about our neighbours is also a desire to learn about ourselves. I have simply chosen the Celtic vehicle in which to do this. No doubt I could have chosen another conduit for my music – let’s say the history of hats – and experienced just as interesting a journey as I have had with Celtic history. But that vehicle has taken me to so many places and people worldwide and also down paths and into themes with little Celtic connection whatsoever.
But music is not only a marvelous medium for self-education and creative expression. I am also in awe of music’s unique capacity to induce and enhance moods and psychological states and the great linkages it has to physiology. This is illustrated in the field of music therapy, not only for humans but also for animals. I think of dairy farmers who pipe in classical music to induce cows to give more milk, or of a recent film set in Mongolia called The Story of the Weeping Camel, in which a mother camel rejects her calf only to reclaim it following a musical ritual. I think of the MIT professor who uses MRI scans to study the impact on the brain of the meditation and chanting of Kundalini yoga.
I am deeply interested in these connections between physiology and our spiritual and psychological beings, and the many events and experiences that inspire us. Surely some creativity comes from this set of intersections.
Beyond music, I have a free-ranging curiosity about many things and a pretty hefty filing cabinet to prove it! My drawers are chock-a-block full of clippings and materials on subjects ranging from childhood development to environmental issues, agriculture, politics, food and nutrition, puppets, religion and many world issues.
Some of these interests are knit deeply into my daily life and our work at Quinlan Road, as I think it’s important to give to and be part of our greater communities. In 1998, I started the Cook-Rees Memorial Fund for Water Search and Safety, when three people very dear to me – Ronald Rees, Richard Rees and Gregory Cook – perished in a boating incident not far from where I live. Thanks to the generosity of friends and families in Stratford and around Canada and the world, we’ve been able to support a range of initiatives involving water safety education as well as search, rescue and recovery exercises. I cannot tell you how inspiring it has been for me to get to know the wonderful, dedicated people working in this area, many of whom go out to risk their lives on our behalf every day.
Another project close to my heart has been the establishment of the Falstaff Family Centre. This initiative began as an effort to rescue a redundant school house in the city where I live and bring it to its next incarnation. It is a lovely, sturdy building, very close to the river and by working with people in the community, we’ve been able to turn this historic building into a centre for community and children’s activities.
Each spring, I carve out time to plant my garden in order to keep some remnants of an intimate relationship with food, the land and the seasons and every autumn, I set aside time to celebrate the harvest at Thanksgiving.
And just as one builds a company’s mission statement based on values and principles, I have done the same thing for myself. Certain principles have become my compass points. I reference them whenever I make important choices and decisions, professionally or personally. They are things to which I strive and am pleased to share some of them with you.
- Be compassionate and never forget how to love.
- Think inclusively.
- Reclaim noble values such as truth, honesty, honour, courage.
- Respect one’s elders and look to what they have to teach you.
- Be empathetic.
- Look after the less fortunate in society.
- Promote and protect diversity.
- Respect the gifts of the natural world.
- Set your goals high and take pride in what you do.
- Cherish and look after your body, and, as the ancient Greeks believed, your mind will serve you better.
- Put back into the community as there have been those before you have done the same and you are reaping what they sowed.
- Participate in and protect democracy. It does not thrive as a spectator sport.
- Undertake due diligence in everything.
- Seek balance and space, and solitude.
- Don’t be afraid to feel passionate about something.
- Learn to be an advocate and an ambassador for good.
- Be mindful of your limitations.
- Indulge and nurture your curiosity as it will keep you vital.
- Take charge of your life and don’t fall into the pit of entitlement.
- Assume nothing and take nothing for granted.
- Things are not necessarily what they seem.