Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Singing to my baby

Me as a baby!

According to Mom, I was practically born singing. Even before I could talk. Apparently at just 8 months old, I could sing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" in perfect tune. I just didn't quite have the words down yet...It came out something like "Up a, up a, up a tar." Hey, I was close!

When company was over my Mom would encourage me to perform for them. A shy toddler I would start by singing quietly, hiding behind the couch. Once I got over the butterflies and heard sounds of approval from the audience, I'd come out of hiding, singing loudly and proudly. I loved the attention. I was hooked. As a pre-teen I used to write musicals and perform them with my brothers and friends for the neighbours. The garage made a perfect stage, with the garage door as a curtain. As a teen, I was involved in high school musicals and talent shows. One year I was Boy George (remember Culture Club?! Really showing my age now! Yes I was an 80s kid!) The next year I was Madonna. When I sang "Material Girl" I even had a routine worked out where I threw monopoly money. The audience loved it. It was an amazing night. The next day at school, I felt like a celebrity. People kept stopping me in the hallways and complimenting me. Normally I was so shy and quiet but I always came to life on stage. A shy exhibitionist -- half of me needed to hide, the other half craved the spotlight.

Being a singer had always been one of my dreams (along with being a writer, an artist, actress, dancer, photographer.) I dabbled in a few things but never really threw myself into anything. I let fear talk me out of things. The dreamer in me always seemed to be held back by my practical, cautious side. I always had to have a "real job" to pay the bills.

One boyfriend that I dated (probably the sweetest one ever. If he'd only had a job!) Rich taught me how to play basic guitar chords. Something just clicked. I'd been writing poetry my whole life. The words always came naturally to me. Now that I had the music, songs started flooding out. I couldn't play guitar very well but it's amazing how many songs you can create out of just a few chords. As Harlan Howard put it "Country music is three chords and the truth." The Sony store had a contest for a "Creative Dreamer" where you could win one of several products (a computer, a camera or an LCD TV) by doing something creative to promote the product. My Mom suggested I write a song for Sony. So I did. And I won! I was thrilled with my little Sony LCD TV. They've really come down in price but at the time it retailed for close to $4000. It's still my favourite TV with the best sound and clearest picture.

When I performed my songs for people, they were very enthusiastic. One guy I met, a host at a Karaoke night I went to, was a songwriter himself. He was amazed that I had already written close to 100 songs in just a year or two. He said he'd been writing for 10 years and didn't have 100 songs. After hearing a few of my songs he said they were catchy and powerful and that I was really onto something. This was what I was meant to do. Within a few years I had hundreds of songs. Now I just needed somewhere to play them.

At Manhattans' Bistro

At the River Run Centre

When I moved to Guelph, I heard about a bar with an open stage every Monday night, Manhattans. I hadn't performed my original songs up on a stage before and I was terrified. People were very supportive. Particularly one dark-haired smiling guy standing by the bar who raised his arms and exclaimed "I'm your biggest fan!" A fellow songwriter and a fellow Taurus, Kev would become my boyfriend for the next four years. He was awesome. A bit of a mentor to me in some ways. He believed in me and helped me to believe in myself. He introduced me to "The Secret" -- The Law of Attraction. I began to think positive and started to attract positive things. I realized that the "bad luck" that I seemed to have for much of my life was largely self-inflicted. My negativity actually attracted the very things I feared. If I could just learn to be positive, I could attract good things for a change. It worked. Magic started to happen. After years of not acting, I wound up with a role in a film and got to see myself on the big screen for the first time. I got to show and sell my artwork, had my photography featured and with Kev's help created a CD which received rave reviews in the paper, ended up on the radio, in newspapers. It was a whirlwind.

Manhattans stopped having the Songwriter's Cafe on Mondays but it was an amazing venue while it lasted. Kev & I were regulars every week. It was our second home. A wonderful community of fellow songwriters. We even set a new Guinness World Record at Manhattans in November 2006 -- the longest concert of continuous original music. About 60 songwriters all banded together to perform for 200 hours (we actually ended up doing 201 hours just 'cuz!) with just a minute between songs and a couple of minutes between performer change-overs. It was incredible. The pressure was on. If you had to go to the bathroom, you held it until someone else could take over. If someone didn't show up, you just kept playing. 24-7 right through the wee hours of the morning. I performed my original songs for a total of 11 hours during that time and even ended up on the front page of the local paper! I was thrilled! The clerk at the convenience store was about to ask why I was buying 10 copies until she caught a glimpse of the photo, did a double-take and went "Oh." She didn't seem very impressed. I was on Cloud 9. Eventually all of us were sent our own certificates from the Guinness World Records and there was a blurb about us in the hardcover book under Human Achievements Team Efforts (page 104 of the Guinness World Records 2009.) If only they hadn't misspelled Guelph! (They printed Gelph. Hey, they were close.)

At the famous Bluebird Cafe, Nashville
It seemed like Kev and I were meant to be. We had so much in common. Especially our passion for music. It was a treat to be able to perform together. We formed a duo and played gigs in venues around Guelph and Erin, including the Woolwich Arms and a couple of  Rotary club events, including opening for Ribfest.

Kev and I went on a musical pilgrimage to Nashville and Memphis. The perfect roadtrip for a pair of songwriters. It was an incredible adventure. We got to play at the famous Bluebird Cafe where so many Country stars had started out. We even sang at the gates of Graceland for tourists passing by.

At the gates of Graceland, Memphis

Kev offered to produce a CD of my songs. They were my original songs and I provided the vocals and backing vocals. He added everything else -- a one man band and studio whiz -- he created all the instrumentation, did all the mixing and mastering. It was called "Magnetic", and featured songs inspired by the Secret. (If you're interested it's still available on CDBaby -- see link at the side of the page!) It was a long difficult road to bring it to fruition but finally in 2008, it was finished. The CD release party was incredible. The band was phenomenal thanks to Kev who brought together some of the best local musicians. He also had colourful lights set up, a great sound system. It was a dream come true. I felt like a rock star. I wished I could keep the band but they each had their own bands and projects, it was just for that one night that they came together for us.

Magnetic CD Release party -- photo by J Harvey

We performed all the songs from the CD and closed the evening with a song that Kevin and I had co-written about our trip to Nashville and Memphis -- "Four Hours to Memphis." See video below: 

Though we had done shows as a duo, Kev wanted to start doing gigs with a full band again (he had been in a band for several years before I met him). He put together a band and we played at local bars. It was a lot of fun. Performing with Kevin was a blast. In some ways we seemed to be a match made in Heaven. Unfortunately in other ways we were a match from Hell. It can be tough being involved with a fellow entertainer. There seems to be a bit of competitiveness, a power struggle. Kev always wanted to run the show. He was the lead singer. I was the back-up. In a setlist of 12 songs he'd let me sing two. It seemed like he didn't want to share the spotlight...

Kev & I had always been a bit of a rollercoaster. Too alike in some ways, too different in others and both stubborn Tauruses who needed to be in control and to be right. Two bulls can lock horns pretty often. It didn't seem like we would last in the long run. As much as I wanted it to work (we'd already invested so many years into it), I couldn't see a future for us. I asked the Universe for a sign and got one. It was time to move on. It was difficult saying goodbye not only to Kevin but to his kids who I loved very much (funny how I'd always said I didn't want kids but I ended up in a relationship with someone who had children and I ADORED them. They were awesome. Brilliant and funny. We had so many good times together.) It broke my heart to say goodbye but I knew it was for the best. It seemed we were heading in different directions. I had reached a fork in the road and knew it was time to make a change. To follow a different path. Leaving Kev of course also meant getting kicked out of the band. I stopped going to the bars and stages we used to frequent in case I ran into him and his friends there. It was like saying goodbye to the musical part of my life. I stopped performing in public at all.

I continued to sing and write songs on my own and posted them on my Youtube channel. In January of 2011 I had this insane notion to post a song a day all year and made it a New Year's Resolution. It was the first resolution I felt obligated to keep because I had announced it publicly on Youtube. I had so many original songs that no one had ever heard so I figured if I posted another original song each day then at least 365 of them would be out there. It was tough finding the time with everything else going on but I managed to keep it up all year. Instead of just recording the songs I'd already written, I wound up writing more. I ended up with close to 700 songs! Youtube became like a video diary of my life. Each new relationship, break-up and event in my life inspired me to write new songs which I would then post on the net.

When I found out I was pregnant, I HAD to write about it, but I wasn't quite ready to share the news with the world. I found a sneaky way to write about the baby without making it obvious. I wrote "Never counted on Yes" about my pregnancy test in November, "Flicker" about my first ultrasound in December. Once news of the baby was out, I created a playlist of the songs I've written for/about the baby so far. (There's a link to the playlist if you scroll down to the bottom of the page. Just click on the ultrasound photo!)

I had always loved singing lullabies. When my oldest nephew (now 30!) was a baby, I loved singing him to sleep. To be able to make a baby stop crying, to feel safe and happy and relaxed enough to fall asleep is an incredible feeling. Better than an audience of thunderous applause! Babies can be a tough audience! If you can please them, you're doing something right!

Some lullabies are pretty odd if you really pay attention to the words. In "Rock a bye baby" -- why is the baby in the tree to start with? "Hush little baby" -- includes a list of gifts I'm pretty sure you would NEVER give an infant ranging from a bird to a diamond to farm animals. I always loved "The Littlest Lamb" lullabye from the Flintstones (the episode with Ann Margrock -- I thought she was so cool. I wanted to be just like her.) Since I've been pregnant I found that Flintstone lullabye on Youtube, learned the words and I've been singing it to the baby, in utero. I know that she hears me. She responds to my voice. I sing to her at night, in the bath, in the car, throughout the day. My favourite lullabye is Gershwin's "Summertime" a bluesy version of which I'd performed with Kev as a duo. My Mom always used to sing "Too Ra Lu Ra Lu Ra" (Irish Lullabye.) I guess my mother's love of singing was passed on to me.

I wanted to write my own lullabyes for my baby. I came up with this one so far. "Lullabye":

I have written so many love songs through the years but since being pregnant I've realized that there is no love as deep or as pure as the love you feel for your child. I was inspired to write "Love of My Life" for my baby. She truly is the love of my life -- and I haven't even met her yet! I feel like I get to know her personality each time she moves. It's like our own secret communication that no one else shares. She responds when I talk, sing, laugh, dance, take a bath. It is such a strong bond, unlike anything else I've experienced. Love of My Life:

This is my most recent post -- "Expecting Unexpectedly" -- which is self-explanatory:

I will continue writing and singing songs for my baby and posting them on Youtube.

Your dreams don't ever really leave you. Even if it seems like you've given up on them. They're still there. They just alter a little as life changes. I wanted to be a singer/songwriter and I am. I may not be a rockstar performing on a stage with a band and lights and applause but an audience of one can be even more special. 

My most important and most rewarding gig ever is coming up in July -- singing my baby to sleep.


  1. Hi Ann Marie! I came across your blog from a comment of yours on another blog I read. I couldn't help but comment since we are practically neighbours! I work in Guelph & go to Manhattans for lunch all the time (except when they were closed after the fire of course)! What a talent you are! Singer/Songwriter/Artist...& writer!!

    I am a Single Mom by Choice, my daughter was donor conceived in June'10 & is now a year old. I blog at:

    I look forward to following along your story.

  2. Thank you Tiara! Wow what a small world!
    Congrats on your daughter!
    I'm always glad to hear from other single Moms.
    A lot of us out there. Each with their own unique story.
    But they all have one thing in common -- their strong love for
    their kids.
    Take care.