Top of The Morning To You!

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It’s a truly beautiful morning here in the valley and I’m sitting on our deck looking out over the Duck Mountains, listening to the rich birdsong that comes with spring. High above, beyond a bank of bluish-grey clouds I’ve been enjoying the haunting call of Sand Cranes as they circle the still frost-tinged fields below. Canadian Geese stream in in groups of twos and threes – old and new pairs along with their yearlings and the odd widow.

More than the usual number of Ravens have been gathering in the tree garden this year, a strong sign of good luck they say. The Magpies work long steady hours shoring up nests of last season, and just yesterday a huge flock of Robins and Grey Slate Junkos swooped in gobbling up bits of gravel and grass seeds exposed by an ever approaching sun. As the birds arrive we begin to hear the familiar bang on the window panes! This morning Jara rescued a small Harry Woodpecker – He lay limp and in shock stretched out across her palm for several minutes before she managed to coax him back to life. His right eye was still closed shut when he came to, but he managed to fly to the nearest cedar. Always there is the an unfortunate casualty. I spent a greater part of the afternoon tying colored string to the Creeping Virginia hanging above our windows to ward off others! As long as we get to them before the cats or the dogs, they’re generally OK!

Yes, spring is at long last here!This was one of the longest winters on record, drier than usual and marked by high winds and snow-clogged roadways that were impossible to navigate at times. Lucky for Jara, she had many an excuse to stay home from school!! We didn’t do our usual bonfire this Winter Solstice. Hmmm, perhaps this is why spring did not arrive on time! A late spring however did not thwart the arrival of our first little grandson, Miloslav, who came in like a fresh warm breeze on the morning of March 10th, 2014. I can say without a doubt that we have all been a bit more than distracted since his long anticipated arrival. Now that his parents have moved back home rehearsals have presumed on a more regular basis. They go something like this: Milo arrives and there’s a rush to hold him! One of us invariably holds him through supper while the rest of us eat, rehearsal is scheduled for 6:30, but we get distracted by his signature facial expressions and smiles! We tear ourselves away, jam for an hour, while he gets acquainted by the sounds of live music, beS style, then it’s back to cuddles!

This winter was good: Thanks to Home Routes, we spent the coldest months in fellowship with so many inspiring musicians traveling through our tiny corner of the earth. From New York city we met Randy Noojin and were warmed by his class act Woody Guthrie Tribute Show. From the West Coast, we met Blues enthusiasts, Bill Hills and Ray Lemelin, who entertained us with their road stories and much more! Last but not least, we met West My Friend from Victoria, BC who asks us to be part of their Western Canada CD release tour. Apart from hearing them play of course, the best part of that evening had to be star-gazing with the band and pulling Alex around in our old wooden toboggan!!

Please do stay tuned for new posts this week. Summer is cookin’ and we have lots to tell ;)

THE BIRTHING OF A SONGWRITER

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When I was a kid and I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always said, “an artist and singer”. So I believe I set my sights on this dream from quite a young age which included spending countless hours practicing my scales and mastering a variety of drawing and painting techniques that would eventually earn me a degree in the fine arts. I can trace my path to this end quite precisely, however, when it comes to my current title, singer-songwriter, it is not so clear how, when or why I become a songwriter. I have pondered this question because I did not specifically train to become one, it just came about in a seemingly organic and intuitive kind of manner that has always puzzled me.

So I have to say, that apart from art and singing, I’ve always loved writing in one form or another, or more accurately journaling down my thoughts, because I just had so many of them, from what I was feeling at any given time, to thoughts on what others were thinking, what they were doing, or how they came to conclusions about the world which sometimes made no sense to me at all. Writing was a way for me to explore who I was and how I fit into the grand scheme of life, the way I experienced it.

Was I an eccentric child? Well I suppose one could look at it that way. I know that I was definitely shy and reserved and tremendously distrusting of others because I saw how superficial actions of love could easily dissolve into hate, or plain indifference. But I was mostly sensitive and heavy-hearted about the human condition in parts of the world that I was only remotely connected to. I saw a lot of pain and injustice in the world and I couldn’t help but feel guilty that others suffered while I lived out my life in relative comfort and ease. I didn’t think this to be particularly fair or just and there were times that I would have rather traded places with those who had done nothing to deserve such a fate. As grateful that I was that my forefathers came to this great country to fulfill the Canadian dream, I often didn’t feel worthy enough to have won such a lottery!

So I began to record my thoughts as I educated myself on the plight of humanity while unfortunate life circumstances crept into my childhood home like a shadow spreading over the brilliant sun. It was in those early formative years that I found my voice through writing and journaling. They were thoughts that I kept hidden away for years in boxes stashed under my bed, thoughts that I would have been embarrassed or afraid to share with just anyone let alone the world at large.

Then one day, I pulled out a journal and blew the dust off its cover and took a peek inside. What I found was a treasure trove of thoughts that would break my self-imposed silence. Those long forgotten innocent voices now resurrected created the spark that I needed to bravely speak openly and truthfully about the world that I had experienced and lived for over three decades. I suppose that I was tired of hiding. I needed a sounding board and that sounding board became my audience – a songwriter’s best friend. The truth is, I guess I always was a songwriter, except back then I only had the words without the music.

Since that time, my inner thoughts flow magically with the slightest coaxing from my fingers playing with harmonies on my guitar. Lately I’ve had several songs on the go, just sketches of ideas really. While most of the time a song will just spill out of the recesses of my soul onto paper, these days it’s taking some effort. I guess you could say that I feel a bit stuck. But today I was driving to work along the highway and came upon a familiar scene, one that left an indelible impression. I had to reach down between the seats to rip off the flap of a granola bar carton – the only paper available – so that I could scrawl down some lyrics. These are the moments that I love most, when something so seemingly mundane and usual jumps out at you and you realize the profundity of it. The past may color my present, but there’s this exhilaration that comes from living in the moment everyday and discovering new surprises in the context of my past.

Yes, I AM a songwriter. Defining myself this way and allowing that title to run wild, has been the most empowering gift that I could give myself. It has set me free to embrace the complexity of who and what I truly am.

FAREWELL SUMMER

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With summer performances wrapped up, we’re looking forward to an unusually gorgeous fall and getting back into the regular work grind. Mark, Vlad and Jara head back to school while I prepare for a new batch of art students. I’m also looking forward to coordinating and hosting a new season of Home Routes house concerts that will be delivered in select homes throughout our community featuring professional award-winning musicians from across our great country and beyond!

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It’s been a phenomenal summer for us, with so many new playing opportunities and connections forged making this summer truly memorable. Highlights from our summer include playing the Swords and Sabres Festival, the Manitoba Marathon, New Music Wednesdays, the Roblin Centennial, Winnipeg Fringe Fest, Winnipeg’s West End Kid’s Club and two shows at the Fire and Water Music Festival. All were truly unique experiences, posing new challenges, and stretching us both individually as musicians and as a band. With the backing of new fans and supporters, we head into the fall season with renewed vision and focus.

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Thanks to everyone who helped make our summer such a memorable one, from avid Twitter and Facebook fans who came from so far away to hear us live, to the festival directors and coordinators who gave us nothing less than the royal treatment! We won’t forget the kids from Winnipeg’s West End Kid’s Club, their smiles, energy and enthusiasm, nor the amazing performers we had the pleasure of meeting and hearing! To Fire N’ Water, a special thanks for keeping it real and focused on what really counts!

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As we settle back into the studio with hot weather upwards of thirty degrees and the wheat fields in full golden bloom, we look forward to new playing opportunities, recording/mixing new tunes and are taking advantage of capturing footage for our upcoming music video that we’ll be compiling over the winter months. Our remixed and remastered demo CD, Back To You, is now available for purchase and features studio and bootleg tracks from our 2013 show schedule. Grab it here!

CHEERS :)
Sharing a celebratory pipe!

Zombies, Tornadoes, and Pulled-Pork Poutine

With the summer now half over (well, in Manitoba anyway), we’ve been beating a path between our home town and what has begun to feel like our second home – Winnipeg, Manitoba’s capital city on the prairies a mere 500 kms away!

The weather has been dicey to say the least, with severe storm and tornado watches in effect throughout the province for most of the month, but we’ve managed to evade the worst of it, sometimes by a pure stroke of dumb luck! The forlorn prairie trek has taken on a majestic feel these days as we try to outrun ominous but spectacular funnel cloud formations.

We began our July with a trip into the city to play New Music Wednesdays, a new Manitoba Music initiative, alongside two other artists at Ozzy’s in the Village. This was an energetic show in a cool underground tavern where we had the opportunity to meet our hosts, City TV Breakfast Television’s Jenna Khan and 92 Citi FM’s Howard Mandshein. It was a special opportunity for us to showcase a set of music that would express our sound and vibe “in a nutshell”.

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Best moment of the night had to be meeting Winnipeg musician, Paulo Borges and his wife while exchanging some Polish sounding Czech words (that I can still barely remember) with their new Polish friend who just arrived to Canada the day before.

On the evening of July 19th we were back on the road again traveling to Roblin Manitoba to take part in their 100 year anniversary celebration, stopping for a brief home-cooked supper at the Downtown Diner before we hit the stage at 7 pm! I love a small town stage where parts of the town and roadways (typically Main Street) are cordoned off so that everyone can party!

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A colder than usual evening was no deterrent for Roblin residents who came out in sweaters and parkas and lined themselves up along the sidewalks once they ran out of places to sit! A makeshift board dance floor attracted a large group of eager kids rarin’ to kick up their heels! We played through gritted teeth and frozen fingers then capped off the evening with a generous helping of pulled pork poutine and deep fried pickles from “Y Not Johnny’s” vendor truck from our very own Swan River Valley!

Our most recent gig was another long but very exciting haul to Winnipeg on the afternoon of July 24th where we arrived at the Fringe Fest Cube stage in Old Market Square to a packed crowd despite threatening clouds and heat upwards of 30° C!

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While we sound-checked, the zombie newlywed performers were baffling the audience on a stage below us with their chain saw juggling act, while I looked on with instinctively maternal horror at the children sitting at their feet just inches away!

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There were well over a thousand people present between the spectators, food vendors and street performers which included stilt walkers, contortionists and a Raggedy-Ann cowgirl mime artist who moved like a half broken windup doll when you dropped a Loonie or Toonie her way!

We began our set to an intent audience, thankful that they hadn’t cleared the grounds before we had a chance to play through our first song! While they cheered us on, a large gathering of children converged on the lower stage and began to dance.

On stage at Wpg. Fringe

But performing live is a risky business; wouldn’t you know it, while we were just beginning to build momentum, my guitar cut out due to a faulty cable leaving me with absolutely no sound in my monitor. Suddenly all those endless hours of repetitious practicing took over to guide my fingers effortlessly to each passing chord progression! This particular performance was a huge educational moment, one that could only come from the experience of “getting’ out there and doin’ yer thing”! All of us learned how to stay cool and focused in the heat of the moment! I had to quickly adjust to playing my guitar miked for the first time! But most importantly, I learned that even fast-paced city folk can be patient and do have good, generous hearts, even if they don’t know you from Adam! We love you Winnipeg!

Next stop, Lac du Bonnet, August 2 – 4, for the Fire and Water Music Festival! We’ll let you know how it turned out ;)

Country Mouse Meets City Mouse

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As the weather warms up in our part of the world so too does our show schedule! While Vlad’s been in the city doing his counseling practicum, lapses in our weekly rehearsal schedule have given us all time to reflect and bring new energy and creativity to our usual show set! Anton’s been getting in on the action, covering for his brother occasionally, which is just so inspiring because we never imagined all our kids taking this much interest in what we do! Jara’s been hammering out new sophisticated parts on the mandolin and we’re so amazed with her technical growth over this past year.

We began our five hour trek to Winnipeg this past weekend followed by a nasty super cell storm system, hoping for sunny warm weather and a chance to connect with a new urban audience. Our crew hit the stage on Saturday afternoon to take part in a great little festival where gothic, renaissance and steam punk culture come together in the heart of the city’s St. Boniface community.

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We felt right at home at this gig in our usual burlesque stage garb and enjoyed a meet and greet photo op with actor Martin Klebba of the Pirates of the Caribbean. Jara and Mark and I also took part in a surreal moment on the grounds after being asked to be dance extras in a live taping of a commercial with a rapping pirate!! Arrrrr!! The crowd was great and our show was well received attracting a few brave souls who dared to come out and dance in the main stage square!

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After a late night of poor sleep, that I’m blaming on a rich dinner of kick-ass Indian Butter Chicken from the diner next door, we headed out into the empty streets of Winnipeg at seven am to set up for the Manitoba Marathon. Fighting with our sound equipment this early in the morning had me chuckling to myself thinking about how we’d typically be sleeping in ‘til noon after a midnight hour gig! As the first round of runners turned the corner at East Gate at around 8:15, we were belting out tunes to a small but growing crowd of local spectators who were going out of their way to accommodate us with Yerba Matte teas, water, mosquito repellant and breakfast!

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Despite a foreboding forecast of heavy cloud and rain, we played under a crisp blue sky to the chatter of birdsong with the warm sun streaming down our backs! Armstrong Point’s majestic Elm tree – lined streets set against a backdrop of historic mansions were a feast for the eyes, an experience we won’t soon forget! The runners, barely at the halfway point in their journey, seemed to be moving most effortlessly with an enthusiasm that was truly inspiring.

So with this rather perfect start to our summer, we look forward to returning to Winnipeg on July 3rd to take part in Manitoba Music’s New Music Wednesdays at Ozzy’s in the heart of beautiful and quaint Osborne Village. While we haven’t lived in Winnipeg for many years, it always and forever will feel like home to us.

A special note of thanks to our beautiful daughter-in-law Bethany for her never-ending support and encouragement: for enthusiastically pushing us all out of bed so early in the morning, bringing along snacks and encouraging us to eat, and taking so many great pics and video to add to our vault of growing memories :)

Bethany

Blowing Wind

 

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Blowing Wind

Ha-ha, yeah, that title could mean a few different things!  I’m not going to get into bodily functions or anything like that unless we want to ponder diet and health related issues!  I’m thinking more literally along the line of the weather because, if you pay attention to your surroundings, it can have such a profound impact on your inner climate – the one that determines how you feel and interact with the rest of the world including yourself – your inner thoughts and that voice inside that sometimes won’t shut up or leave you alone!

It’s noon right now and the sun’s been shining bright all morning, so bright that I had to squint hard through the curtains at 7:00 a.m. to get a read on my day.  Was I reluctant?  Yes!  I was dreading every moment that passed between the second that my alarm went off and the moment when I put on my housecoat and headed down to the kitchen!  First thing I did after reluctantly preparing lunches and breakfasts was to drag my weary body back up the stairs, close the door and crawl back under the warmth of the covers while letting the cold damp blast of spring wind funnel through my prior sleeping space. 

I thought I’d treat myself to some badly needed zzz’s after an intense and emotionally draining week of late nights.  However, try as I might, sleep evaded me so I just closed my eyes and listened to the blackbirds’ familiar chattering intermingled with the wind chimes tolling, two miraculous sounds that have the power to bring my mind back to that ever so peaceful place that I love and cherish so much.  

This was a huge significant victory for me this morning. Truthfully, I was in a huge funk about a situation that I cannot control, the kind of irritating situation that won’t go away or get better; the kind that can suck the life right out of you in a second and drain any ounce of stamina that you may have built up over the last few days or weeks, the kind that in one measly second is gone leaving you feeling raw and exposed and on edge ready to fight. 

Yes, that ol’ fight or flight response that is so hard-wired in our bodies – the one meant to protect you from the sudden pounce of a wild cat waiting in the tall grass to feast upon you.  Unfortunately we must invariably contend with this oft irrational, but totally necessary life-saving response, even if it serves no useful purpose at the time!  What do you do when an irritating wind blows in and rattles your seemingly solid and tranquil foundation to the core of your being?

Well, for the past few years I’ve been starting to pay close attention to my external surroundings while I take an inventory of my internal one and I’ve realized how profoundly one can affect the other.  While I feel the fury and agitation in the wind railing against the walls of my house today, I can thankfully channel this same life-giving force through my lungs, breath it in slowly and deeply enough so that I can clearly hear those soothing bird sounds and chimes above the raging wind simultaneously blowing within.

I suspect, by the sound and fury of it, this wind will take a fair while to blow itself out today.  In the interim, I plan on ignoring its in-your-face wrath and fury and rather zone in on the things that keep me grounded to that preferable and more honorable place of inner peace and calm. 

Blow as you will wind!  I will not be fighting back today!

Solitude My Old Friend

 

Solitude My Old Friend

As the narrator in Simon and Garfunkel’s Sound Of Silence expressing the sentiment, “Hello darkness my old friend”, I’ve been contemplating my relationship with solitude which has been no stranger to me!  As a child, quite shy by nature, I distinctly remember hiding behind my mother’s long shielding legs whenever approached by a new face – so shy in fact, that it was difficult for me to acknowledge my own adoring relatives whose prominent European features and exuberant grins quite frankly terrified me! So with this rather mysterious and inherent distrust of people, socializing took a back seat to solitude which felt, well, “friendlier”.  Yes, solitude – my old friend, that safe, desolate, uninterrupted, thought provoking place from which my artistic roots sprung and continue to flourish!

I’ve since read many a quote about solitude by musicians, artists and philosophers who often reference dark and lonely places, abandonment, isolation, depression, fear – not exactly the kind of places most want to visit let alone dwell. Yet, when I think of solitude I more often imagine a realm of peace and tranquility.  Images flash through my mind of a much younger version of myself creeping slyly alongside the meandering river back of our yard and spying on an exciting array of waterfowl floating by, or carelessly picking chokecherries along the field on a lazy warm summer day, or gliding on my home-made tree swing in my nightgown and squinting up into the brilliant face of the Lady in the Moon.  Solitude never seemed too lonely or desolate with so much life going on around me.  Solitude, I learned, was a wide window to the world and the magical connection to my soul.  It is integral to the way that I live and work.

This past week I had the opportunity to spend an entire week alone for the first time in years. No human contact: just me and my dogs surrounded by the sights and sounds of nature in all its springtime glory. It was all at once exhilarating by day and unnerving by night as I was forced to face the long deathly silent hours alone in a large empty house haunted by my lively imagination!  Suddenly I regretted watching so many horror movies in my spare time! But I learned a few things about myself in those seven days – empowering things I had almost lost touch with over time; things such as willpower and resolve, courage and tenacity and the deep unquestionable desire and need we, even the most introverted of us, have for human contact!

While I relished my seven days of alone time, I missed my family terribly – their laughter, their familiar expressions, their thoughts and the predictable sounds that encompass a family and all the truly remarkable and beautiful things that fill a home; subtle nuances of life that bring deep meaning and happiness to our sometimes lonely existence.  

While I’m sure I could survive alone, I’m not altogether sure that I’d want to!

Welcome

Welcome aboard our official black-eyed SUZIE blog!  Our goal here is to keep you informed of our projects and whereabouts.  We also want to give you more insight into who we are, what we think and feel and believe in!  It is our sincere hope that you will engage us as well so that we can get to know you better too!  So please feel free to share, comment and ask us any questions you might have.

I’d like to jump start this process by sharing this past week with you as we had the entire family together.  From April 25th – 28th, Vlad and Bethany were home from university taking a much needed break from their studies: While the weather was a bit cold for our liking, it provided us all with the opportunity to incorporate some much needed play into our lives!

As many know, Canada has been slow to thaw this spring so we’ve all been bracing for some major flooding which has slowly begun across the country.  We started the weekend with a large family gathering, including Bethany’s parents, over spaghetti and meat sauce, Blueberry Apple Crisp and ice cream and lots of laughs!  Towards the evening, while the guys went out to inspect our sons’ new car purchases and install an awesome set of new speakers, the rest of us ventured out to survey the large volume of melt water coming off the surrounding fields. 

By late morning, with waters rising, the six of us stood in the back porch fighting over the last remaining three pairs of rubber boots that were not leaking!  What is it about the magnetic qualities of snow, ice, mud and water that can instantly transform grown adults into adventurous children once again?  With the first warm breeze in months sweeping across the prairie, I walked along the road peacefully reminiscing on old times while watching my now grown kids mucking around in the burgeoning ditches and fields.  When it became apparent that our creek was overflowing, we assembled a team and set out with shovels in hand to help re-direct the flow away from the out buildings and our beloved camper that I was now imagining floating down our pasture and getting lodged somewhere in a nest of brush downstream!!

Hopefully we will see warmer and drier weather soon.  While the temperature hovers around zero, and resident’s yards and basements slowly fill with water, we can’t help but be sick of the snow, even if it means an extended season for snowball fights and ice sculpting!  Since the weekend we’ve had three days of full on blizzard conditions, dangerously iced roads and washouts along the main highway to town.  This morning our van died due to an electrical shortage and our truck got stuck in the lane!  As lil SUZIE’s been lamenting, “Nice winter we’re having this spring!”  Doesn’t feel like summer will ever come, even though the arrival of water fowl and songbirds to our parts would suggest otherwise!  For now, our longing for summer is left to the realm of dreams.