Tag Archives: music

Are We Musicians or Digital Slaves?

Nowadays if you’re a musician, it’s not enough to write songs or sing or play an instrument. You have to be a digital marketer and in some cases a digital wizard.

 Digital presence

You’re expected, first, to have a website and to keep refreshing it. Then you have to appear on social media sites such as YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Tumblr, Wynken, Blynken, or NOD. (Okay, I made the last three up, but trust me, if they don’t exist right now, they will within the next 4 microseconds.)

You also have to get your music up on sites so it can be bought (you hope) and downloaded from the Net. And you have to video your latest gig so that it too can go up on YouTube, because the one you put there of last week’s gig is, well, so last week.

And then of course, you’d better blog about the gig and tweet about it, both before and after—and preferably even during!

 Cyber smarts

And you must also learn how to DO all of the above. Some of it’s easy, some of it’s harder, especially if, like me, you weren’t born with a digital device in your hand.

So recently, and belatedly, I learned how to use Windows Movie Maker. While a couple of other people have done videos for YouTube for songs of mine, I’ve been told my YouTube presence is sorely lacking, so it was time to try my hand at one myself.

Now I could have just put the credits up with the audio track and no images at all, but I wanted something that would stand out a bit more (on the Web we’re all competing for eyeballs and earballs, after all), especially since this song honours the memory of one of my sisters.

Sourcing images

But it wasn’t easy, in part because I didn’t want to steal images from other people’s websites or Flickr streams, etc. (which I’m sure millions of others do). And contacting them to ask permission would have been time consuming. I was finally able to find a few images I could use because they’re licensed with Creative Commons, and then I added images of my own.

So here’s my first original video, of a song from my 2003 CD Pegasus. I kept it simple in order not to distract from the story.

Digital slaves?

Movie Maker 7 isn’t that complicated, but I still spent many hours fine-tuning this little video—hours I should have spent trying to get gigs, practising new chords, or working out harmonies for the CD I’m recording. But this is 2012, and this is the current reality.

Or is it? If you’re a musician, how much time do you spend on your Web presence? Is it helping? Do we have to be digital slaves? Please share!


Marie-Lynn Hammond is a co-founder of Stringband, a seminal Canadian folk group, and a critically acclaimed songwriter living in York Region. In past lives she’s written plays and magazine articles and hosted national CBC radio shows. In between working on two new CDs, she freelances as an editor of both fiction and nonfiction. http://www.marielynnhammond.com/


Where Do Songs Come From?

 They’re everywhere, a seemingly infinite variety, proliferating constantly. Songs, songs, and more songs. And like snowflakes, no two completely alike, despite the odd plagiarism lawsuit.

 This never ceases to amaze me. Our musical scale consists of only 12 notes (which repeat in octaves, but still…). And yet Western musicians seem to find endless ways to combine those notes for melodies and chords.

 And then there’s the lyric variety. Not as much of a surprise there, since the English language contains at least 170,000 words currently in use. (Which makes you wonder why so many lyricists still focus obsessively on analyzing their love lives, or lack thereof, and use the same old phrases and rhymes, such as “tonight/all right” to do it – but that’s another story!)

 I write songs, but even I can’t tell you where half my ideas come from. The creative process is part blood, sweat and tears, but it’s also part magic.

 For instance, I just wrote a song for a friend’s wedding. And yet I can’t recall where the idea sprang from, even though I started it just barely 48 hours ago. (No, for better or for worse, I’m not one of those folks who dash songs off in 10 minutes…) The first half of the first line just appeared: “When love comes a-calling…” And then, from some mysterious place, came the idea to repeat that line, completing it each time with a colourful expression or idiom.

 E.g., “When love comes a-calling / you can run but you just can’t hide,” and “When love comes a-calling / all your ducks line up in a row.” Anyway, thank god for Google and sites that list idioms and proverbs and the like, which helped me find more. And then other phrases just appeared in that magical way, seemingly out of thin air, without research.

 Also, the “love comes a-calling” line soon began to create a melody for itself as I repeated it in my head.  By the time I picked up the guitar, the song was half written musically too.

 The song’s now finished, I think it’s pretty good, and I even worked the couple’s names into it. (We’ll see how it goes over at the post-nuptial party.) But I still can’t tell you where it came from!


 Marie-Lynn Hammond is a co-founder of Stringband, a seminal Canadian folk group, and a critically acclaimed songwriter living in York Region. In past lives she’s written plays and magazine articles and hosted national CBC radio shows. In between working on two new CDs, she freelances as an editor of both fiction and nonfiction. www.marielynnhammond.com

The Plight of Arts York/Arts Unionville

SPECIAL GUEST BLOGGER: Justin Leung, Co-Founder | CanYouth

Before even beginning this article, I encourage and challenge every single person who reads this article to leave a comment and state his or her opinion on the issue below. At CanYouth, we are committed to creating and channelling a strong voice for all youth across Canada and we really do value what you have to say. Thank you!

It all started when Unionville High School first opened in 1985, as the newly created Arts York Program began and stood beside the school right from the very start. The commencement would mark the beginning of 26 years of unparallel excellence in the disciplines of drama, dance, visual arts and music. In this time, the Unionville High School Arts York program managed to establish themselves as a staunch advocate for the arts and was able to spread their influence in the artistic world to virtually all around the globe.

Beginning with the intensive selection process in order to gain admittance to the school, students enter a positive working environment that fosters individual growth and creativity. As a result of all this, the Arts York program has managed to produce alumni that have gone off after their time at Unionville to pursue their passions and make a difference in the world; the most notable being national champion figure skater Emmanuel Sandhu, Hayden Christensen from the Star Wars trilogy and Emmanuelle Chriqui from Entourage.

The program serves as an artistic incubator for youth all across York Region as it encourages talented teenagers to take advantage of the opportunities Unionville offers by auditioning. However, a few years ago the York Region District School Board cut the buses and eliminated all means of school transportation for students attending the Arts York Program. Almost instantly, students within the school who relied on the school buses to get to school were put in jeopardy and the dropping rates began to show. This would mark the beginning of a nightmare for students already attending the school and also to many prospective students who wished to attend. Naturally, the school, the community and many parents and students rallied and protested against the school board’s decision for quite some time. A group of parents took the school board to court and after a significant time period, eventually won. Not long after, the school board succumbed to the public pressure and in an act of appeasement, resumed the bussing. Just one year later however, they slashed it again.

This was the first significant move that the school board initiated and as a result of this, damaged the school’s reputation. Students who wished to attend the school but lived too far would be forced to make the lengthy trek to school every single morning themselves. I was one of these unfortunate students who needed my parents to drive 45 min with me to school every single day. Many others gave up their opportunities to attend the school because of the distance factor.

Just two years ago, the YRDSB school board made another significant decision to restrict the boundaries of the students attending Unionville. New arts programs began to pop up around York Region and students living in areas not around Unionville were required and expected to attend their own respective arts schools. To Unionville’s Arts York program, that meant fewer students, which directly constituted to less talent. When asked about their motives to restrict the boundaries in the region, the school board stated that their intentions were to enrich and spread the arts all around the region.

However, my question that I pose to the school board is this: “to what cost?” To all readers who are viewing this article, I hope you understand that by no means am I saying that the arts shouldn’t be spread around the region. In fact, I am saying the exact opposite and I want more arts school in York Region, BUT I believe that there should be a certain degree of choice revolving this issue. Why can’t we let students choose where they want to go? If the school board’s intentions were to spread the arts, then wouldn’t it benefit the board more if they had students all across York Region diversified and were not being forced to attend their boundary schools? The fact that Unionville’s Arts York program housed students all across the region was a motivating factor in the success of the program. When students from all around gathered together in one place, that was when the real magic happened. Every arts school would experience a rich and diverse representation from all over the region and would effectively create one community, as opposed to the segregation from one boundary to the next. Let’s think about that.

Just as it seemed as the program was adjusting and recovering from the blows that struck them, the arts program, now called Arts Unionville gained word and news of yet even more advancements, or should I say declines. I still remember how my entire class erupted in anger when my teacher notified us about the changes that would take place next year. It was not a great feeling at all and within seconds, the whispers began and the news began to spread. Apparently, the Arts Unionville music class sizes were too low and so certain adjustments had been implemented. The regular separation of grade 9’s and 10’s from the grade 11’s and 12’s would no longer be happening and instead, one huge class of all grades would take place. For those who are unfamiliar with the logistics of the program, the school has prided itself on its small classes and low student to teacher ratios. It is how the program is so effective because individual student attention is given and as a result, fosters individual growth. That now, has been tossed into the trash. The problems do not even stop there.

Imagine a piano major waking up every single morning for school from far off places like Aurora, only to be awaited by a class of 30 kids and not enough pianos. That poses a serious issue and strain on the equipment the school offers. While the school already has filled every single empty space with a piano, how are students expected to share instruments? What do we do if there aren’t enough? Is the school board responsible for supporting all the changes in financial needs the program now requires? What are the differences in the Arts York Program and some other standard and basic music classes in some other schools? We must congratulate the school board for these changes because they have effectively smothered 26 years of artistic excellence and contradicted their own original intentions for their program. I wonder if the people that work for the school board have even considered the implications and consequences of their actions. Let me walk you through a few.

The school board will have effectively created an environment brimming with inequality, as different majors will receive different levels of opportunities. As pessimistic as this sounds, the school board will have successfully began the tilt of the general downward slope of the program. All teachers and students would have to struggle and work extra hard just to maintain the caliber of the program. Why risk everything? Next up, as petty as this may seem to some, 30 kids armed with instruments doesn’t exactly sound or look pleasant. In fact, the very though itself frightens me. The level of noise created would resemble going to a rock concert for 4 years straight. I’m sure we’ll manage to NOT blow our brains out in 4 years. Finally, these changes will decrease the productivity and efficiency of the program, and ultimately cause the program to suffer as the large class sizes will directly hinder the regular speed and progress the program abides by. What is the point of having the program in the first place then?

How do we solve this issue? Well for starters, students need a voice. It’s as simple as that. If the school board wants to create eventual responsible adults, they first need to listen and consult the students. In my humble opinion, I believe that if the YRDSB school board had maybe taken the time to perhaps sit through some classes, attended some of our performances or even listened to what we have to say directly, they would have thought twice about this. To me, it makes sense to ask the students, teachers, parents and community who are related to the program how THEY want their program to run. Their opinions do matter. I’ve had friends that have unsuccessfully made any impact after sending numerous letters and emails to trustees, superintendents and even directors of education. However, this isn’t the way we should do it. As youth, we are harmless as individuals. It is only when we unite to create one voice where we have a chance to create an impact.

Ending on a positive note, if these changes are to be in effect, I hope we all understand that the way we view these changes will directly constitute to how they will happen. If we go to school next year with a negative mindset, we will only be hurting ourselves even more. So I say we embrace the change and try to see it as an alternative way of operating. We should focus more on the advantages as opposed to dwelling on the negatives. Nevertheless, this should serve as an important lesson for both the administration and students. The school board needs to pay more attention to the student voice and we as students, need to step up and make sure that we are heard so that in the future, instances like these don’t happen.

As Mary Engelbreit once said, “If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.”

Special thanks to Tiffany Chan. Photo Creds to Haley Ma.


Justin Leung is one of the co-founder’s of the youth organization CanYouth. He is a grade 12 student currently studying at Unionville High School in the Arts York Program specializing in percussion and drums. In addition to his presence in CanYouth, Justin is also affiliated with Youth Volunteer Markham and the Mayor’s Youth Task Force. Justin hopes to pursue a career in law, politics, international relations and finance. Please check out his organization and read all his other blog posts!

Justin Leung

Co-Founder | CanYouth

justin@canyouth.com | CanYouth.com

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Unique Festival in York Region


Brenda Muller is a woman with a vision – and someone who turns her visions into realities. The upcoming Blue Bridge Festival, June 3-5, is her brainchild. She’s also the founder and artistic director of the Ardeleana Trio, a York Region music-scene gem for over 20 years. Brenda herself is a classically trained cellist, but her own songs and music, like the festival itself, draw on a whole slew of other influences.

Taking place this year in Georgina, Newmarket, and Unionville, the Blue Bridge Festival combines various genres of music – from classical to jazz to roots & folk and more — for example, the Toronto Chinese Orchestra — with poetry and children’s workshops, for an unusual creative mix. Many (or most) of the performers either live in, or hail from, York Region, so this festival really is a celebration of where we live.

The gala concert Saturday night at Newmarket’s Trinity United Church is worth noting. It features an orchestra made up of both young music students and older professionals, plus an adult community choir, performing works by Brahms and Haydn. “The mix of generations is really a lot of fun,” says Brenda Muller. And of course a great learning experience for all.

Oh – and William Lyon Mackenzie will make an appearance at the festival too. Played by singer-songwriter and children’s performer Magoo, he’ll give you a tour of Newmarket’s Main Street from his own historical perspective, because Newmarket was a hotbed of foment during the Upper Canada Rebellion.

And yes, yours truly is one of the Blue Bridge artists. I’ll be performing Friday evening in Georgina Pioneer Village, and playing Saturday afternoon in Newmarket at Books Cafe & Things, 208 Main St. S., along with other musicians and poets. The poets and I are already trading poems and song lyrics to create some thematic links in the show – not for us a mere random jumble of pieces, oh no! – though we are leaving room for sudden flashes of improvisation and creative juxtaposition… 

Click here for tickets, schedule, venues and more. Come on out and be moved, amused, inspired and entertained by the eclectic artistic riches in your own York Region backyard!

Marie-Lynn Hammond is a co-founder of Stringband, a seminal Canadian folk group, and a critically acclaimed songwriter living in York Region. In past lives she’s written plays and magazine articles and hosted national CBC radio shows. In between working on two new CDs, she freelances as an editor of both fiction and nonfiction. http://www.marielynnhammond.com

I Want DUMB Technology!

YorkScene Blogger, Marie-Lynn Hammond

By: Marie-Lynn Hammond

Since I’m not under 25, I wasn’t born with a digital device in my hand. I got my first computer in my mid-30s, in the days when they were powered by gerbils running on a little treadmill, and they involved about 10 commands. All I wanted was a word processor to make writing easier, which it did. I had no trouble wrangling that early setup.

Also in those early days, I had a cassette recorder. When I felt a new song coming on, I’d slip a cassette in, hit Record, and let it run for 45 minutes while I tried endless combinations of chords, melodies and words while strumming my guitar. When I needed to write a line down in my notebook, I’d hit Pause. And when I was done, I’d hit Stop and then Playback. Simple. Straightforward.

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