Monday, October 30, 2017

An Evening of Leonard Cohen - with Patricia O'Callaghan and the Vancouver Island Symphony

From Alleluia to Hallelujah
An interview with Patricia O’Callaghan
By Rosemary Phillips

What have German cabaret songs, lieder (art songs) and Leonard Cohen got in common? Canadian singer Patricia O’Callaghan.

“O'Callaghan enters into the world of a song and gives it a three-dimensional life, using a lower range as smokey as the room will become and an upper register that vibrates with passion.” - Now Magazine

“I found the songs of Leonard Cohen blended in with the likes of Schubert’s Alleluia; and Cohen’s Take This Waltz is more like an art song than pop. I mixed Cohen and high art, and loved it, and found it very inspiring,” said O’Callaghan who will be performing An Evening of Leonard Cohen with the Vancouver Island Symphony in a moving tribute at the Port Theatre in Nanaimo on Saturday, November 18.

“I got more and more into Cohen’s music and made a whole album of his songs,” she added. “It’s really good poetry, very evocative; keeps me going back because it’s surprising, unexpected poetry. It bears several readings and listenings for there’s always more to uncover.”

”…her tender versions of Cohen's ‘Take this Waltz’ and ‘Hallelujah’ are revelatory.” - Timothy White, Billboard Magazine

And here we uncover a bit of O’Callaghan whose journey with music and song has taken many years and miles, starting when she was only five years old. “My mother entered me in a singing competition, for fun. I won and that impacted me. There was a musical drive in me and Mum started me on piano lessons as soon as I could reach the keys.”

Meanwhile, O’Callaghan knew deep inside she wanted to be a singer. “Up there in rural Northern Ontario,” she explained, from her home in Toronto, “music education was pretty sparse so I took private piano lessons and sang on my own. While I was in high school in Iroquois Falls one of my English teachers, Brian Hanneberry, recognized the interest of some students and put on a few musicals. He was a really special guy. We had a band and when I was 16 my guidance counsellor, along with Brian Hanneberry, found a voice coach for me, Rosanne Simunovic of the Timmins Youth Singers, which was an hour’s drive away.”

After graduation O’Callaghan went on to study music at the University of Toronto where she was introduced to classical voice, then, at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in Alberta, she continued with contemporary classical music and living composers. “I got a grant to study in Austria, which is a great place to start a career. I lived there for a year and it felt like I was living in another century. The opera repertoire and roles I would do were extremely rigid and constraining, which is not me. I was sure I didn’t want to be an opera singer - I enjoyed singing cabaret songs by Arnold Schoenberg and Kurt Weill. When I came back to Canada I started combining the two, bridging the styles, as a pioneer. I made a CD, got picked up by a label, got a record contract, made more albums and that’s how things took off for me.”

In 1997 O’Callaghan, who speaks French, German and Spanish, released Youkali, cabaret songs by Kurt Weil, Erik Satie and Francis Poulenc. This was followed by Slow Fox in 1999 which contains “Hallelujah,” the first of her many interpretations of Leonard Cohen, which culminated with Matador: The Songs of Leonard Cohen, released by Marquis Classics in 2012.

But what of being female singing male songs? “I find with Cohen’s poems and songs I like to sing them as a woman because it changes the context and makes you see the song in a different way. What’s the point of covering a song if you don’t have something new to bring to it, to offer something different from the original?”

Then she added, “I never did meet Cohen. We did a theatre piece based on one of his songs and were in touch by e-mail, but that was the closest I ever got.”

O’Callaghan began international touring, added credits in film, theatre and television; collaborated with leading composers, artists and The Gryphon Trio; conducts choirs and teaches. “I worked hard for a really long time. As a classical singer you don’t mature until you are about 30, and you have to be patient. I was doing what I loved to do, and yet I struggled with stage fright and insomnia. I had to find a way to deal with this without changing my career. It’s not as debilitating now as it was. Still, I can’t believe this is happening, the success I have had.”

“O’Callaghan sings her diverse material as if it was always meant to go side-by-side and by the end of the evening, it’s easy to believe her.”  - Chart Attack Magazine

Where to from here? “That’s a really good question. I’m at a point of reassessing everything in my life. I want to do more creating and co-creating, writing with other great musicians, and multidisciplinary artists. I want to keep recording, which I love to do. I want to keep travelling and exploring the boundaries of the voice and where it will take me as a singer and performer. Right now I’m taking a course in percussion.

“Part of me doesn’t know where I’m going next and a part of me has to be OK with that. I feel pretty lucky. I keep growing as an artist and goals change. I don’t know if I am living what I saw when I was 24, but I feel happy with what I have in my life. – Yes, I feel happy.”

This will be O’Callaghan’s first visit to Nanaimo. “It’s pretty exciting working with an orchestra. For the concert there will be some other songs mixed in, one by Edith Piaf, but it’s mostly Cohen. I will have my pianist, Robert Kortgaard, and double-bass player, Andrew Downing, plus the orchestra. It’s such a big sound, a very heightened experience!”

Tickets for this stirring tribute to the great Leonard Cohen are available by calling 250-754-8550.

For more information about the Vancouver Island Symphony visit
For information about Patricia O’Callaghan, her music and recordings visit

Sunday, September 24, 2017

A Tribute to John Denver

Some may think it strange, a woman singing John Denver's music, but as you may see from the picture on the poster, we could have been brother and sister. He has been a part of my life all the way from Leaving on a Jet Plane to Perhaps Love to Yellowstone (Coming home); you might say, the feminine version. His messages through his songs are as relevant today as they were when he sang them, maybe even more so at this time of crisis. He is so very much alive, and is working for Planet Earth through people around the world, only from the 'other side' of life. His message - "I remain a living force in many lives and work for many on this side to bring to humanity's attention that all those people they have known and loved - and sometimes loathed! - live on in other realms." (From a message to me from John Denver through medium Jan Hunneybell in Australia.)

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Over the Rainbow - June 2 - New Westminster BC

The spotlight this month is on my own concert (June 2) and funshop (June 3) in New Westminster as a 'thank you' benefit for the Universal Brotherhood Spiritualist Church. Members of that church took a collection and donated towards helping me out when I was evacuated after the Wild Fire in Rock Creek/Westbridge. For this I will always be grateful.

The poster says it all.

I hope to see friends new and old, share some good songs, some creativity, and FUN.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Epic Spirit - Inventions - with the Vancouver Island Symphony

The Vancouver Island Symphony presents

Epic Spirit - Inventions
Saturday, April 22, 7:30 p.m. (Pre-Concert Talk, 6:30 p.m.)
Conductor and Composer: Pierre Simard
Guest Artists: Plan Omega Collective, Nadya Blanchette (Soprano, Narrator)
Jason Nett (Composer_, Nthalie Cusson (Film Director)
VIS Symphonic and Children's Choirs (Patricia Plumley, Director)
Port Theatre, 125 Front Street, Nanaimo BC
Tickets: 250-754-8550
Hope through Creation
NEW music, NEW concept, NEW and old IDEAS

Aptly titled “Epic Spirit – Inventions” the Vancouver Island Symphony’s powerful season finale on Saturday, April 22 at 7:30 p.m. at the Port Theatre in Nanaimo, opens with the monumental Symphony No. 5 by Beethoven - with its haunting and familiar notes of ‘fate knocking at the door’. Then comes an original, electrifying, new experience – Inventions – 14 movements in the Epic Music Style, with a sensational state-of-the-art audio-visual production, saluting inventions and inventors and their impact upon the course of life on this planet – from the wheel to the space shuttle.

World Premiere: Says a passionate Pierre Simard (conductor, composer and artistic director), “This is not only the premier of a composition, but, in Canada, of a whole-show concept!”

Movie Music: “I found software which has brought me to the world of music for video games, TV and cinema – music I am very interested in. I discovered recordings of live instruments and libraries with very high level samples. This has driven my composing and creative process in new, unexpected and exciting ways!”

The Epic Music Style: “Movie composers like Hans Zimmer (Gladiator, Pirates of the Caribbean, Lion King, Driving Miss Daisy, The Dark Knight etc.), Michael Giacchino (Up, Lost, Rogue One) and Alexandre Desplat (Grand Budapest Hotel, The Queen) have built a bridge between traditional orchestra and electronic sound. Many new movie and Hollywood- blockbuster musical scores and trailers are in this style.”

The Team: And so, with Montreal film director Nathalie Cusson, vocal artist and narrator Nadya Blanchette, and Nanaimo-native composer Jason Nett, Simard has formed the Plan Omega Collective which has created a series of movie-type trailers portraying the Wheel (Nett), Compass, Printing Press, Flying Machine (Arnesen), Button and Scissors, Internal Combustion Engine (Nett), Light Bulb, Automobile, Penicillin, Atomic Bomb (with The Prayer by Ralph Vaughan Williams), Computer, and the soaring Space Shuttle.

Adds Simard, “For the first time, we will fuse the VIS orchestra, VIS Symphonic and Children’s choirs (director Patricia Plumley) and soloist on stage with electronic tracks that I will control from the podium. Not only am I composing original charts for the musicians and choirs but creating computer generated music that will fill the theatre. Onscreen will be original movies incorporating traditional film, computer generated motion graphics and stock footage.”

Facing Future: “How can we be the keepers of the flame?” asks Simard. “We must keep an eye to the past, but also be super current. This is a show about hope, for we are too bright a species to stop here. We are constantly bettering ourselves through new inventions. I am convinced the audience will remember this as an experience - like never before.”

Tickets for this performance are available at: 250-754-8550. Pre-concert talk at 6:30 p.m.
For more information visit:

The Day the Wind Changed Book Launch

 The Day the Wind Changed

Once upon a time on a hill far away, lived some people who forgot how to play.
They forgot how to laugh, they forgot how to sing and they did the same things every day.

That was an awesome book launch, on Friday, March 24 at the Grand Forks Public Library - halfway through March Break. The weather was atrocious and yet about 15 children came with their grown-ups, to participate in the reading of the story, and then "Bringing it to Life"... as everyone got to take part.

Reading the story before bringing it to life.
The BIG BOOK pages were turned by two little volunteers while others read the characters of the Wind, the Sun, Hope, Children and People, and everyone else, including the grown-ups, got to make sound effects of - you got it - the wind, weather, people grunting and laughing and singing.

After showing everyone how the little book was made, from conception, to drafts, to illustrations and then set-up and finally printing, the children were invited to create their own little book, and/or do a drawing.

 Here is one drawing done by a student in 2008 at OK Falls Elementary when I read just the story. I was still figuring out how to illustrate the book, and hadn't quite got the story finished. It needed more weather, and so forth. Which it has now.

Here is a drawing from the Launch... by Alyana. Others are now posted on the Day the Wind Changed Children's Art Gallery at

And for more information on the story please visit:

There will be more photos coming.
And on Thursday, April 20, The Day the Wind Changed will be making a grand appearance at Okanagan Falls Elementary School for their Earth Week activities. As principal Lisa McCall says:

"I love The Day the Wind Changed as it represents such an important life skill in todays world and really emphasizes the importance of responding over reacting, which I feel cannot be more relevant for all of us. So thank you Rosemary for this story of hope and optimism!"