Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Minstrel of Guelph

Amy McCann
Every so often, you discover something new – something that strikes you as special and unique. The first time I saw an Amy McCann video, I knew I had seen something exceptional. This Canadian born singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, performer, and teacher, produces some of the best original and cover song videos on the Internet. What elevates her to a higher level is the way that her personality, her outlook on life; her heart, and soul come through so strongly and clearly in her music.

Amy’s musical interests are eclectic; her influences just as varied. She has an obvious natural talent for singing and playing guitar, violin, and other instruments. Listening to her songs that range from traditional Irish to the hard rock sounds of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, one gets the distinct impression that Amy McCann can do anything she sets her mind to.

Her bio on Reverb Nation describes her music as: "dreamy, magical rock,” and, “Amy strives to communicate the emotional quality of her music, while her lyrics tend to be a spiritually inclined reflection on Life's Journey.” Exploring Amy’s YouTube channel, ‘Amy McCann’, one gets the full spectrum of her music, from her impressive original songs to the various superb collaborations with other musicians from around the world.

Amy’s musical heritage goes back at least three generations, to her great-grandfather, Frank Squire Welsman, an accomplished musician, and the founder of the original Toronto Symphony.

“Music was always in the house growing up,” said Amy. “My eldest sister Jan played the piano to a very advanced level, and went on to study organ performance at University. My Mother was an excellent singer and also played the piano well. She was involved in musical theater and choral groups, so she was always singing away! My brothers also played the piano and took music lessons; we always had a grand piano in the house.”

Her own musical career began with violin lessons at age five.

My first music teacher was Jack Montague, a brilliant violinist who had played under my great-grandfather and had known him well.”

Although surrounded by a musical family, Amy says as a child she didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life.

“I really didn't know, and that question always bothered me because all the other children knew what they wanted to be...I had no idea.”

She chose music and her musical journey took a significant turn at the age of 16, when she received a guitar.

“In the tenth grade my Father accepted a position to teach land surveying in Kingston, Jamaica. Realising I was lonely, my Father bought me a classical guitar for my 16th birthday, and it quickly became a close friend. I took to it right away and adapted many of my skills on the violin to it. I began playing little snippets of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin songs. One day, my Dad was walking through the college campus in Jamaica and heard a student playing well on guitar. He arranged music lessons for me, and the guy came over once a week and taught me some easy classical songs, some different scales and chords to get me going. Listening to guitar-based rock bands was the reason I wanted to play guitar; it just seemed like a lot more fun and more versatile than the strict regimen of classical violin.”

Listening to Amy’s guitar playing, it is obvious that she has explored many types of music – many of which are incorporated into her style. One might describe her style as eclectic, but even that doesn’t seem broad enough to cover it.

“I really love Bach, Beethoven, Vivaldi and I also really enjoy the French impressionists such as Debussy, Ravel & Satie, whose music tended to evoke visual imagery to me. I enjoy also the Brazilian guitar styles such as Bossa and Choro; it is lively rhythmic music and very fun to play. I enjoy the blues quite a lot too, and reggae music.

“I have also been greatly influenced by the rock music of Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Heart, King Crimson, Genesis, Yes, Sandy Denny, Jethro Tull, Nick Drake, Elliott Smith, the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Stevie Nicks, and Jeff Buckley.

“I love the guitar playing of Jimmy Page, David Gilmour, Nick Drake, Steve Howe, Steve Hackett, Nancy Wilson, Robert Fripp, and the finger style playing of Michael Hedges and Tommy Emmanuel. My favorite classical player is Julian Bream.

Amy noted that her favorite guitarist overall is the late Nick Drake.

“I love acoustic playing that is clean, intelligent and full of character and depth; Nick Drake had all the qualities I admire and then some more. He was a brilliant songwriter and musician.”

Such diverse influences might be dizzying to many, but when one listens to Amy’s music, it all makes sense.

A musician looking to expand her horizons will seek out other, like-minded artists. Amy’s collaborations started early, with her now sister-in-law Julie McCann.

“Amy and I have had a lifetime of music together, since the age of 5 when we started learning violin,” said Julie.

“One could say we are soul-sisters,” says Amy. “Our Mothers were best friends. Julie and I have been together since we were about 4 years old, and studied music together as children.”

Amy’s live performance career began early with a violin recital at the age of six. By the late 1990’s, she was a working musician in California.

“I was part of a string duo called ‘Magical Strings’. I was playing guitar in the music store in Davis where I lived and was approached by one of the music teachers there, a violinist named Christine Veazey. We formed ‘Magical Strings’ in 1998. I also played regularly in another string duo around Davis called ‘Strings to Go’ with my friend and violinist Sarah Loughney.”

Amy continued her performing career while preparing to share her knowledge via teaching.

“After returning from California to Montreal to live for the next 4 years, I embarked on a Bachelor of Music at McGill University, accepted on the grounds of my audition. Moving to Ontario, (my home province) in 2003, I continued performing as a classical and Celtic musician and received my authentication as a Royal Conservatory teacher in 2004. So between 1998 and 2004, I decided to live and work as a musician. I was previously trained in illustration and was for a time getting jobs and pursuing a career in art. But having had my children in the mid nineties, I had dropped out of the art world altogether. Music was a natural alternative to pursue, considering my training in classical music.”

Since Amy grew up in a musical family, it follows that she would create such an environment for her family as a wife and mother.

“My husband of 19 years has told me that he fell in love with me for my music. We have a 19-year-old son who studied violin as a child and now plays guitar and writes his own songs. My eldest daughter Bronwen is preparing to audition for a University Music program in vocal performance. She writes and plays beautiful music on the piano and guitar.

“My youngest daughter is a wonderful dancer and she really feels the music and has a great sense of rhythm. I have always taken the kids to musical performances and there has always been music in our home. I am always happy to help them with anything they are wanting to learn, and I have instilled in them a great love for music, which I think will shape and mold their lives in the best possible way.”

In addition to raising a family, Amy continues to perform live, citing one particular performance as her favorite.

“So far, I would have to say playing the mandolin canzonetta for Opera McGill's 6-night production of Mozart's Opera ‘Don Giovanni’. It was a lot of pressure, but I felt so happy to have had that experience, and it really boosted my confidence as a player.”

She and her sister-in-law Julie McCann perform together as the Hazy Maidens, an acoustic folk act. They perform original songs as well as songs from their favorite artists. Their music is exceptional – two brilliant ladies blending their talents together into one entity. They complement each other perfectly during performances and while writing original songs. Amy described her method of songwriting:

“Usually I come up with the guitar part first and build on that by sorting out the melody and adding lyrics last. However, when I write with my musical partner Julie (in the Hazy Maidens), she comes up with a tune and some roughed in lyrics, and I comp a guitar part to it. Then we get together and refine what we have written; she may add some verses and I may add a bridge or an instrumental section to the original idea, and we just keep working it out to completion.”

Julie speaks highly of her long time friend and collaborator.

“While I stepped away in my teen years, Amy went on to learn many other instruments including the guitar, mandolin, and has dabbled in many others including drums, cello and piano. If she puts her mind to it, it can be done! It's great making music with her again; it's like having someone finish your sentences. There is a musical instinct that we have together that gives me confidence and furthers my creativity with songwriting.”

It is indeed a great partnership, as evidenced by the memorable music they perform together. Guitars, mandolin, violin and two beautiful voices come together in stunning fashion on such songs as ‘Let Go’, and ‘If You Come My Way’.

Amy is also involved in online collaborations with musicians from around the world. As with many such works, the musicians have usually not met in person, but came to each other’s attention through videos posted on YouTube.

“Several years ago I met Amy on YouTube,” said James Dylan, lead singer for Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience, and Virtual Zeppelin. “Her songwriting, musical ability and video production set the bar in the YouTube community using very basic equipment. We share many of the same influences and are inspired by much of the same music.

“Fraser Murray from my band JFJ collaborated with Amy on Led Zeppelin's 'Four Sticks'. This cover is a great example of how considerate of the artist's intention Amy is without sounding like a carbon copy.”

Not only is this work considerate, as James put it, but it is one of the most stunning examples of Amy McCann’s vocal and instrumental ability – a superb piece of audio and video work. This is a first rate piece of work for everyone involved – Amy on guitars and vocals, Fraser Murray on drums and video editing, and Isao Fuji on bass.

Drummer Fraser Murray: “I first met Amy McCann on You Tube, when I was looking for a female singer to cover the Sandy Denny parts on Led Zeppelin's ‘Battle Of Evermore’, which I was recording with my Zeppelin tribute band, Led Astray, who are based in Edinburgh.

“Amy was recommended to me by James Dylan with whom I had also collaborated in JFJ.” (James – Fraser – Jun).

“Amy accepted my request and shortly afterwards sent me some fantastic recordings of her vocals, complete with harmonies, which were the icing on the cake for our cover! Amy also provided superb vocal tracks for a cover of 'No Quarter', which I was recording around the same time.”

Fraser and Amy also worked with bassist Isao Fuji of Osaka, Japan, on ‘Four Sticks’, and several Black Sabbath covers, including ‘War Pigs’ (which aired for two years on YouTube, but has since been removed.)

Isao Fuji: "I think collaboration on YouTube brought us a possibility of making music for world wide, and we have accomplished an awesome band between various races. And I would like to jam with great musicians, that is an answer of why I like jamming with Amy."

“I offered to return the favour if Amy needed any drum tracks for any of her own projects,” said Fraser Murray. “That eventually led to a long lasting friendship and several collaborations where I provided drum tracks, including covers of ‘Thank You’, ‘Four Sticks’, and ‘Gallows Pole’ by Led Zeppelin; ‘The Wizard’ by Black Sabbath and ‘Dear Prudence’ by The Beatles, most of which included contributions from other musicians on YouTube.”

Russell Foster and Karen Biser are two other musicians who collaborated with Amy and Fraser on 'Dear Prudence'. Foster played bass, lead guitar, and keyboards, and Biser sang backing vocals. Amy describes Biser as “a woman with an amazing voice.”

"I've been a big fan of Amy's for several years now thanks to YouTube,” said Karen Biser, a musician and chiropractic doctor. “It's amazing how many incredibly talented musicians there are out there, and Amy is definitely one of them. I was honored when she asked me to lend my vocals on a cover of The Beatles' ‘Dear Prudence’. I am a novice musician, but Amy has always been supportive and encouraging, and she inspires creativity in all who work with her. She truly exudes the love she has for music, and that makes working with Amy such a joy."

Russell Foster of Liverpool, England: "I met Amy through the mutual love of progressive and classical rock music a few years back on YouTube; we have collaborated on a few projects together. Her ability and eye for detail is an inspiration for myself and I'm sure many others. Her knowledge of music is very diverse from classical to progressive rock and everything else in between and her ability to play numerous instruments gives her a wide spectrum of not being categorized as one dimensional which will always make her unique."

To echo what Russell Foster said, Amy McCann is anything but ‘one dimensional’. Another online collaboration, this time with musician Julie Rupp Oakes, shows Amy’s versatility as a singer (and Julie’s instrumental expertise).

"Amy was one of my early discoveries when I first started YouTube,” said Julie. “I was so impressed with her similar taste in music, her guitar playing, her voice and seeing her videos of the area she lived in. I was so thrilled to get to know her and collaborate together. We did 'Behind Blue Eyes' by the Who, and plan on doing more together in the future."

When you watch Amy’s videos, the feeling that you already know her comes through, and you get a sense of what she is all about on a personal level. James Dylan had the chance to meet Amy in person.

“I first met Amy a few years ago after a JBLZE concert in Ontario not far from where Amy lives. We talked quite a bit. Like [James’ wife] Averelle and me, Amy is aware of the connections all things share. She is a casual observer taking cues from her environment. It was great learning that she was as friendly as the correspondences we shared online.”

Amy does take those ‘cues’, as James put it; and it helps to explain why her music is so heartfelt, and her musical persona so strong.

“I find it so rewarding to teach, perform and create music,” said Amy. “When I am in the zone, I feel as though I am a willing channel for what I perceive as a Universal message. Music fills my heart with happiness and joy. I feel connected to others through the freedom of expression through music.

“I strive to be the best I can be musically. There are always more challenges to face, and I am continuously striving for greater understanding. I love people of all walks, I strive to act fairly and give generously of myself for the Greater Good. I am loyal to my friends and my family, a tad sentimental and sensitive, but hey Life is deep and I'm a fish.”

That is certainly a positive outlook, coming from a unique person. But then you would expect that coming from someone who is more than just a musician – Amy McCann is an artist in every sense of the word. James Dylan spoke of the ‘connection’, and Amy mentioned it as well.

“It isn't for money or glory that music plays such a role in my life. Music is a connecting agent that helps me to communicate to others, and this kind of communication I find very rewarding. When I am deeply touched by another person's music, a kind of spiritual elation overcomes me, and I feel understood and comforted by the experience. I hope that people feel this same inspiration when they listen to my musical creations, for if they do, then I have done my job well.”

What does the future hold for Amy McCann?

“It would be wonderful to have my music in an artistic film. My dream job would be to write soundtracks for movies or nature documentaries. I greatly admire the musical work and career longevity of Robert Fripp, Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, whose signature sounds and productions have made them legends.

“I would like to learn more about the production side of music and recording.
I'm just taking it all one day at a time. I prefer to live in the present as much as possible. But to look to the future, I just want to continue doing what I am doing and see what God has in store. I really enjoy teaching, performing and writing, so this is what I will continue to do.”

The age of broadband Internet provides us the best opportunity in history for sharing music and musical knowledge. With the Internet, it is possible to ‘meet’ people from thousands of miles away without ever leaving your home. As such, it becomes possible to explore the music of people we would otherwise never be aware of. Without this medium, many of us would have missed out on the chance to enjoy the mega-talent of Amy McCann.

Through her work, she has made fans, friends, and admirers.

“I look forward to working with her again in the future and I'm sure there will be many more collaborations to come,” said Fraser Murray.

James Dylan: “Averelle and I have a summer home on a small island in Ontario. It's always been a place for family and close friends. Two years ago we expanded our tribe to include Amy. Again last week we played music late into the evening. She had to leave early the next morning, but she will be back soon.”

Amy’s sister-in-law and ‘Hazy Maidens’ collaborator Julie McCann said: “I feel strongly about our collaborations and her musical strength has in return given me back strength to my own musicality. Hopefully, it's a partnership for life."

Amy McCann inspires others through her artistry – her words, her actions, her personality, and her music. She is a perfect example of art, music, heart, and soul acting in concert – making that ‘connection’, as she said.

She obviously found her true calling with music, and she need not wonder if she has ‘done her job’.

© 2012 LTM


  1. Awesome article Larry - Lots of work put into this one!! Might be the best yet!!

  2. Wonderful article! I'm proud to have worked with this extremely talented woman! She's simply the best.
    -Karen Biser