Folk, rock, and a hint of Celtic – factory city music’s blend of mood and melody

Folk music relies heavily on basic rhythms, sounds, and the accompaniment of recognizable lyrics. It’s built on the strength of written words embodied through full arrangements, voice & guitar or acapella, eliminating any complications between medium and message.

Rock, on the other hand, offers an array of colourful musical styles – lending intensity, edge and temperaments to effectively deliver a musician’s message.

Imagine combining these genres and providing an audience with the best of both worlds. They can sense – and possibly empathize with – strong, prevalent moods in a song, while at the same time enjoy a melodic tune with understandable words.

Cambridge’s factory city music has done just that.

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From left to right: factory city band members Fyl Bennett, Mike Meacher and Mat Bowman.

“Blending the two was never a conscious decision; the writing took me in that direction by accident,” recalls Mike Meacher, factory city’s guitarist and lead vocalist. “My family is from Ireland, so there’s a bit of Celtic influence as well.

Comprising Meacher, bassist Fyl Bennett, and drummer and background vocalist Mat Bowman, factory city music formed in 2013. In the 1990s, Meacher and Bowman played in their first rock band Tomorrow’s Excuse, traveling all over Ontario to create a musical identity.

“After the breakup of that group, Mat and I played in numerous other original cover song bar bands. He has a totally unique style and nearly identical love for the same music that inspires me,” said Meacher. “We’ve remained good friends and co-conspirators for 15 years. Our first paying gigs were played together, and we continue to play gigs to this day.”

Being the primary writer and composer of factory city, Mike Meacher’s music career began after enrolling in guitar lessons as a preteen. After securing employment in the same music store a few years later, he networked with local musicians and immersed himself in Cambridge’s arts sector.

One summer as a child, Mat Bowman saved up enough money to buy his first drum kit. His talent was cultivated by Vic Freitas, premier drum instructor at Cambridge’s Long & McQuade. Being an active contributor to the city’s music scene for more than 10 years, Bowman’s musical achievements, aside from Tomorrow’s Excuse, include Spooky & Bones and Away from the Glow.

Six years ago, through one of Meacher’s jam nights at a local bar, Fyl Bennett stood out as a powerhouse musician.

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Bennett, Meacher and Bowman during the “Boatman Friday acoustic session.”

“It’s more akin to that of roaming tuba lines than typical root note rodeos. His love for the live show and craft of arrangement is infectious,” Meacher remarked. “Fyl’s approach to bass playing has brought factory city’s songs to a different league.”

Bennett’s career spans more than two decades, playing in Irish Celtic band The Dole Tinkers, among several others. His use of an upright bass has resonated tremendous sound and visual impact, being used in Mermaid, a contender in CBC’s 2015 Searchlight contest. He also experiments with fretted, fretless and ukulele bass, the latter of which can be heard in Boatman.

Art of War, the band’s new CD releasing July 2016, carries a more direct writing style inviting listeners to interpret songs in their own way.

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Artwork for Art of War, factory city music’s newest album releasing July 2016.

“We invested a lot of time in the arrangement and production stages, making the songs as well-crafted as we could,” Meacher explained. “On the last album, I was the recording and mixing engineer. We have some wonderful guest musicians on this one like Dan Howlett on fiddle, Peter Beacock on keys and Vic Freitas on percussion.”

Subscribe to the factory city music’s Facebook page, Twitter handle, YouTube channel and Pinterest feed.

Lynn Jackson – Promoting humanity through music

If you ask Kitchener singer/songwriter Lynn Jackson her musical philosophy, she’ll tell you songwriting has no boundaries. Lyrics tell stories, and storytelling is how we understand each other.

“I’ve always known that music would be a big part of my life, but I decided to pursue it bit by bit,” she reminisced. “It was a series of steps. Booking early shows, starting to write my own songs, and making my first album – this led to my next release and first cross-Canada tour.”

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Portrait of singer/songwriter Lynn Jackson – Photo credit: CORE Photography

Now, eight albums later – Songs of Rain, Snow and Remembering releases on Busted Flat Records in 2016 – Lynn has realized the desire to evoke empathy in original music.

Lynn Jackson performs Riding Out The Storm from Songs of Rain, Snow and Remembering.

Experimenting with classical music on the violin and poetry, and then transitioning to playing guitar, singing and writing music, strengthened the relationship between lyrics and melodies.

Her first paying gig was in 1999, at a Kitchener venue which no longer operates. Lynn began to find her “stage legs,” allowing her to discover the art of performing during her first few rounds of open mics. Her first bookings were a by-product of these events.

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Photo credit: Emerging Design

It was getting over the hang-up of songs requiring structure that released her into a new world of writing. Although songs can contain structure of sorts, Lynn teaches us that we should be open-minded and not try to “box in” creativity. It’s better to let the song be what it wants to be.

“I say, if it wants to be a rock song with lots of distortion, or a ballad with tons of verses and little room for choruses or a bridge, it’s all OK,” she believes.

As a musician, Lynn has no gimmicks to rely on; instead, she maintains impeccable rhythms and memorable words which resonate with Canadian audiences. “Trial by fire” is how she views her tenure as an artist.

Where inspiration is concerned, Lynn’s ideas come from almost anywhere.

“It can be a great song or lyric, a great story, or things I see or think about every day,” she said. “It’s all those things blended together that seem to transform themselves in my dreams at night. Life’s about the ups and downs and the in-between. That’s the stuff I try to write about. The reality of the everyday – I like to think people can relate because we’re all living it.”

From August 1, 2004 to present, Lynn Jackson has released Night Songs, Sweet Relief, Restless Days, Soft Stars, Coming Down, Down in the Dust, The Acoustic Sessions, and Songs of Rain, Snow & Remembering.

Her songs, although vastly different from one another, exude a strong sense of solace, peace and empathy to the listener. He/she will feel as though Lynn is conversing with him/her.

Visit Lynn Jackson’s official website, and subscribe to her Facebook, Twitter and MySpace updates.

One professor’s mission to combine gaming with learning

What do Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite have in common?

At first glance, they appear to be award-winning first-person shooter games for the Xbox, Playstation or personal computer systems, intended for gaming audiences above 17-years-old.

In actuality, these games are core teaching methods in Dr. Amy Green’s Bioshock, Bioshock Infinite and World Literature course at the University of Nevada.

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Amy M. Green, Ph,D., Professor of English at the University of Nevada

A lifelong gamer – playing her first games on Coleco Vision and Atari – Dr. Green combines the study of video games with the study of literature. She believes video games tell rich, complex stories, and advocates the addition of “digital storytelling” to post-secondary curricula.

“We use many of the same techniques I teach to study literature in our study of digital storytelling,” she explained via e-mail. “That gets expanded upon because digital stories have unique features, like the agency of the player and immersion.”

In Bioshock, Bioshock Infinite and World Literature, which Dr. Green cites as a popular course, students play both games and read a variety of texts from the 18th Century to the modern day. To create cohesion between materials, the course groups these games’ thematic elements with literary themes identified in assigned readings.

The first unit is on moral and philosophical thought: students begin by playing Bioshock, and then analyze Ayn Rand’s Objectivism by reading an excerpt of Atlas Shrugged. They also examine other viewpoints, similar to thinkers from the European Enlightenment era.

“I think students gain additional knowledge about why storytelling is important and what stories teach us about our common humanity,” Dr. Green reflected. “Plus, they benefit from studying seriously and with care something most of them come into my courses already enjoying!”

“I find my students in my hybrid gaming/literature courses are better writers and better critical thinkers than in my literature-only courses. My only explanation for this is an increased investment in the material. They enjoy these courses and I love to teach them!”

On May 3, 2014, Dr. Green delivered a Ted Talk on the existence of storytelling in video games. She demonstrated how games such as The Last of Us contain literary themes similar to those found in novels, plays, poems, etc. In this example, “nature versus oneself” is prominent throughout the storyline, as the lead character must answer an arduous question. With humanity deteriorating from a virus known as the “infected,” one child holds the key to a cure. Should this child be sacrificed for the rejuvenation of human life? Or should she be spared out of love, putting the future of society in jeopardy?

“The storytelling element of games has allowed video games, as a medium, to really emerge as important artifacts worthy of serious study,” she’s learned throughout her life. “My inspiration, then, lies in my own love of gaming and my many experiences of being lost within a great video game’s story, much as I would be lost in a great book!”

Most recently, Dr. Green has founded a Rebel Raiser campaign entitled “Support Digital Storytelling through Gaming.” The goal, as stated on its website, is to increase access to digital storytelling for students, and to gauge interest and success of having gaming equipment available to them at the University of Nevada’s campus.

This pilot program, made possible through the help of UNLV’s Lied Library, will allow the placement digital gaming equipment – consoles and games – on course reserve for English Literature classes.

The objective is to purchase the following items:

  • 2 new Playstation 3 consoles;
  • 2 new Playstation 4 consoles;
  • Extra controllers, as these tend to take the most wear and tear;
  • Extra sets of connecting cables to facilitate ease of use;
  • Carrying cases for the consoles and controllers for ease of checkout and to protect the equipment.

As well as the following games – the intention is to save costs wherever possible by purchasing used copies of the games. Two copies of each game would be purchased.

  • BioShock Infinite (comes with BioShock);
  • BioShock 2;
  • The Last of Us;
  • This War of Mine – The Little Ones; 
  • Life Is Strange;
  • Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture;
  • Soma;
  • Telltale Games’s The Walking Dead first season;
  • Silent Hill HD Collection;
  • Dishonored Definitive Edition;
  • Mass Effect Trilogy.

Click here for more information on Amy Green’s academic tenure You can also view her Twitter handle for updates related to her campaign and education.

Learning through literature – fiction provokes thought and reflection

My life lessons weren’t taught solely by my mother, schoolteachers, or personal experiences. Getting lost in the vicissitudes of a fictional character’s life allowed me to witness conflict between oneself, nature, or others, granting me knowledge of how to solve similar problems in real life.

I’ve narrowed down my three favourite novels from Grades 1 to 12, identifying the impact each has had.

Who is Bugs Potter? Gordan Korman

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Written by children’s author Gordon Korman, Who Is Bugs Potter? follows the story of a mustachioed, gifted drummer named Bugs Potter, who shares a room with high school student and flautist Adam Webb, who is settling along with his school’s orchestra at Toronto’s Hotel Empress.

Night after night, Bugs sneaks out of his hotel room and loiters around a suite inhabited by BiBi Lanay, a fictitious movie star staying in Toronto with her entourage, in hopes of meeting her. He also promotes his drumming ability by traveling to exquisite clubs and becoming a media sensation in Toronto.

Bugs’s wish of meeting BiBi Lanay comes true when he plays at Adam’s high school orchestra festival, and sees that Miss Lanay has grown quite fond of him as a newly-famous musician.

Even though they might not be prevalent, I’ve identified two themes in Who Is Bugs Potter?.

At first, Adam was reluctant to call Bugs his roommate, but he eventually warmed up to him and they became friends. The theme/lesson is anyone can befriend a person they view as the polar opposite of themselves, or not as their “equal.” If you take time to get to know someone who seems differently-minded, you’ll discover that you can form a strong relationship and expand your horizons in terms of knowledge and perspectives.

The second theme is persistence and knowing the right times and places to pursue your desires and unleash your talents. If you’re bold and know what you want, it’s a matter of meeting the right people and doing the right thing.

Speak – Laurie Halse Anderson

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Speak realistically depicts what would happen to a teenage girl if she were sexually assaulted, faced mental health issues, and was understood by no one, not even her own family.

Melinda Sordino, a high school freshman from Syracuse, New York, attends an “end of summer” party with her elementary school friends. She meets Andy Evans, a soon-to-be senior of Merryweather High, the school Melinda will be attending that autumn, who lures her into his car and rapes her. After calling the police and consequently ending the party, Melinda’s friends ostracize her during the new school year, unaware of her traumatic experience.

Melinda becomes depressed and unable to speak. Her parents believe her silence is a cry for attention, and ignore any non-verbal messages she attempts to send. She spends the ninth grade mentally replaying the assault, and trying to determine the next step in her life.

Symbolism is a prominent literary element in Speak. Mr. Freeman, Melinda’s art teacher, represents freedom of expression, speech and thought using almost anything as a medium. Mr. Neck, Melinda’s social studies teacher, represents dogmatism: the dissemination of facts and principles without concern for the opinions of others.

Throughout the story, Melinda struggles between finding her voice and staying mute as to not “disrespect” authority or cause a ruckus.

With Mr. Freeman’s mentoring, Melinda “speaks” using pictures, physical objects and abstract paintings, which she shows him before finally telling him her story.

No matter how dire a situation seems, speaking up is the best way to go. Speak teaches this through a first-person perspective of Melinda Sordino’s sardonic humour and observations of her surroundings. There are people (e.g. Mr. Neck) who misuse power and shut others down abusively, but you have to find the right way to express yourself and exercise your rights.

The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

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The Kite Runner is my favourite high school novel. It explores circularity of life, and culpability not for one’s actions, but for one’s lack of intervening.

Set in Kabul, Afghanistan, two boys named Amir and Hassan enjoy kite fighting. Amir’s father, Baba, loves both children, but continuously brands Amir as “weak” and “lacking courage.” An older sociopathic boy, Assef, sadistically causes violence any way he can, and torments Hassan for being a Hazara, who he considers an inferior race to the Pashtuns. As he’s about to attack Amir with his brass knuckles, Hassan defends his friend by threatening to sling a rock into Assef’s eye.

Hassan wins a kite-fighting contest and is confronted by Assef and his gang, who demand that Hassan hand over his kite in exchange for freedom. Upon his refusal, Assef attacks Hassan and sexually assaults him. Amir, standing a fair distance away, witnessed this and ran away, rather than stopping the event.

Amir flees to Fremont, California, marries a woman named Soraya, and ultimately adopts Sohrab, who is revealed to be the child of Hassan – who was killed by the Taliban.

The concept of guilt for not doing something is unprecedented. It shows that telling yourself “you should have done something” is just as bad, or sometimes worse, than saying “I shouldn’t have done that.” Growing up, it taught me that you should gauge when and when not to act. Sometimes, it’s best to not do anything at all, but when a loved one’s life is at risk, doing nothing can be costly.

The Kite Runner also teaches us that life is circular; in other words, what goes around comes around. Committing a crime hurts the criminal as much as it hurts the victim.

Literature entertains, mystifies and teaches. Even a fictionalized story can provoke thought and reflection, making you question things in your own life.

Musical artists – establishing and maintaining a social media presence

In a new age of music marketing, artist development and promotions have evolved. It’s imperative for every singer and musician – independent or signed to a label – to establish and maintain a strong, positive social media presence.

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In the 2010s, many people rely on technology to consume information instantly, without having to wait for evening news broadcasts or daily newspapers. This generation of music connoisseurs expects to be “connected” to their favourite artists 24/7, awaiting album/EP announcements, photos and videos, and random musings at a time convenient to them. They may try to engage in a virtual conversation with you by commenting on a post, tweet or photo.

Here are three suggestions to creating and sustaining a viable social media identity, while attracting a multitude of followers and fans.

  1. Know your audience.

When reaching out to potential supporters, there’s no such thing as “the general public.” A target market or key public, a homogenous group you hope will become your fan base, must be identified and understood. Consider hiring a public relations professional to research demographics, psychographics, musical interests and favourite activities – i.e. nightclubbing, attending larger-scale concerts and music festivals.

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Get a sense of the language they use while interacting with others, what fascinates, angers or amuses them, and times and days they regularly use their channels. For instance, if you notice your target market usually posts on Saturdays between 12 – 5 p.m., this is an “optimal posting time,” a recommended period in which your comments, photos, or announcements should be posted. This can be accomplished by browsing Twitter and Instagram feeds, YouTube channels, and Facebook accounts, and then incorporating these findings into your social media outlet(s).

  1. Select your social media channels.

Based on audience research, choose a realistic number of social media outlets. Stray away from selecting every existing outlet, as it’d become difficult to manage posts and follower engagement.

I propose two to four outlets your audience uses on a regular basis. To save time and energy, sign up for a free Hootsuite account, a service which allows seamless streaming of multiple channels, as well as content management and creation to a single, couple or all your social media outlets.

More information and tutorials are available on the official website.

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  1. Analyze your following; make necessary changes.

Besides research and implementation, evaluation is an important process. Now that you’ve established your social media presence, review and assess your progress so far. If you decide on Hootsuite for ease-of-flow, use their tracking and analytical options (e.g. UberVU) to see which of your postings garnered likes, favourites, shares, retweets, etc. Also look at which ones didn’t fare off as well as you would have liked them to. As unpleasant as it may be, this data will help you to alter posting times, change the tone or language of your content, or maybe change social media channels altogether.

As an artist, you lead a hectic life. If you face challenges establishing a social media presence, seek out a digital-savvy person to help you along the way.

“Music Is My Weapon” seeks to eliminate financial barriers

Published in The Cambridge Citizen: August 3, 2015

More than one third of Waterloo Region youth cite financial hardships as the main thing preventing them from enrolling in music-based extracurricular lessons.

To counteract this, the “Music Is My Weapon – Unplugged Concert Series,” held at Kitchener’s Registry Theatre on Sept. 18, 2015, seeks to eliminate financial barriers preventing children from receiving training in music, song writing, instrumentalism, and performing.

The official “Music Is My Weapon” logo.

This benefit concert will raise funds for E-Bolt Music in Cambridge and the Community Music School of Waterloo Region. This funding will enable both schools to expand their music programming, slash their prices in half, and increase intake capacity for new students.

“Music really helps children to think differently and to process thoughts and emotions,” said Eric Bolton, local singer/songwriter and owner/music teacher at E-Bolt Music. “Music was my reaction to life. I remember going through some tough times and the first thing I did was write music. This initiative is great, and already we see young people benefiting from the power of music.”

Businesses around Ontario have sponsored this concert series, including MIREU Entertainment & Music Business Consulting Group as an artist sponsor; Coldwell Banker Gary Baverstock Realty, Brokerage as a stage sponsor; and Musselman Compressor Services Inc., as musician sponsors.

Prominent Canadian artists, instrumentalists and music producers such as Alysha Brilla, Adam Bowman and Kenen Shadd have voiced their encouragement of this initiative.

“Getting children involved with arts and culture is critical,” said Shadd, vice-president of Roulette Media Records in Waterloo. “There has to be an outlet for them, though. There has to be a way for them to be recognized for their hard work. I think ‘Music Is My Weapon – Unplugged’ will provide a great outlet for these children to showcase their musical talents to a wide audience.”

According to the National Assembly of State Art Agencies, music programs build the confidence and problem-solving skills sought by today’s employers. Children from low-income families who are given the chance to develop skills in music – whether it’s through singing, performing, producing, or composing – achieve grades above 80 per cent in mathematics and science.

Using the hashtag #ELIMIN8BARRIERS, the “Music Is My Weapon – Unplugged Concert Series” encourages members of the Waterloo Region community to come out to this event, and donate what they can to assist students wishing to pursue music lessons.

Please visit the official website, the Facebook page for more information about this initiative. Please click here if you wish to donate.

Canadian arts and culture is serious business

Over the years, I’ve heard people disregard the Canadian arts scene as a “true business”; one that doesn’t “pull in the bucks” or contribute to a strong economy. It might be seen as an industry in which a handful of people paint, sculpt, perform magic, or sing and dance to loved ones and a moderate YouTube following.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Canadian arts and culture serves as an entryway to a prosperous economy securing people financially — and providing them with an outlet to unwind.

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But what counts as arts and culture, specifically?

It’s not just influential singers dominating the airwaves, dancers gracing a stage, or big-time comedy festival performers; it’s the exhibitions and recitals you gaze at and listen to in libraries, of which artists have dedicated their lives to the creation and staging.

Culture is the heritage resources, archives and historical organizations, independent film festivals, and exquisite artwork which has defined our the high culture of our generation.

According to Statistics Canada, $7.7 billion was invested collectively from the municipal, provincial and federal governments in 2010. This employed 600,000 people in the arts and culture sector, producing $40 billion for the Canadian economy — a 500 per cent return on investment.

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In reality, Canadian’s cultural sector in monumental. It employ as many people as the agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining, oil and gas industries combined.

Todd Hirsch, chief economist at ATB Financial in Calgary and author of The Boiling Frog Dilemma: Saving Canada’s Economy, concluded that, next to New York and California, the province of Ontario houses the third largest entertainment economy in the world.

Canadian tourists who partook in arts-related activities in 2009 — watching a production in a village, attending a concert, or exploring heritage buildings — generated $3 billion for the Canadian economy alone.

Believe it or not, investing in the arts helped Canada to climb out of the 2008 recession.

Simon Brault, senior director of the Canadian Council for the Arts and former president of Culture Montreal, vocalized that the gross domestic product share in 2007 catapulted by 4.4 per cent, when $400 million was spent on arts and cultural activities: namely sidewalk show, plays and music festivals.

Even though people weren’t spending money on anything during that time, the sector produces domestic products and services, rather than relying on international trading.

By purchasing a ticket to the Stratford Festival or Big Music Fest, a season pass to a theatre, or pottery from an artist-in-residence, you’re contributing to the growth and stability of the Canadian economy by investing in a very profitable sector. If one year of regular arts engagement can produce $40 billion, imagine what five or 10 years of investment can do!