'Heather Feather has been teaching for over 25 years and ADORES children. She believes that making music should, first and foremost, be FUN! And active. And a little crazy! Her fondest musical memories are some of her earliest, when she was singing and playing music with her family as a preschooler...and so she encourages families to enjoy music by making it together.'
With 12 songs in total, Heather's new album, Songs for Growing, includes a vast variety of musical styles for ages 0-10. Her voice is like a silky serenade that transports stories and rhythms with ease. Heather's songs take me back to when I was a child listening to Julie Andrews and Anne Murray. She hops from jazz styles to folk tunes without hesitation and draws you into her musical worlds instantly with confidence and energy. There is no doubt that Heather is doing exactly what she is meant to be doing. She's put together such a fun, thoughtful, collection of songs that is definitely worth checking out.
You've just released your first album, Songs for Growing. It's a collection of 12 fantastic songs that range in style, tempo, and topic. Can you tell us a bit about the album? Where did the ideas come from for your songs and how long did it take to put it all together?
Thanks Beppie! I'm so happy you like the album!
Hmm...I've been teaching for a very long time and all of my songs come from that educational perspective, because I write tunes to suit the interests and needs of growing children and the preschool programs in which I teach. That's the main impetus for my songs. In Montreal, we were under pandemic curfew and stay-at-home orders a few times in 2020, 2021, and 2022, and I had a lot of time at home to think about the idea of recording all those songs I'd developed over the previous few years, and the idea of an album was born. I write a few songs each week for teaching and I'd never, ever thought I'd record an album! My mission as an educator is twofold: to immerse children in a variety of musical genres and styles; and to present music that allows for musical, physial, cognitive, social, emotional, and intellectual growth. I felt that the album should reflect those values, so I started to piece together a multi-genre variety of tunes that all had taught something from at least one of these areas and also covered the gamut of ages from newborn to about 10 years old.
Making this album was such a magical experience! I'd never recorded before and was terrified and I went into Alchemist Studio to meet Charles Coutu and Stratsimir Dimitrov in December of 2021 to chat and try recording a few of my own guitar parts. They put me completely at ease and I left feeling confident that no matter what happened, these two would do a fantastic job. Band recording sessions started in January 2022 when we were under curfew again, and we finished in May. Vocals, mixing, and mastering were done right afterwards, so the whole recording process only took six months.
The songs were in a variety of formats when we hit the studio in January 2022--from lead sheets to prescribed scores--and they were all recorded live from 3 takes of each tune. The band and I met 4 times and recorded 3 tunes each time we met, totalling 12 tracks. John Sadowy (piano), Jim Doxas (drums), Adrian Vedady (bass), and Steve Raegele (guitar) are all accomplished jazz musicians, composers, and arrangers, and so I wanted the first session to be a big jam session to let them do what they all do best. I gave the guys a lead sheet, tempo, feel, and a few audio samples for style, we chatted a little, threw around some ideas, and then we played and sang as if we were on stage already. We recorded "Sleeping Bunnies", "Ants in My Pants", and "Migration Song" this way. The chromatic-mediant keys changes in Sleeping Bunnies and a true, Charlie Parker kind of bebop for the chorus are unexpected and were a TON of fun to record. The guys were skeptical that bebop would work for "Sleeping Bunnies", but Adrian, in particular, was laughing afterwards, and it ended-up being one of his favourites. I mean, who doesn't love Charlie Parker, right? I asked if "Ants in My Pants" could sound like Amy Winehouse in Motown. We all howled with laughter recording that one, especially the ending: I'd asked for a slow, overly dramatic ending, but it didn't come together until we all realized it really like Chris de Burgh's tune about Patricia (that famous song that we won't write out the full title for, here, lol) and that's such an unexpected tempo and style on a kid's album, to say the least. The second session included the tunes I had written-out specific score parts and for which I had very concertized ideas: "Construction Holiday", "Plant a Seed", and "I Can Eat Rainbow". These songs were written for Orchard House Preschools for their monthly themes on Montreal's July Construction Holiday, how plants grow, and healthy eating.
The remaining two sessions were a mix of both working styles, essentially lead sheets with some measures written-in exactly, others with chords and rhythmic vamping ideas, and some completed blank with just the chord changes. The last session with "Dinosaur Dance", "Shayne the Sheep", and "Hey, Ho" required practice outside of the studio since they're fairly complex in terms of tempo and/or style changes. Kate Bevan-Baker joined us on the fiddle and I'm so appreciative that she did, because she's a magnificent performer and academic.
I popped-into Alchemist a few times over the next months to record with Stratsimir Dimitrov and Charles Coutu, while Stratsi was working on the mix. The mastering was done shortly after, and I released the album on September 11, 2022. Recording that album was the most fun I'd had in a very long time. Stratsi, Charles, Jim, Adrian, Steve, John, and Kate are all amazingly-talented musicians, wonderful people, and very funny. Every studio session was filled with laughter, jokes, more jokes, and great live music that we managed to capture on the album. Some of the tracks featured Jim outside the studio window making faces at us while recording backing vocals or those hand claps. I really wish I had pictures of that.
You do a lot of performing, teaching, and songwriting. In your opinion, what's the best part of the musical process and why?
That's a really tough question, Beppie!I love connecting with children and I feel very privileged to be a part of their growth. For me, then, teaching is probably my favourite, because I can create long term relationships with the children and be a part of their growth. It's a huge privilege to be trusted by parents to guide their children as they grow. I compose new tunes for teaching all the time, and I really enjoy that, too! My undergraduate degree started-off being a double performance major in voice and horn. By my third year, however, I'd decided I loved analysing and composing more--and my stage fright was quite bad--and so I switched to theory and composition. All the way through the master's and PhD degrees I was a teaching music theorist who composed and performed in choirs and orchestras on the side, so I never really ever left performing or teaching or songwriting by the wayside except in those final years of writing the dissertation or when teaching at the university level.
Now that I'm getting older and my multiple sclerosis is leaving me quite a bit more tired than I used to, I might have to cut back somewhere, eventually. If I become more severely impacted than I already am, I would do a little less teaching and performing, and do what I can do from home, which would mean more composing. Imagine writing songs for other people to sing? Or for Disney? That would be amazing! One thing that I've learned and experienced is that there is no such thing as a door that closes and remains closed forever. Rather, there is always a way to reopen that door, or to forge a new path finding different doors to open and explore what lies within.
Do you have a favourite song from the new album? Were there any songs that didn't make it onto that album?
I think "Shayne the Sheep" ended-up as a favourite. Shayne represents anyone who feels like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. Being oneself, and being authentic, is important for one's own happiness. As communities, we are all part of flocks. As a hive-minded community, and as individuals within communities, we need to be open, empathetic, understanding, accepting, and inclusive. Shayne could be ANYONE. He could be the toddler who doesn't want to play the game that everyone else wants to play, and he wonders why and if his friends will still like him. He could be the only girl in the class who doesn't like pizza and is afraid that her friends will make fun of her. He could be the person who feels like an outsider at school or work and is simply trying to find inclusion. He could be neuro-atypical or visibly disabled (I prefer " differently-abled, myself, as someone with MS) and looking to be accepted as they are. He could represent someone secretly knowing they're part of the LGBTIQA+ community but afraid to tell friends. We all have parts of ourselves that are "different" in some way, and we may be afraid to show those parts of ourselves to the world. For me, those parts would be my true, introverted nature and feeling overwhelmed in large crowds, as well as the MS, but Shayne shows us that we can be ourselves and be accepted for who we are. Shayne is my hero!
On the day that I completed the fourth recording session with the band for Songs for Growing, there were enough tunes for another two albums. And now there are even more!
Now that you've released your first children's album, are you planning on releasing another one? If so, will you do things differently this time now that you've been through the process from start to finish?
I'd love to get the band back together for a second album soon, and they'd love to make one. It is a question of finding the time to really get the tunes prepped for recording so that we make the best use of our studio time, as well as a question of schedules, as each band member has a very active performing career between maybe ten different bands, trios, and quartets in total. I'm very happy to have created an album with band members who are each true masters of their instruments: it was an awe-inspiring experience! In the future, I'm tempted to move in two directions. On one hand, I'd love even more of a live sound. Jazz musicians are improv masters. Just give them the changes and they fly! With this in mind, having a more collaborative album where songs are all lead sheets and developed and arranged as a band, would be very exciting. The opposite direction would also be interesting, and that would be to work on an album slowly and arrange as much as possible behind the scenes, by myself, using a DAW at home (and this is what I believe many other children's artists do) and call in for a few overdubs. I think the first approach would be great for an album filled with upbeat tunes full of movement and excitement, and the second direction would be great for introspective, quieter collections of music.
If you could reach out to all of your fans directly to tell them a message, what would you say to them?
I would say a huge THANK YOU for their support, because it means so much to me. I'd also ask them to get in touch with me with requests, like if there's a song topic that they'd love to have a tune about, because I'd be delighted to write it for them!
If you could magically be an instrument, what instrument would you be?
Definitely a horn. They look really complicated with all those tubes but it only has 3 or 4 keys. And I'm a pretty happy, simple person, and I like a simple life, so having only 3 or 4 keys and being able to play a 4-octave range would suit my personality just fine!