Luminescence: Chanteuse to the Power of Three at The Cultch
This year’s International Women’s Day at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre saw the performance of Luminescence: Chanteuse to the Power of Three, featuring the Canadian singer-songwriters Sarah Jickling, Kristina Shelden and headliner Christa Couture. The evening inspired us as we witnessed the singers’ courage and artistry to transform the challenges within their lives—through music.The show was the final performance in a series organized by UBC’s Professor Leslie Roman and Wingspan Dis/Ability Arts, Culture and Public Pedagogy at UBC.
As the women explorevulnerability through story and song, we get an eclectic taste through a mix of Indie pop, jazz, and folk music. As they weave their personal experience of dis/ability, heartache and loss as well as hope and empowerment, they invite us into their most personal and courageous spaces of being. In being known for their“artful and gorgeous lyrics which delve into extraordinary loss, love and lightness […they] carry us up their mountains and through their darkest periods to luminescence and light again” (Cultch Website).
A trio of performances that leave you feeling inspired by the possibility of the world and the courage of the human spirit, we are in awe. In a world that often demands that we look up when we want to look down, we are reminded throughout the evening that it’s okay to “not be hopeful” (Couture), that “nobody is broken” (Jickling) and that maybe we’re all beautiful “but just can’t see it” (Sara Bareilles, as noted by Shelden). In an evening of music that speaks to truth and experience to include pain, loss, disabilities, and the ironies that get us through our lives, the performers assure us that we are perfect in our imperfections.
Opening with Vancouver-based Indie-pop singer songwriter Sarah Jickling and her Good Bad Luck, Jickling speaks of her experience of living with bi-polar and anxiety disorder. While Jickling is eccentric like that of a bohemian songstress, she is also sweet, funny, and endearing.As she introduces us to her solo band member—Greg McLeod—she lets us in on a little personal information: Greg is also her partner, her support person, as well as an incredibly talented violinist and trombonist. Her acknowledgment of McLeod exudes gratitude as she applauds “all the people who didn’t run away when things got bad, or for coming back” and launches into Valentine:
‘You are not my lithium, you are not my prozak […]
You don’t need to fight the darkness inside of me
Don’t worry, it’s my responsibility”
As she educates her audience on what it means to live with bi-polar disorder, Jickling not only assures us that she’s not broken and that none of us are, she beautifully affirms herself: and I’ve got soul. With song lyrics that are raw, courageous and inspiring, and music that is upbeat, Jickling helps us to see mental health issues in a whole new way.
The transition into the second act of the evening is eased through Jickling’s invitation to invite of the other performers, Kristina Shelden and Christa Couture to join her onstage for Beyonce’s Fifth Harmony.
As Vancouver Indie-folk, jazz singer-songwriter, Kristen Shelden enters the stage, we are invited into her circle as she shares her personal experience of an accident that has left her with nerve damage causing physical limitations. We immediately know that she is a fighter because after being left with the inability to play the guitar, she does not succumb to being stopped. Instead she turns to the ukulele and soon discovers the up side, which she jokingly shares with her audience:
One finger, one chord. I’m a rockstar.
Her humor is not lost on us. She has found her silver lining.
Shelden opens with her breathtaking performance of Intoxicating—a song that was written by fellow musician Kristina—who has joined her on stage for the evening (on piano and bass). Her performance of this song is impassioned and heartfelt as she raises the roof with her smokey vocals. In sharing her tendency “to write from a raw place that is essentially like sharing her diary out loud,” Shelden then expresses her excitement and gratitude at writing her first song following her accident—and launches into It’s Endless:
I’ve been looking down the street
I’ve been tripping on my feet—trying not to think […]
I need some peace of mind and you need to think this through
We’ve been traveling this path for so long, it’s endless”
Shelden ends the set with her beautiful rendition of Sara Bareilles hit single Beautiful Girl—a song that is clearly appropriate for International Women`s Day, given its lyrics that speaks to women not selling out and encourages that we find beauty in our essence:
“Before you trade in your summer skin
for those high heeled shoes
to make him want to be with you
let me remind you one more time
That just maybe, you’re beautiful”
Following intermission, the evening’s headliner Christa Couture takes to the stage—exuding presence, kindness, and a wisdom that only personal transformation can bring. In having been introduced as “a witness of catastrophe[…whose songs] are as rich in acceptance and compassion as they are full of heartbreak” (Georgia Straight, Varty, 2012), for those of us who have never seen Couture, we anticipate that we are about to see a woman who has a story to tell. Couture has a story to tell. And boy, can she tell it: with story, with song, and with eloquence and grace.
As Couture launches into Lucky or Lost, we see that she honors the past by embracing what once was and by telling it like it is. With lyrics that question her ability to move forward, her words, ironically, indicate that she has and is moving forward. It is a process in which she brings the brokenness with her in the most beautiful way:
“It’s hard to say if I’ll live again
‘cos where I’m broken is so very broken […]
‘cos it’s important to me that we hold to this memory”
I am especially inspired when Couture speaks of hope and hopelessness, to assure the audience that it’s okay to be hopeless sometimes. The irony of it is that she makes this declaration in the most positive way. Perhaps, it’s not the hopelessness that makes us feel bad about feeling hopeless but rather, it’s feeling bad about feeling hopeless that gets us down. Wow!
As Couture closes the show with her beautiful melodic song, Aux Oiseaux, we are enchanted by the music and the words that when woven together speak of honor, acceptance and togetherness. It is the perfect song to end on:
I know what I am and I’m not
I know what I can and cannot
I know what I have and I want […]
I don’t judge, I’ve been through a lot
I don’t say that to say that you’ve not
I think that we’ve both been cut up […]
If together is all that we’ve got
It’s enough for us not to give up”
Don’t give up”
Although Couture got a standing ovation, no more songs were sung that evening. She had sung what she’d come here to say. As so, as we exited The Cultch`s historical theatre—to return to the outside world on that wet and rainy Thursday evening—we were left with much to think about. If nothing else, these three dynamic and powerful women have reminded us how when we accept where we are and what we are, we move through our lives with greater ease, to hopefully develop the capacity to transform our own lives. And our losses.