By likemindblog

Karen-Young-face-front c


KAREN YOUNG, was raised in Hudson, Quebec.  She started playing guitar at the age of fourteen and went on to become a singer, composer, writer, teacher, poet…  Karen has been living her passion for the last thirty years or more.

I borrowed this because it says it all: “Karen Young does with sounds what Pellan does with colours. I have seen this wonderful woman sing in over ten languages and each time her heart was there. I know she found the soul of each language because I heard her sing in creole, and you can’t lie to me in my mother tongue.”—Dany Laferrière-

Karen, welcome and thank you so much for participating in this project.  It is with great pleasure that I publish part one of your article tonight.   Let’s get right to it.

No. 1) What is music to and for you?

Music, like all art is what makes humans special and brings us out of our reptilian selves.  I decided very early in life that I preferred inspiration and beauty to aggression and ambition.  I’m definitely a cigalle and not an ant.  I’ve always accepted the down side of being an artist:KAREN YOUNG C no security,emotions on my sleeve, not being here 100% , but in my own world.  Music is something everyone can have if they’re exposed to it and encouraged.  Witness all the community choirs popping up.  Singing is such a great way to feel really alive and happy and in a community.  When I sing with a group of people, I get so high on oxygen!  By the end of the session we’re all laughing.  Working on a challenging project also gives us a feeling of accomplishment.

We’re used to music being divided into the performers and the passive listeners.   I think that is starting to change.  Music is so therapeutic that everyone should have a chance to make it.  Of course it takes focusing and practising.  Learning an instrument is a long, lonely process.  We make a lot of ugly noises before music comes out.  And learning how to read, to improvise and to understand where the piece we’re playing comes from.  Those are all important processes.

Also, to compose and, if you’re a singer, to embrace poetry, which gives a whole new universe to the music.  Then there is the sportive part: standing in front of people and exposing your heart of hearts, trying to bring them with you, dealing with the adrenalin and feelings of inferiority, focusing on the moment.

When listening to music, we open ourselves to emotion.  I always like music that makes me cry.  It’s a great release.  Then there’s music that  makes you want to dance, makes your heart beat faster.  I’ve always felt that music is so important that I prefer not to have it playing all the time in the background.  It just becomes noise and loses its power.  Also it keeps my own music from entering.  I spend a lot of time in silence working on things; the think method, someone said.  When I walk, I enter immediately into a song and work on it.  Many ideas have come that way.

I’m a bit of a musicologist.  I love learning about the time and place of music that I love, not just the personal life of the performer, but the historical context in which the music was made, the culture or mix of cultures that created this music.  I love to see how certain composers live on in other composers, a little like great grannie’s blue eyes.  Music after all is an oral tradition that gets passed on through the millennia.  It’s amazing how the music of the people, (pop) and people themselves come from Africa.  That music vibrates in all of us and really breaks down barriers.

KAREN YOUNG ENo. 2) What inspires you?

Being a verbal person, I am inspired by poetry.  If the words are horrible or politically incorrect, no matter how beautiful the music, I can’t really perform it.  I guess that’s where singing in another language comes in, you can just concentrate on being inspired by the music.  Same goes for instrumental music.  You can make your own pictures.  I love instrumental music that is close to nature.  The Impressionists inspire me a lot.  You really feel a pagan worship of nature (they do have their satyrs and nymphs!) and there are no machines. 

Japonese shakuhashi music is even more natural- no rhythm, no harmony, no hummable melody.  This music is great for clearing the mind, a kind of non music that doesn’t lead you anywhere.  As for rhythmic music, give me world music every time.  Of course as a teenager, I loved my acid rock and danced like a maniac.  Dancing is very important for getting to know your sexual body (and your dancing partner’s)  But when I discovered the rhythms of Africa, Turkey, Lebanon, Cuba, Gypsies and Bulgarians, I was much more inspired.  I like to use my interpretation of those rhythms when I compose.  Lately I’ve come back to being inspired by swing.  It is such a joyous music.  I love playing brushes when I sing with my trio, taking part in the groove.

I must say that when I listen to my Blue hour music, (Blue hour is the time in winter between day and night when the snow and the sky are the same luminescent blue.  I love to listen to serene, deep music) much of it being choral music, that’s when the tears fall, the heart beats loudly, the soul seems to rise up.  I especially love Renaissance choral music.  Singing it is very inspiring. 

I’ve joined an amateur choir and take part in a sight singing group just to be able to sing choral music.  That has had an effect on my writing.  I’m almost exclusively writing for choirs these days.  Vocal harmony really inspires me.  Of course, the words are a problem, but most of it is in Latin, a beautiful language to sing!  I’m inspired by harmonic dissonance, lush, complex chords.  I use them a lot in my arrangements.  They affect the melody as well, make it more interesting.

No. 3)  When you are playing, singing, where does it take you?  I mean, whereKAREN YOUNG I does your mind travel?

As a singer, the most important thing for me is to totally identify with the feelings of the person I’m representing in the story I’m telling.  It’s the actress in me.  I like to walk in the shoes of the song, suspend my own reality for awhile.  I like to feel all the emotions, happiness, passion, sorrow, jealously, serenity.  Having felt all these myself, I invest my soul in the story.  It’s a kind of exchange.  The audience, if I get deep enough, will be able to feel those personal feelings through someone else and the release will be therapeutic for me and the audience.  Like crying in a movie where the actor dies.  There’s always a little rational brain guiding the raw emotions into better expressing themselves  through vocal technique and negotiating the rhythm, harmony and melody of the song.  Improvising happens all through the song, not just on the solos. 

Improvisation is the magic of the moment, how you’re putting it all together at that instant.  It will always be different, depending on the oneness of the band you’re playing in, and the openness of the audience.  Also, for any reason, if you can’t focus because of outside distractions from your life.  When it works, it’s a total high.  By high I mean when the body feels orgasmically weak and strong at the same time and the mind explodes in pleasure. And you feel an out surge of love, just the pure emotion- no strings attached.

No. 4) Do you think music, singing, painting and health are related and if so, how or what makes you say that?

There is a big growth these days in art therapy. (also animal and nature therapy) All of these things can reduce the stress of living, which makes you sick.  And they can bring out buried emotions to the conscious mind, often in a symbolic way.  I really believe that humans are symbolic, pattern seeking animals, as shown in constellations and ink blotches. 

KAREN YOUNG HAt the same time, if your art becomes your main source of stress, that can really screw you up.  We all know that stress is the big killer in our modern way of life. This of course happens to professional artists that have to make a living from something that used to be considered sacred.  Ambition and the sports win or lose mentality can turn art into a monster that can someday burn you out.  In this society we are forced to be ambitious business men with our art.  A lot of today’s successful artists are more ad men and ceos than artists.  they pay other people to do their art for them.  Of course it’s great to have a team, each part with its strengths.  The selling of art is strictly business.

Trying to live up to your reputation or your last project, trying to get the powers that be to consider you, feeling like a loser if you don’t fill your hall, playing when the room is full of critics.  These can all distract you and make you give a less than magic performance, which in turn makes you question your career choice.  If you really make it viral, the invasion of your private world and the phoniness of sycophants surrounding you can make you very cynical.  Consider the change in song lyrics of the stars.

But we all need art, which is symbolic life.  We all need it for our psychic health.  

No. 5)  How do you feel when you’re singing?

I guess I answered this one in question 3and 1.  Singing makes me happy.  It helps me work out problems and certain universal themes to be chiselled at.  It makes me feel respected and loved, and to respect and love the people I sing with.  It channels my wandering mind and lets me focus on something beautiful.  It gets me high from breathing and working my diaphragm, gives me energy.  It takes me out of obsessive thoughts, banishes the blues.

No. 6)  Do you identify with your music, songs, and if so, on what level?Karen Young en spectacle photo_674150_resize

I always choose songs I can identify with, either felt or believe myself.  I’m a little shy using my own lyrics.  It’s so personal, but I try to be universal about it.   I never was into navel gazing.  Some songs are so much the writer that you feel like an imposter singing them.  There is always that desire to share the song with others, and hope that they can identify with it too. If I don’t identify with the song because it is in another language with images that don’t really touch me, but I HAVE to sing it, I just sing it with love of the music and a desire to bring the cultures closer together in respect.  So I am identifying with my belief that all humans should live in peace and respect.

No. 7) Under what circumstances do you work best?

I was never able to do my best when there were, what I used to call bad vibes.  I have fallen in a heap, unable to emit a sound because of band leaders that were negative, insulting,etc.  I have done vocal workshops where I couldn’t sing a note because of a lack of understanding with the teacher.  And it doesn’t inspire you to continue in that musical direction.  I work best in a loving, empathetic situation.  It’s not ideal in the real world, but that’s the way I am.  When everybody has pleasure, we get so much more done. Mind games and power struggles are such a waste of time.  Of course sometimes if you persevere and work through the problems,  it pays off, but only if those working relation problems go away.  If they don’t it’s better to back out and let someone else (and there are so many musicians and singers!) more suited to the personality of the group get the job.  On an artistic level I love to be leader or teacher.  I love to prepare and create projects and bring them to completion.  I hate the business side of it.  I have put time into a lot of projects, never to have had a chance to do them.  I also like to be a part of other peoples’ projects.  I appreciate their hard work and vision.

Karen, thank you for sharing so generously with us, your thoughts and feelings in this first part of your article.  I have enjoyed doing this with you a lot as well as seeing you again a few weeks ago.  We’ll continue with part two at a later date.  Until then, be blessed.


We’ve had to interrupt this article due to uncontrollable circumstances in Karen’s environment, but we will bring you part two as soon as possible.

Until then, you are cordially invited to visit Karen’s website.  Your comments are always appreciated, thank you so much, enjoy!



Photos: Jacques E. Trottier / jazzfanmontreal@hotmail.com

Last photo: Le Messager Lasalle.

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Filed in: MUSIC • Friday, May 18th, 2012


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My name is Michele Andree. I am an artist, I paint musicians in action. I think I’m a musician at heart, my instrument being… a brush, so I play…brush and I paint… music.
I love jazz. I call it freedom music. It promotes special values. I love intelligent people and good conversations.

Some people ask me how music relates to art. Personally I find they go hand in hand. Music is what turns me on to painting. It makes me see colours