Sora Singing for Silenced Friend
"I sit here listening to the morning song It vibrates to my deepest soul A language so clear Too pure to be wrong Eyes closed, ears open Heart memorizing every single note."The words are former Calgary musician Cindy O'Neil's, from her song Wings in Flight, a lyrical ode to the call of the morning birds, a testament to the joy of a new day and a new beginning, and one that continues using words such as "eyes open" and "hope rising."And they are words and an outlook, says local artist Sora, that personify her friend. "It's so Cindy," says the singer-songwriter, born Andrea Hunt. "Cindy's a very hopeful person so the lyrics are very upbeat and hopeful."
Unfortunately, that demeanour and view on life is being tested, as O'Neil, who now lives out east, finds one of the gifts she's been given being taken away from her.
Diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in her 20s, the singer and actress who was a familiar face around town and whose work was showcased in the area-shot series Caitlin's Way, has been on a medication that - while helping with her condition - has brought unexpected and rather heartbreaking side-effects.
"It allows her to function and live, but it's stripping away her singing voice," Sora says.
"It's really sad because she's dedicated so much of her life to singing, voice-over work, acting, improv - so it's stripped away one of her passions in life."
While there's nothing she can do for her friend, there is a special gift that she hopes she can give O'Neil, and that's one last, special recording session that Sora plans to surprise her with today.
At nine this morning, O'Neil plans to arrive back in Calgary, and unbeknownst to her, head straight to The Station studio, where she and Sora will finally record Wings in Flight as a testament to their friendship and to O'Neil's talents."She really wanted to get this song out before she doesn't have anything left," says Sora. Today will mark the end of a long chapter for the song, itself, one that stretches back to the beginning of their relationship.
The two met one another almost five years ago during a local event put on by the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN), and were immediately drawn to each other, both artistically and personally.
"We really hit it off when we met, and we thought maybe we should try to write a song together," Sora says, noting there was something intangible that bridged their disparate approaches to music.
"Our styles are really different, she's sort of jazzy and I'm a little bit more Celtic or New Age, and we thought it would be really fun to try to mesh it together and see what comes of it."
So with only O'Neil's lyrics as a guide, they came up with something a duet that both were incredibly proud of, and performed several times together live, to great response.
The natural step was fleshing it out and recording it for posterity, which Sora says they'd put in motion, having Donovan Seidel, the assistant concertmaster for the CPO, write string arrangements, and then discussing when best to hit the studio to record.
"And then it all fell through," she says, noting that it was always something, such as conflicting schedules or studio unavailability. "And then she got engaged and moved to Ontario . . . about a year and a half, two years ago."
The two kept in contact and, although Sora still performed it during solo shows, recording the song was something they both considered unfinished business, something on the back burner that would eventually get done, some day. Well, that was until Sora received a phone call from O'Neil this past June informing her of the sharp decline in her vocal skills. It now became urgent and some day needed to be soon.
But still, outside forces conspired against them getting together, stalling even a plan to meet halfway, in Winnipeg, for a recording session. Then just as it seemed as if all hope was lost, Sora received another phone call, this one from O'Neil's fiance, Ken, who said he was planning on surprising his partner with a return visit to Calgary this October - which put the wheels in motion.
"I thought, 'Oh, my God, here's our opportunity! Finally, it's come!' " says Sora, who then set about procuring the time, the musicians and everything required to make Wings in Flight, well, fly.
"Once they arrive in Calgary, she's going to bring her to my house and were going to go straight to the studio. And she doesn't know anything about it."
Sora actually spent all day Thursday in the local studio putting on the bed tracks, getting everything ready so that all O'Neil has to do is come in and sing.
As to whether she thinks her friend still has enough voice to get through the session or, jokingly, whether Wings in Flight will be transformed into a dance-friendly Auto-Tune track, Sora laughs.
"I think she'll be strong enough and she's always such an upbeat person, she's a really positive person, I think she'll be able to pull it from within her."
And ultimately, Sora is just happy that the song will finally get the treatment it deserves, and that she will be able to surprise her friend with a gesture and a tribute that will live on forever.
"I can't wait to see her face because we've been wanting to do this for years," she says. "I feel happy to be a part of giving her this gift. . . . Something she can listen to and have forever - her voice immortalized in the song."
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Leaving on a High Note
A Calgarian singer is calling her career a wrap, but not by choice.
Cindy O'Neil is being forced to stop singing by arthritis and the medication she takes to fight her ailment.
Saturday she sang one final song.
Cindy O'Neil can barely imagine not being able to sing and, sadly, she will have to get used to the idea.
Over a decade ago, O'Neil was diagnosed with severe rheumatoid arthritis.The diagnosis came just as her career was beginning to flourish.
She was getting radio play, her songs appeared on two soundtracks and in several music videos.
However, the arthritis quickly crippled both her and her career.
"I couldn't perform. I was trying to perform but I couldn't remember words," says O'Neil. "I couldn't speak sentences properly. I'd lost weight. I was disabled. It got to the point where I couldn't dress myself."
With her medication severely affecting her voice, O'Neil ultimately left the music industry and Calgary. She moved to Ontario with her fiance.
There was one piece of unfinished business, stemming from a night in Calgary a few months before she left."In one night, we wrote this song and we both felt it was so strong, we felt like it really worked," says singer Andrea "Sora" Hunt. "We performed it a couple of times live, and the audience seemed to agree with us, so we always wanted to record it."
The singers never had a chance to record it until Saturday afternoon.
Hunter conspired with O'Neil's fiancé and they arranged to fly O'Neil to Calgary. A recording studio was booked and the two women were able to finally record the song while they still could.
"This will be the only chance she and I have to have our voices together in song, to have the song we wrote recorded," says Hunter. "To have something that I can share with my children and that she can share with the people in her life. This one moment before her voice gets completely stripped away."
The recording was a bittersweet moment for O'Neil.The emotion of returning to a recording studio conflicted with the knowledge that she was most likely setting foot in a studio, as a singer, for the last time.
O'Neil says even though this is her last song, it may not be her last chance.
She wants to keeping writing music and working with other artists. She's hoping the voice she's lost can be heard through them.
Saturday's recording can be heard at both cindyoneil.com and soramusic.ca
Read more: http://calgary.ctvnews.ca/leaving-on-a-high-note-1.711954#ixzz2JZQqaybe
Century of Help Captured in Song
The Calgary Family Services 100th anniversary celebration takes place tonight at Heritage Park's Gasoline Alley. For tickets, call 403-269-9888.---
What does 100 years of providing assistance to Calgary families sound like?
That was the dilemma faced by Calgary Family Services -- the organization founded by the McKillop family a century ago -- when it set out to commission a song marking its 100th anniversary.
Family Services communications specialist Adrea Jolyn wasn't sure what such a song would sound like, but had a hunch who might be able to do the organization justice in song. It was a local singer named Sora, a mother of four young kids who gets a lot of her inspiration from ancient Greek and Celtic myths, and sort of sings like one, too.
"I just told her about our beginnings and about what we're going for in the future," says Jolyn. "One thing she is very good at is taking snippets of story and an emotional theme, and creating this beautiful music around it."
The result of that conversation was Legacy, a song Sora wrote and recorded in honour of the anniversary. She's performing the song tonight at the Legacy Launch Celebration at Heritage Park, where the organization will also launch The Legacy Book, the history of Calgary Family Services.
For Sora, trying to encompass 100 years of an organization's history in a single tune was daunting -- but also an opportunity.
"It was written with a string quartet in mind," she says, "so I really wanted to bring a feeling of timelessness and grandeur to it. We're talking about 100 years, which is a really long time for an organization to be around, especially nowadays."
"I wanted within the song to carry the weight of that, the importance of such grandeur and of this legacy they're passing on every year, bringing the vision of people from a century ago to life now."
In other words, she had to find a way to tell a story, a task Jolyn knew she was well-suited to do, both because of her musical gifts as well as the way in which her personal story connected to the history of Calgary Family Services.
"She also has a strong family life, so she's a great fit for our organization," Jolyn says. "The struggles she's overcome to launch her career -- she has four kids and launched her singing career in her mid-20s. That's a hard road to walk, right?"
"In that regard, she's quite inspiring as a woman figure," she adds."And our history is quite dazzling with its amazing women who have led communities, so she's a fit in that regard, as well."
A link to the song will be available soon at soramusic.ca.