Hurrah! I am so excited to have been featured in the Saturday edition of the Calgary Herald last week. 

"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.”"

Written by Mike Bell. (thanks Mike!)

mbell@calgaryherald.com Follow on Twitter@mrbell_23

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