• Heather Armstrong

Fearless Contribution

Updated: Feb 7

… When a candle is lit the light explodes outward, almost like a magic trick or miracle. The hard work behind the flame goes unnoticed, but it is, of course, an integral part of the magic.


This album reminds me of the “magic candle” experience. The hard work has led to a creation of personal triumph and pride. It just might be the best work I have ever produced. Of course, the hard work has been from a support group I am humbled to call my own.


My sincere gratitude goes to my beloved husband, Randy. He is the constant “wick” in my musical candle. His unwavering support holds this whole musical life I lead possible. He always “holds the sting and grounds me” as I fly another whimsical, musical kite. Thank you for speaking truth so that I can trust that this part of my life is happening just as it should.


Tremendous gratitude goes to Stewart Franck for allowing us to join him in his wonderful basement studio while putting this album together.


To Josh "Dramer" Wagner, thank you for sharing your drumming ideas and in return, helping my confidence come to light.


To Alex Buchanan of Harbourtone Productions, thank you for your efficiency and hardworking professionalism while producing my dream album. You are like a shiny present I get to unwrap every time I work with you.


Gratitude goes to Patrick Thompson for helping me master this record, and for adding his own insightful touches to my dreams.


Extreme gratitude to my marketing and copywriting man, Brian Geddes, of Direct Ad Factory Marketing. Also, Kristine Mirelle. Thank you for you unending education. I pray we get to perform together someday.


Lastly; most importantly, my mother, Shaun. Thank you for your unending support in this musical dream. Looks like all of those music lessons are finally starting to pay off.


This “love” project is dedicated to all of you. Without you, there would be no me.


My unending gratitude awaits you all.


Yours in music,



_______


THE STORIES BEHIND THE MUSIC


Track #1 "Early Rising Rhythm and Blues"


I SHOULD MENTION that this songwriting dance has been over 25 years in the making. Most of my music never passed a sentence before being scribbled over, torn up, or thrown out.


Finally, in late February 2020 (pre-pandemic), after not having much time to practice with music ministry due to my bagpiping business, I reached out to a local band. They agreed to have me as a guest musician. After singing Aretha Franklin, Annie Lennox, and James Taylor, a local music teacher came up to me.


"What are you doing?" She exclaimed.


I was confused. She is familiar with my journey in teaching bagpiping throughout the community, so I needed a bit of clarification.


"You need to share your voice", she said.


She then took the evening to hype me up for what is to come. I also shared the evening with my aunt - she came to see me. She later said she knew my abilities and was just waiting for this fire to start burning. When I went home that night I grabbed my notebook, a pen, and my guitar.


It was 4 a.m. when I put this song together. It originally began with "It's 4 in the morning...", but time kept ticking, so it felt natural to change it to "Early Morning".


The 2020 pandemic hit only a few weeks later, and all I could think about was the fear we all felt as this bug took over our lives. This song was chosen as my first released single because it is the first song I had made since that memorable evening. It just seemed to fit there and didn't make sense anywhere else.


"Early Rising Rhythm and Blues" is dedicated to Eilidh Buchanan, the music teacher who gave me that final push, and to my Aunt Ruthy for sharing the night with me.



_______


Track #2 "I Fly"

I HAVE AN INTERESTING RELATIONSHIP WITH THIS SONG. This is the song I use to remove any dust from the vocal cords. It is also one I have an interesting connection with because, for a while, I didn't like how it sounded. Perhaps, it was because this song had to sound perfect due to its story.


During spring of 2020, Nova Scotia had been blown away by one tragedy after another. Shootings in April, the beyond devastating news of Sub-Lt. Abbigail Cowbrough and team; and then news regarding the plane crash and death of Canadian Forces member in Snowbirds, Captain Jennifer Casey.


That evening, I went down into our basement with my guitar.


There are times where I honestly do not believe songs are created, but more blessed to those willing to listen extremely carefully while the spiritual energy arrives. This was one of those times.


I was brought to an image of how it must have felt for Captain Casey to fly for the very first time. This is what the song is about. There are small hints that can be found within the song (e.g. "My hands are wings" means her hands are steering the plane). I also find it interesting that the song appeared while NS was in such a broken state. Perhaps, it was a way for all of us to know everything will be alright.


My prayer has been that this song will reach the heartbroken and, perhaps, share a bit of happiness as we merge together.


Track #3 "Bells in the Wind"

DURING THE PANDEMIC, when all was in full tilt and we were all at home, I became a ball of stress. Lost a few students, as well as a few friends. Fast-forward to present, I know there really wasn't anything I could have done to alleviate that situation; however, in the moment, it was all I could think about. The boys asked if they could go for a bike ride, and since we couldn't really go anywhere we decided to bike around the house. A sound was heard from a distance. At first, I thought it was a cylinder bell chiming in someone's yard, but upon more investigation, it turned out to be the bells playing from Grace Anglican Church.

Grace Anglican Church is somewhat close to our home, but not so close as to hear it as strongly as we were. The lake and wind were bringing the sound over to us.


A calming peace arose while hearing the bells and watching my boys bike in front of me. It helped us stay in the moment as we circled the house.


Once the boys had moved on to something else, I located my guitar and sat under the apple tree. Melody came to life without effort and that evening, lyrics followed suit.


Once the song was recorded in studio, it became apparent to release in December as a Holiday pick-me-up while we all bunkered down. A beautiful part of this song is bells are actually heard! Had to ask Alex Buchanan, Producer, if this was added in and he said, "no", so you're hearing harmonics within the melody.


Also, my son is calling "mom" in the end. When I was recording a live video to give to the church, my son had said "mom" in that precise moment. The song just wasn't complete without it.


_______


Track #4 "Taking Chances"

I WAS SO VERY SLEEP DEPRIVED when this song came along. Nights of 4 am were traditional for a good few months before it came together. Other songs were igniting, but there seemed to be more to share every single time another song from "Fearless Contribution" gathered form.


Once "Taking Chances" arrived, I was able to sleep again.


This song came with a message.


We spend so much of our time believing in tomorrow, but tomorrow isn't guaranteed to come. We say it over and over --like a broken record--


"These moments can always come tomorrow."


Then, while writing the lyrics, a voice came to me and said,


"What if some don't know when these moments arise?"


Taking Chances is filled with tiny feelings while living in the moment. It also mentions how "time is irrelevant when you find your 'thing' to do". We all can agree time flies when we are having fun.


Once it was officially created, I posted it online. Jesse Patrick, a well-known rhythm and blues musician in Halifax, came across it and shared his enjoyment. This was the beginning of a relationship officially formed after a few years of following each other on social media.


Once "Fearless Contribution" was scratched (meaning recorded roughly),


I was brought to a memory, pre-pandemic, of my niece teaching a dance to the family as if on stage. She was shy, but then let it all out while dancing with her mother. All she needed was a little nudge to do what she wanted in that particular moment.


After reliving that memory, I wrapped up part of the costume worn the evening when "Early Rising Rhythm and Blues" came to life, and gave it to her for Christmas. When received, I mentioned that uniforms and costumes seem to help with nerves.


This song is dedicated to her while she journeys through life.





Track #5 "I Never Knew"

THIS SONG DIDN'T HAVE A NAME until we settled on one a month before album release.


Also, I'm not particularly a fan of saying "Never". It reminds me of the song from American Tale ("Never say never), but the word kept showing up in this song regardless. Perhaps this is how absolute the feeling is? Either way, never say you will never say never... is what I say (LOL).


Participating in the name game helps my understanding the idea behind numbering art, quite similar to Shakespeare and his sonnets. Choosing a name is difficult - especially when the art in question forms for so many years. No lyrics are good enough to compliment.


The melody was first created 17 years ago when I lived with my grandparents. It became a warm hug holding me through dark times as I leaned in prayer. Lyrics didn't follow suit until just last year when I was home with the boys during the making of "Fearless Contribution".


Most of the words were improvised while recording a video to post on social media. This was a fantastic practice as it finally forced the words onto paper.


Through the years in making this song, the understanding and beauty of Amazing Grace grew while lost and found in unconditional love. It is understood now that this love so remarkable, it accepts the humanly human parts. No acting is needed in order to make this love stay nearby. Being who you are is enough.


"I Never Knew" is dedicated to both my Nana and my husband. Their unending love reminds me to pull through when mercy calls. I pray this song reminds you all of the unconditional.




Track #6 "Alone in a Diner"

Life was a whirlwind once the pipe and drum school commenced. Countless bookings and lessons arose to the point I didn't have much time to do anything else. The band uniform hung on a hook beside my bed - ready to go in a moment's notice.


One evening, I was in my car driving back home from a lesson and I couldn't mentally make it to the highway. Instead, I went into a local diner. Conveniently, just enough money resided in my pocket to purchase one cup of coffee. Once given the cup, I sat still with pipe case and band music while watching cars pass


I'm a mother to two boys, and all was held together, but me? Not at all.


I missed being home with them, but I also missed time where I could breathe. This is when the understanding of taking the time to self-care, while being a mother, came into place.


The lyrics came in form of a prayer.


Little did I know this song would become an omen for guardians. Listeners let me know how they scream and dance to this song to get through hard days, which is quite the musical compliment because that is how I felt while writing the lyrics. If I could scream in the diner instead of sitting contained, I would have.


The melody gathered form while we were homeschooling our children during first lockdown. It is now dedicated to all guardians juggling it all during the pandemic.


Guardians, I pray this will give you an emotional release and that it reminds you to take a bit of time for yourself. Remember, you are not alone.



Track #7 "Nowhere to Go"

"Nowhere to Go" was created while searching for positives in COVID lockdown.


While searching, I remember finding moments where neighbours were actively enjoying the outdoors by tending lawns, biking, prancing through sprinklers and the like. I also remember seeing so many cars in the driveway. Everyone was home.


It was a bittersweet way to realize so many were accepting protocol.


"Nowhere to Go" also contains subtle cues to ensure all is going well with our children by watching their smiles.


I remember listening to this song while homeschooling my children. When the September school year was upon us,


I wanted to be sure all was well before


putting my boys back in.


Once January arrived, I looked at my boys and noticed just how much they missed their friends. I was also becoming extremely stressed while attempting this disastrous and break-less juggle.


The intentions were pure, of course, but it just couldn't be done without losing sanity. 100% respect to our children's teachers. We are, evidentially, lost without you.


"Nowhere to go" is dedicated to times where we need to wait, and I pray it creates positive affirmations while doing so.




_______

Track #8 "Piper's Peace":

Fall of 2019 was filled with bagpiping at funerals and Remembrance Day services and three services, in particular, really fed this song.


First service: The school’s previous bagpiper retired from bagpiping and was now watching as a veteran.


While standing at attention, I received a painted poppy as a gift from one of the students.


"Do I accept this poppy?"


The Veteran felt this question, smiled, and nodded. It now hangs in my bedroom.


Now, the second Service: The day consisted of two services— One for the younger students, and one for the older students.


Usually, an introduction to our honourable veterans happens prior; however, this time, everyone was already seated in the Gymnasium. Piped in with a usual processional, piped “Flowers of the Forest" after 2 minute silence, and then piped the usual recessional while leading the coloured party in parade. Went directly to the leader in the coloured party afterward and asked how it went.


“It should be a slower march“, answered the veteran and then looked at the gym entrance. A soldier was holding on to fellow mates for assistance. This soldier was injured in battle.


My heart fell to the ground…


I left someone behind...


Third Service: Thankfully, the second service for the older children followed.


A very slow march was piped during processional and recessional to ensure no one was left, and “Flowers of the Forest” was played with as much emotion as could be gathered in a way to ask for forgiveness. I learned a lot that day.


A state of numbness and shame surrounded my being post Remembrance Day. This depression ran deep; so deep that I had forgotten the most important procedure explained by my late grandfather. As follows:


We are to remember, lay our poppy, and then forget so our honoured can attempt to heal. (This is why I waited to post until November 01.)


Healing began while attending a Vital Church conference a few weeks after Remembrance Day in 2019. It headed me back to my hotel room, and transformed from tears into music. While writing, eyes closed, a memory arose of our local Remembrance Day services. Pictured how I could just fall to my knees and thank them for our lives but won’t, because of how much more important it is to stand and play in their honour. Even now, tears creep in while writing this blog.

“I can not forget; I will not forgot. This is the Piper’s Peace”


In no time at all, we landed in the recording studio to record #8. Emotions couldn't be handled; tears fell while recording vocals. The band coached through the tears, and now we have a song dedicated to our beloved Veterans loaded with kindred emotion.




_______


Track #9 " All I Need":

FUNNIEST PART OF THIS "STORY BEHIND THE MUSIC" CHALLENGE is I actually believed I would have the time to get it completed in 10 days. Here we are, over a month in, and I'm at the second last song.


I should also mention that lyric videos have also been added to each blog post so please go back to your favourite song, find the video, press play, and sing along.


Now, the story.


The memory of creating this song stays with me. I was sitting in my basement realizing just how many people are living on their own during the pandemic lockdown with nowhere to turn. This heartbreaking thought brought me to thinking there needs to be a way to reach out. So, once everyone was in bed for the night, I went into the basement and put a song together.


"All I Need" is a song you are to sing to yourself while looking in the mirror. It is a reminder that at the end of the day, even if we think we have the entire world, we are all still the same in that we are all one independent person. We have to be alright with trusting ourselves and the spiritual being that surrounds us.



_______


Track #10 "Insecurity":


LIKE EVERYONE ELSE, I would believe I sometimes wonder what my legacy will be after I am gone. These are in no way morbid thoughts, but practically a daydream, hoping the world will mark my passage. My thoughts on my legacy jumped into my head as I had the honour of playing at a Funeral recessional today. The juxtaposition of my reality and my shadow was startling. Almost, a picture of my spirit as it shadows me through life. What will my spirit say to my friends, family, and people I have touched when I am gone?

This is not just a shadow. It is a photographic negative of my journey. The good times and the not-so-good times. My joy in music and my insecurities through life.

All together they make up ME, and fortunately, I like where me is today. But, today’s me did not come easy.

Plenty of times I have wondered what my life would have been like if I never found music, or love, or happiness. That is my insecure voice that wells up every so often.

Insecurity is the last song on my latest album "Fearless Contribution", and it is completely intentional. It hits me like parental concern and advice to seize the moment, get on with it, and don’t let fear or anything hold you back. That is the power of this beautiful song for me.


"If you don't go for your dreams, you will wake up one day with an entire life of regret.”


Now, just like anything worthwhile, your dreams won't be easy to chase. There will be countless, negative situations, but the dream will continue as long as you keep tending the fire.



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