Kickstart Festival of Disability Arts kicks off at Roundhouse
Sylvi MacCormac credits her diagnosis with multiple sclerosis in 1982 at the age of 21 for her decision to create music full-time. Jennifer Thuncher / Vancouver Courier – September 5, 2013

Sylvi MacCormac’s life course changed forever when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1982 at the age of 21. The multitalented artist credits the diagnosis for helping with her decision to create music full-time. “I went from girl with guitar to woman composer,” she said, explaining she was previously a part-time picture framer and guitar player.
Even MacCormac struggles to categorize her art. When pressed, she characterizes her two focuses as soundscape composition and West Coast Siwash rock — a wordplay nod to Stanley Park’s legendary boulder. But a closer look at her discography and biography proves she does much more. She is a singer, songwriter, musician, electronica devotee, poet and activist. She also teaches and makes films.
On Saturday, MacCormac will be at the Kickstart 5 Festival of Disability Arts, wearing two of her many hats. She will teach a workshop on soundscape and later perform her unique style of folk rock with her band the Horizon.
MacCormac said she feels musicians with physical challenges are often underestimated.
“Hardships can kind of teach us,” she said. “It is amazing what you can do.”
MacCormac’s path has led to places she never dreamed. After her diagnosis she earned a bachelor of fine arts degree studying electro-acoustic and soundscape composition at Simon Fraser University. Other career highlights include the release of Wheels Soundscapes: Voices of People with Dis Abilities, which features a varied cast of voices—including local big band legend Dal Richards— mixed with MacCormac’s soundscapes. She has received numerous awards such as the City of Vancouver Remarkable Women award in 2012. And her music has reached an international audience as far away as Nashville, Italy, Russia and England.
MacCormac is currently working on her fifth album, The Feather, which will include a book and a DVD and is set to be released in 2014.
Her soundscapes combine sounds of nature, voices and, of course, music. Common themes include First Nations rights, environmental damage and the “able” in disability. According to MacCormac, her activism comes from her “sonic ecological awareness.”
“When you listen, you hear,” she said.
The complexity of her art is a reflection of her dynamic personality. She is equal parts playful and soberingly philosophical. Asked about her MS, which requires she use a wheelchair, she said, “I was disabled in a Vaudeville sound check… The joke being there were no mixing boards in Vaudeville.”
Then reflecting on what she imagines listeners are doing as they hear her soundscapes, she said “deconstructing abuse.”
She also peppers her speech with poetry. One of her favourite quotes, which reflects both her art and her personality, is from poet Henry David Thoreau: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

For more on MacCormac, go to
Kickstart 5 Festival of Disability Arts runs Sept. 5 to 8 at the Roundhouse Community Centre. More details at
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