Tom Harrison, The Province writes

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Songs create a communal soundscape
Folk Rock: MacCormac’s only concession to MS was trading guitar for harmonica

Tom Harrison,The Garage, The Province, Published: Tuesday, June 03, 2014

A remarkable thing happened to sylvi macCormac on her way to becoming a folksinger.
Remarkable because you can’t call being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis funny.
Remarkable because, even though she gets around in a wheelchair, macCormac has become a folksinger.
Remarkable because she hasn’t let the perceived disabilities hold her back. She has become internationally recognized for her soundscapes, contributed tracks to two Vancouver Adapted Music Society comps and two videos sponsored by Shore FM.
Wednesday, she and her group, Horizon (Dave Symington, Wendy Solloway, Brenda Baird, Ross Barrett), will perform songs from her forthcoming The Feather at the Kickstart Disability Arts and Culture Festival.
The Feather, which is being recorded at the VAMS studio at G.F. Strong, will be her fourth album. MacCormac no longer plays guitar, but flashes about a harmonica, which has become part of her sound.
“It had got to the point where I couldn’t play guitar, that folk-rock,” she recalls. “So the MS pushed me to it.
“I was a picture framer and I was a folk-rock singer,” macCormac continues. “I wanted to tour Canada. That was my vision. Now, I’ve returned to folk-rock. It was kind of returning to my first love.”
The Feather will be re-recordings of songs that have stood out on her three previous albums. macCormac sings with a hushed intimacy not unlike one of her primary influences, Joni Mitchell, but she also evokes her Irish heritage and a love of nature.
“I think they’ve summarized the feeling I originally had,” she says of the songs chosen for The Feather. “As I was doing the soundscapes, I thought, ‘I have to do this. I have to put a band together.’ Seeing the audience enjoying it. It’s really lovely to go back to the old songs. “It’s really lovely to go out there again.”
The soundscapes have become an important adjunct to her identity.
They are found sounds, a collage of bird songs, waves hitting the beach, insects buzzing, tea kettles whistling, conversations overheard. They are not merely ambient abstractions.
“I think there are different philosophies,” macCormac says. “It can be about the awareness of sound around us. It can be about what is healthy or unhealthy and how it affects us.”
She got into making soundscapes by studying SFU’s Barry Truax, a modern classical composer, but her guide was Hildegard Westerkamp’s Voices Of The Place. She made her first soundscape not long after she was diagnosed with M.S. and still able to walk in on her own to the VAMS studio.
In 1999, one of her soundscapes received an honourable mention from the International Electro-Acoustic Foundation and she’s been recognized for another, Voices And Wheels.
She was appearing as a clown at the Children’s Festival when she realized something was wrong. macCormac was tired, numb, losing her vision. She’d be fine one day and then she’d be sick the next. She was told she had multiple sclerosis in 1982.
Since then, macCormac has endeavoured to live by her belief in respect, understanding, compassion and came to a conclusion. “It wasn’t about me,” she says. “I was part of the horizon. It’s about community and being supported by the community. I didn’t have an image of myself. I just wanted to be a folksinger.
“MS teaches you in a way,” she observes. “You don’t know what you’ve got until you lose it.”

In concert sylvi macCormac Where: Slocan Hall, 2750 East 29th When: June 4 Tickets: $3-$10

© The Province 2014

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