Connecting artists with their audiences

The Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Artemis Chartier and Dale Russell's Spirit of Song event happens every third Thursday of every month. It allows songwriters to perform their songs and connect with audiences. Photo credit: Madison Gulenchyn

When listening to music, is there any real way to connect to the artist?

The Robert McLaughlin Gallery (RMG) holds the Spirit of Song (SOS) event every third Thursday of the month and allows songwriters a chance to perform their songs and connect with audiences.

“The spirit of song is what we would call a celebration of songwriters themselves,” says Artemis Chartier, co-host of the event. “I don’t want to call this a dying art, but with some of the streaming platforms and even concerts where they’re being streamed, people aren’t getting out and meeting songwriters and appreciating them as the artists that they are.”

Chartier, a retired vocation teacher, flute player, singer-songwriter and session musician, co-hosts the singer-songwriter series with Dale Russell, an award-winning producer, songwriter and member of the local band, The RADD Collective.

Russell spent seventeen years as the lead guitarist with the Canadian rock band The Guess Who.

“Artemis [Chartier] and I have been writing together for, wow, 16 years now, and we have a wonderful musical chemistry that takes us all over the map, with different kinds of songs,” says Russell, who played with The Guess Who from 1983 – 2000. “She is one of my absolute favourite writing partners.”

Charter and Russell co-founded the School Alliance of Student Songwriters (SASS) in Oshawa in 2003.

SASS is a networking program for young songwriters. It has organized both school and community songwriting events which are free to the local youth.

For the past 16 years, SASS has offered free workshops and concerts to celebrate the creative spark they believe young songwriters possess.

The new Thursday night RMG series, now in its eighth month, is one of the pair’s most recent collaborations.

Chartier says collaborating on The Spirit of Song event is a little different than the last sixteen years working together with SASS. Rather than promoting young songwriters, the event at RMG involves mature songwriters.

“This acoustic concert series features professional writers performing and telling the stories behind their own songs,” Chartier says.

The Spirit of Song features professional artists who are paid to perform their music. The purpose of the event is to help Durham Region’s music scene gain more popularity,

“We’re trying to help other artists [gain] more visibility and also trying to help out the Durham scene grow,” Russell says.

This series was thought up by of the RMG’s Manager of Volunteer and Community Development, Carla Sinclair. She wanted to bring more people into the RMG on a Thursday night, and asked Russell and Chartier if they could help.

Russell thought of The Bluebird Cafe in Nashville and how songwriters attend the cafe to share their music and the stories behind it.

“You get up and you talk a little bit about the song, and where it came from and if you co-wrote it or you wrote it by yourself, or what the inspiration of the song was,” he says. “So that listeners can relate to the story behind the song and then get to hear the song. [This way] they feel like they’re a bigger part of it all.”

Chartier says the venue is a perfect fit for the event, the visuals along with the vocals and instrumentals are matched.

“In a breath-taking art gallery, surrounded by gorgeous canvases and sculptures, innovative soundscapes seemed fitting,” she says.

Audiences are encouraged to come early, for 6:30 p.m., to tour the gallery displays before the acoustic concert begins at 7 p.m.

Admission to the event is ten dollars, but 5 dollars if you are a songwriter.

“The goal is to give the audience something that they are a part of. It’s not like a bar crowd that is talking during the song,” Russell says. “The audience that we attract are people that listen attentively to absolutely every word that the artist is singing, and that’s a wonderful feeling.”