When she's not writing and recording music, Melissa Endean, 28, works at Burnaby's Aubrey Elementary as an educational assistant, in particular, with a 12-year-old girl with autism. The NOW spoke with Endean about her budding music career and how it's crossing over into the classroom.
Question: What's your musical style? Answer: I grew up listening to country oldies, Hank Snow, Loretta Lynn, so I think there is a definite influence of that in my music, but I have broad influences. I try not to restrict my songwriting to any one particular style.
Q: Where are you at in your music career at the moment?
A: My music career has followed the traditional progression of experimentation and finding what works and what doesn't for me as an artist. My first two albums were true reflections of that - one was a country music album, and the other jazz. Both received international radio play, and my jazz album charted, which was very cool for me. After that, doors started opening for me, and I was invited to open for Imogen Heap, a Grammy award winning artist, and one of my biggest inspirations, at the Commodore ballroom in Vancouver. This year, in between touring the interior of B.C. over the summer, I'll be recording my third full-length album with Mike Southworth at Creativ Music Studios. It's stylistically very different from anything I've ever done before, and I am very excited for it. It will be released in the spring of 2014.
Q: You also recorded at Cash Cabin Studios, the recording studio of the late Johnny Cash. What was that like?
A: Recording at Cash Cabin Studios was an amazing experience for me -I grew up listening to Johnny Cash, he was like my Michael Jackson! I was invited down to Nashville by John Carter Cash to record remakes of his dad's greatest hits in my own, indie style. Cash Cabin was where Johnny recorded his American Recordings, and it blew me away to record there. I even got to play his old Martin guitar on the tracks, which was incredible, although I was initially terrified to touch it in case I accidentally dropped it! One of the tracks we recorded will be included as a bonus on my third album.
Q: And I understand your grandfather had a connection to Johnny Cash?
A: Yes, my grandfather was a touring musician for most of his adult life, and in the early '60s, his band, The Thompson Valley Boys, did a stint opening for Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two. I grew up hearing that story, so for me to go down and record with Johnny's son was a really big deal for my grandparents. My grandpa is now 82 years old, but he still plays his guitar every day.
Q: How does your love of music affect your work in the classroom?
A: I try to incorporate my love of music in everything I do, but it's been especially critical in the work I do with my kids. I work as an educational assistant at Aubrey Elementary School, specializing in children with autism spectrum disorders. I noticed early on in my career that many of the kids I worked with were incredibly receptive to music, so I developed a music program that is catered specifically towards teaching music to children with autism. It just blows me away how naturally music comes to people, even when they are impacted by profound disabilities.
Q: Tell me about the girl you work with at Aubrey Elementary. What's she like?
A: She is just the most beautiful little girl. She's 12 years old and has severe autism with very low verbal output, so things that come naturally to most kids her age are extremely difficult her. But in spite of all that, she always has a smile on her face. She is one of the most resilient people I have ever met, and I absolutely love working with her. This year we worked on developing music listening skills - I'd play my guitar for her and model tapping my foot in time. Before long she was responding, not only tapping her feet to the music, but singing and dancing. I started teaching her a really simple piece in 4/4 time on the xylophone, and the first time she played it back in perfect time, I went running down the halls to tell everyone, I was so excited.
Q: How does music influence a child's development and learning?
A: There is a fair amount of evidence now that suggests that music's role in the brain aids in the development of language. The human brain is literally pre-programmed to understand differences in pitch and tone - even babies are able to distinguish differences in these sounds. Music has also been shown to aid in memory development - which is why basic concepts of mathematics and reading are taught through song to very young children. A case in point would be the traditional ABC's.
Q: You also organized music workshops for elementary students at Aubrey. What did you teach them?
A: I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a recording artist, but I had no idea how I would get to that point.
Navigating through the music industry today can be an especially daunting task, and I wanted to share with our students what a career in the music biz looks like behind the scenes.
I wanted to show the kids how much work and time is involved in developing your craft. I wanted them to see the production aspects as well, so they could understand how a recorded piece of music is made to sound the way it does, and also how to market that piece of music so that people listen to it.
Q: What is the secret to being a rock star?
It's hard work. You need to be prepared to hear 'no' a lot, and you need to spend hours of time - and usually a lot of money - investing in your career.
I always tell young, aspiring musicians to go bang on the doors of coffee shops. It's a great place to start developing stage presence. When I was a kid I performed every weekend at a long-term
care facility for seniors, and they were fantastic and so supportive. It doesn't really matter where you play - just so long as you get yourself out there and start developing a fan base.
Q: How do you deal with rejection and not let it deter you?
Music is one of those things. Not everybody is going to like your particular style. The one thing that keeps me going is to remind myself why I'm doing this.
I decided to become a musician because it makes me really happy to write songs and play, and I can't imagine not doing this. I'm lucky in that I've had a lot of support and positive feedback from a lot of people, and that has been critical, but I think the main thing is just believing in yourself and having faith in the music you are making.
Q: Where can our readers listen to your work?
A: They can check out my music at www.melissa endean.ca and they can access a free download of my newest single Breaking My Stride at www.melissa endean.bandcamp.com.
© Copyright 2013