Sharon Courtney, Technical Learning Specialist and Violinist

My dad is a music teacher and opera lecturer, so I can’t remember when I wasn’t interested in music. I knew when I was 7 that I wanted to play the violin, and I got one for my 8th birthday. My poor family.

I’m not sure at what point I had a clear idea of what I wanted, I just knew that my dad was also a clarinet teacher, and I did not want that. But I was drawn to the violin. I had little images of what that would be years down the road, and I followed that.

Violin is both a good and a bad creative outlet. There are times when it isn’t enough, and I need to work through some emotions in a different way. Emotions aren’t always convenient and waking them up through practice can be frustrating at times. I found that daily practice really helps. I just finished the 100 days of practice challenge, and it helped me reconnect better that way. It’s not that playing violin changes things for me, it is just often how I find out how I’m feeling about something. Whatever I play is truth.

Hi, my name is Sharon Courtney, and I am a technical learning specialist for a grants management software company. On the side, I’m a musician and composer; I perform under the name VANCORVID.

I live in Toronto now as of four years ago, but I grew up in Ireland. A few things brought me here – one reason was wanting a fresh start somewhere, and I liked Toronto when I came to visit. I was also involved with a Canadian guy when I moved over here, too. It seemed like it was possible to do pretty well in the software industry here in comparison to my experience in Ireland at the time.

I was fortunate enough to stumble into my job. I happened to go to a chamber of commerce for new Irish immigrants and met my future boss, and we talked through the job. I have been there for nearly four years now, so this is not my first role – I began in system implementation. The new role dovetailed neatly with my Master’s, so I was happy to start.

I’ve been a violinist for over 20 years. I started in classical in the Academy, and then ended up after my bachelor’s like a lot of people, unemployed and bored, so I ended up being in different bands and touring Europe with a group I met over the internet. I ended up finding a Master’s that fitted what I knew thus far, which was Interactive Digital Media, and I got to explore some cool stuff and turn a campus sentient. I love making new things and I wrote poetry for a long time, but I never found a way to combine both writing and music until relatively recently. Before, I was playing with other groups and didn’t have the guts to try on my own, but while I was in Ireland I played with Chewing on Tinfoil, Stu Daly, Naoise Roo, Sive and Emma O’Reilly, among others.

I’m studying what’s called anarchic composition at the moment, which is a new way of looking at composing in terms of numbers and exploring new combinations, and I’m trying to teach myself Ableton to produce some of my work. Toronto is great because I’ve been able to work with all kinds of artists, from alt-rock to house to hip-hop.

 

I think music and my career feed into each other. I tend to find that often the solution to a problem is worked out by doing something else and letting it stew in your brain. There needs to be a structural balance that is expressed in different ways in both fields. To add to that, I am studying music production, so having a good handle on learning, prototyping, development, and, above all, patience is vital for a DIY musician.

I see both music and tech as similar projects with a different result. Within both, teamwork is the most obvious similarity. Either way, you have to work methodically and ensure that you have a workable project at the end of it. I have to set up milestones and deadlines so that I get work out the door. The teamwork means that you need to make sure you manage your time and energy appropriately and be aware of what is happening around you. I find both fields have the same dangers – for example, allowing communication to break down, or getting wrapped up in your own work.

My primary instrument is violin. I also like to sing, I am learning piano, and I have an ocarina, tin whistle, mbira, and bodhran to work with for sounds. I also like collecting sounds, like eggshells cracking and making them into drum racks. However, I’ll always pick up a violin first.

When writing music, modal tunes would probably come up first. I tend to play along with anything really. When I’m improvising on my own it often comes out as contemporary classical, or a weird mishmash of Romantic Era, pop, goth, and rock. It really depends on my mood. It’s difficult to peg violin to genres as easily while improvising, but it would be much more European/Russian influenced than anything else.

However, I usually write lyrics first. I started writing poetry years before I wrote music, and now I’m just trying to awkwardly get people to listen to my poems. Then I’ll pick at my violin to see what tones or rhythms go with the lines, add chords, and start playing around. It’s easier for me to put music to words than words to music.

Although I was taught classical violin, VANCORVID is a combination of contemporary and electronic sounds, all with classical influence. It wasn’t that classical music did not have anything else to offer; I just don’t think it’s the only kind of music. I also had friends who were in bands and were very welcoming, so I started there. The very first time I was jamming with a guitarist, it wasn’t because I took the initiative – he asked me to play some Rodrigo y Gabriela songs from the album Re-Foc with him.

I have a release planned for this year but given how ambitious it is, I’m afraid to nail a date on it. So far I have November planned, although it may end up being early next year. I don’t want to give too much away, but the theme overall is an arc of growth. How you can start from a terrible place, but your choices define where you go next. I had a pretty rough time in Toronto for a good while and it took me a long time to get out – a mix of pulling myself and having good support. So I wanted to express that.

My advice would be Do a little bit of work every day. Ignore anybody who tries to break you down, but do it with love. You don’t have to tell people your plans from the inception, and often it is better not to tell them. People can sabotage your enthusiasm even with the best of intentions. Keep records, name your files well and keep grinding. Do your research, meet people, make people remember you if you can. As often as you can, be good, but have your boundaries. At the same time, do what feels right for you as a person. People can see when you’re trying to be something you’re not.

Listen to VANCORVID here!

Photo credits go to Let Us Go Photo.

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