British Columbia

Vanessa Richards rediscovers music with Woodward’s community choir

Years after she turned her back on music, Vancouver-based singer Vanessa Richards finds ‘evangelical role’ as choir director for Woodward’s Community Singers.

Vanessa Richards leads free, weekly drop-in choir sessions in Vancouver’s Woodward’s complex

Vanessa Richards and Woodward's Community Singers perform with SFU Sustainable Communities folks (Vanessa Richards)

Vancouver-based singer Vanessa Richards conducts free drop-in choir sessions in Vancouver’s Woodward’s complex, years after she turned her back on music.

“It’s the greatest gift to have experienced the loss of music because I hadn’t been clear there was another option besides the professional performance artist path,” Richards told North by Northwest host, Sheryl MacKay.

In the 1980s, Richards was a founding member of the all-female rock group Bolero Lava.

The band made records and performed at clubs and festivals throughout Canada.

Richards moved to London, England, to continue her music career but grew disillusioned with the ‘music industry machine’, feeling isolated and disconnected with her audience.

So she quit music altogether.

Vanessa Richards (Vanessa Richards)

It was when she was training for a new job, in 2009, that Richards had a transformative moment that reconnected her with music.

Richards was exploring how to make community engagement work with the downtown eastside community for Simon Fraser University’s Woodward’s campus when she saw a woman leading a choir on the beach.

She was struck by the look on the choir members’ faces:

“I thought, ‘what they’re doing right now looks like people connected; like people making something precious and it’s a foundation to build almost anything on because they are so relating to each other, right now.’”

Vanessa Richards leads the Woodward's Community Singers (Vanessa Richards)

Richards has been leading the Woodward’s Community Singers for six years now.

The drop-in group runs most Thursday evenings throughout the year and welcomes anyone.

“Song is absolutely free. There’s nothing you need for it. You don’t even need words because you can make up your own song,” said Richards.

“And for me, that’s kind of like if you were to live your life, never stopping and smelling the roses because somebody told you, ‘you don’t deserve to smell the roses; your nose isn’t built for smelling roses.’”

To hear the full interview with Vanessa Richards, click the audio labelled: Vanessa Richards rediscovers music.