Soundtrack for the Soul — The 2021 Edition
Our continuing series on the music that's healing people — wherever they are, and however they're feeling
Choir rehearsals on Zoom. Dance lessons on Instagram. Learning guitar over YouTube. We've had to adapt how we consume and create music.
But whether blasting tunes while cooking, breaking out into a kitchen dance party, or breaking down crying — music has provided powerful consolation.
And we'll need more of it, in 2021.
Soundtrack for the Soul, our series on music that heals, continues. This time, featuring raw conversations with inspirational folks determined to create joy, laughter, art and connection, no matter what.
You can listen to the full playlist here:
Below, you'll find our conversations with people about the song or artist keeping them company in these days of pandemic and physical distancing, and you can watch the video for the piece of music keeping their spirits up and their soul (more or less) intact.
We'll be adding to this page regularly, so please drop by often. If you have a song and story to share, send us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Portrait artist Riva Lehrer
Riva Lehrer is a portrait artist who, during the pandemic, is deeply missing the sight of faces, something she calls 'face hunger.'
Lehrer was born with spina bifida and describes herself as "unusual looking". Earlier in the pandemic, she published a memoir called Golem Girl; she says "it's about my life as a monster". If your Jewish folklore is a little rusty, the golem is a creature fashioned out of clay and magically brought to life.
Lehrer is on faculty at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and teaches in the medical humanities department at Northwestern University.
Song: River by Joni Mitchell
Riva says "It's meant so many things to me over the years. Now it lets us share our yearning for escape."
Song: Deep Red Bells by Neko Case
Riva says "Yeah, I know it's a murder ballad, but Neko's a velvet tidal wave, she blows away anything else happening in my brain."
Song: Montauk by Rufus Wainwright
Riva says "What a human song—yes, those trills are incredible, but it's so wry and sweet with self-knowledge. I think I just need connection with others' lives in this time of glass walls."
Song: Heroes by David Bowie
Riva says "OK, not a Canadian, but I've stored that song in my "Break Glass in Case of Emergencies" box."
Journalist Eternity Martis
Song: You're a Superstar by Love Inc.
Back in March 2020, writer Eternity Martis was getting excited for the launch of her book, They Said This Would Be Fun. But the first lockdown hit right as her book landed on store shelves.
"We've all experienced hardship," Martis told Mary Hynes, taking the bad timing in stride. "I think that's what brought us closer."
Martis thinks we've "broken down every social norm: Having to be in an office, having to wear pants. Not having your kids running around in the background, or your dog barking. We've broken all that and it's created a sense of collective intimacy."
"I think, when the time comes for us to look back and possibly laugh about (2020) or smile about it," Martis said, "we'll remember this moment. This one moment where we were all together for the very first time."
Despite everything, her book — about the racism she experienced at Western University — has been a bestseller, and she even sold the film and TV rights to a Toronto production company.
Her song choice is You're a Superstar, by Toronto's Love Inc.
Executive Director of FoodShare Paul Taylor
Song: You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) by Sylvester
Paul Taylor spent the past year coordinating a lot more food deliveries than he'd expected.
As executive director of FoodShare in Toronto, the pandemic only exacerbated what was already a hard job.
But Taylor is committed to dismantling structures that cause food insecurity: poverty, racism and colonialism. He hopes the COVID-19 health crisis will spur further action.
"I'm cautiously optimistic that the one good thing that came out of this is our collective will and desire to advocate for something better," he said. "And, I think, a recognition of the urgency of something better."
Taylor says he always gets strength from popping on some Sylvester.
Song: Creep U by Black Dresses
When Backxwash won the 2020 Polaris Prize, she couldn't quite believe it. The Montreal-based rapper had won an award for an incredibly personal studio album, God Has Nothing To Do With This, Leave Him Out Of It, where she shared some of her "imperfectness."
She wanted people to see "that humans are just like really, really flawed creatures," she said.
Music has helped her keep going through these dark days.
"Not just my music, but … other people's music," she said. "Just listening to the type of sounds that my friends are making has been really inspiring during this whole, horrible year."
Among them, Canadian noise pop duo Black Dresses, who put out Creep U in 2020:
Guest Yvonne Clarke
Song: After Yukon by Hank Karr
Yvonene Clarke, a bubbly, 50-year-old Zumba instructor, immigrated 25 years ago from the Philippines to Yukon. Whether dancing to Latin pop tunes, cuddling her dogs, or visiting with her university-aged kids who came home during lockdowns, Clarke has found ways to keep her spirits up.
In her song pick, After Yukon, Hank Karr sings about Yukon being the best place to spend one's life, and while she hopes to travel again in the future, Clarke shares Karr's affection for their northern home.
Listener choice: Gavin De West
Song: Oh What a World by The Darcys feat. Jocelyn Alice and Tafari Anthony
Tapestry listener Gavin De West wrote from Vancouver:
"Fave song on repeat: Oh What a World by The Darcys with Jocelyn Alice and Tafari Anthony. It's a cover of a Kacey Musgraves song. Gives me the feels. Oh what a world."
Listener choice: Natalie Fraser
Song: Good News by Classified, feat. Breagh Isabel
Tapestry listener Natalie Fraser wrote to us from Mermaid, P.E.I.:
"I first heard Classified's Good News on CBC — I think it was on Q — and I really liked it. But then I was hooked after watching them perform it on the musical tribute to the Nova Scotia shooting victims. That's when I really listened to the words.
After shedding more than a few tears listening to the moving performances during that tribute, this song came on and I loved its message — to appreciate the truest things in life, the little moments of joy that happen in the everyday.
I know it's a continual daily practice to keep up this appreciation, especially during the darkest days and times of tragedy in the world. This song is one to turn on to make you feel so good and to remind you to look at the little great things that happen everyday."
Listener choice: Linda Murray
Song: Salvation by The Strumbellas
Tapestry listener Linda Murray, from Kingston, Ont., says this is her "'make me smile and dance my way through the pandemic' song!"
Hair salon owner Tanya Sullivan
Song: Friday Night Lights by Jody Glenham
Tanya Sullivan is the owner of Craft Academy Hair Salons in East Vancouver and Surrey, BC.
She faced the daunting, heartbreaking task of shutting down both salons and laying off staff in March when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Sullivan was able to open up again on June 1.
"Honestly, I've had my business for six and a half years now and I employ 20 women, and I feel as though it was harder to reopen than it was to start the business in the first place."
In this new phase of reopening, Sullivan is trying to keep everyone safe — while repairing all those botched pandemic haircuts.
"I had a girl message me on Instagram the other day who was asking for a quote on extensions. And part of me was thinking, 'what did you do?' You know, like, what on earth are we walking into when we go back to the salon?"
Sullivan can vouch for the power of a good haircut.
"I don't consider myself a vain person. I'm a really low maintenance person when it comes to my beauty regimen. And I had never not colored my hair that long in my entire career. I feel so much better now. I feel, you know, human in some way."
Sullivan has been listening to Friday Night Lights by Vancouver's Jody Glenham to help her through the rough days.
"She talks about the heroes, and having to get away, and being in this vast loneliness. I think that's what everyone's feeling right now," Sullivan said. "It's a little emo, so I'm just telling you right now: if you're looking for an uplifting Jody Glenham song, that might not be your first choice. But it's beautiful."
Scholar Joy Clarkson
Song: Baba Yetu by Christopher Tin
Joy Clarkson is completing a PhD in Theology, Imagination, and the Arts at Saint Andrews University in Scotland. She believes that fictional characters can bring you courage — and other virtues — in the real world.
Her offering to Tapestry's Soundtrack for the Soul is Baba Yetu, by Christopher Tin, the theme song to the video game Civilization IV - and the first piece of music from a video game ever to win a Grammy Award.
"It is actually the Lord's Prayer in Swahili… [It] is just a joyous, triumphant triumph of a song that will make you feel like golden light has been shot into your veins…. It's a prayer that's been used in times of peril and celebration throughout the whole world for 2000 years," Clarkson said. "There's just something really beautiful about that."
Emergency physician and CBC host Dr. Brian Goldman
Song: Blue Skies performed by Isa Briones
Brian Goldman, host of CBC's White Coat Black Art and The Dose, is a massive Star Trek fan. It's a love he shares with Tapestry host Mary Hynes.
Both hosts recently finished watching the most recent Star Trek television series, Picard, and Goldman was deeply moved by a track heard on the show: Blue Skies by Irving Berlin, performed by Picard actor Isa Briones.
Its use in Picard is a reference to the movie Star Trek Nemesis, in which fan-favourite character Data makes the ultimate sacrifice for his crew and is remembered by humming the song Blue Skies.
Irving Berlin wrote the song two years before the Great Depression, which may account for why the song resonates so strongly for Goldman right now.
"It's like he knows they're on the edge of an abyss, that society is about to completely unravel. And you can't help but see the parallels here. I heard this song during COVID-19 and I'm thinking, yeah, society's unraveling. And the blue skies that people are yearning for: are they a mirage or are they real? This is a song that makes me think deeply and allows me to express my feelings, allows me to feel sad when I'm sad," said Goldman.
Song: Star Man by David Bowie
Another song Goldman has turned to for a very different kind of catharsis during the pandemic is Star Man by David Bowie.
"You cannot feel sad with Star Man. You're just energized. You can run to that and I love to jog."
Blue Jays commentator Jamie Campbell
Song: Danny's Song by Anne Murray
Baseball may have been cancelled this year but Blue Jays commentator Jamie Campbell has nonetheless been very busy, calling fans across the country to help lift their spirits and offer some company during the pandemic. When he's not chatting with fans, Campbell listens to smooth rock and country music.
Campbell described his pick for Soundtrack for the Soul — Anne Murray's rendition of Danny's Song — as a song that's been giving him life for more than 40 years.
"My parents used to play this song over and over and over again, and because of that it reminds me of the great days, the innocent days, with my mom and dad," said Campbell.
Song: Never My Love by The Association
Another song Campbell loves and has turned to during the pandemic is Never My Love by The Association.
"It's a wonderful tune. I don't know why sappy songs like that give me such joy, but they do."
Grocery store owner Stan Halbesma
Song: And It's Still Alright by Nathaniel Rateliff
Stan Halbesma is the owner of Harry's Foods, an independent grocery store in St. Andrews, Manitoba, just north of Winnipeg. Halbesma credits his staff with being nimble during the constantly-changing pandemic reality and meeting the growing demand for groceries. They've adopted new safety standards, added a delivery service, and occasionally called on the local fire department to help get groceries to their customers' homes.
"We have a responsibility to our community to feed them in the safest manner that we can," said Halbesma, "and we take that responsibility very very seriously."
Halbesma said he finds great comfort in music, particularly ballads. These days, he's been listening to And It's Still Alright by Nathaniel Rateliff.
"He had lost his best friend and his co-writer, and divorced from his wife, all in one year. And he tells the story in that song… about how he found comfort and how he dealt with those challenges in his life. I feel the same way when I listen to music, that songs help me understand things."
Escape room owner Ibrahim Faruqui
Song: Taxi by Mashrou' Leila
Ibrahim Faruqui is co-founder of the Toronto escape room Dream Escape, a puzzle game where participants have to solve riddles, find missing objects and complete challenges to escape the room they're in.
Faruqui loves games — whether they're video games, board games, or room-sized adventures. He believes turning towards play during the pandemic can offer a sense of relief.
"Play is really important because it helps you focus the really capable brain that you have onto enjoyment, so that you don't focus on the negativity," Faruqui said.
Faruqui's girlfriend introduced him to the song Taxi by Mashrou' Leila when they were driving together in her home city of London, Ont.
"When I listen to the song, I think of her. And the love I have for her reminds me of the love I have for everyone in my life. So it's a good way of keeping people close at heart."
Listener choice: Kerri Calvert
Song: Through the Night These Days by Jason Collett
Tapestry listener Kerri Calvert wrote to us from Calgary:
"There are many songs which get me through each day and help me remain happy and positive while keeping myself informed. I love Jason Collett's song Through the Night These Days. I especially like the lyrics:
Roll on over you clouds of doom
The silver lining is coming through
We can work to create a silver lining from this crisis and insist on a more equitable world with improved environmental practices.
I also like the line 'just say yes, just say yes, just say yes' as it reminds me to invite in what is happening and be with it.
'Quit giving up so soon' tells me to be strong; we have a ways to go with this pandemic and we must be prepared to do what we need to do regardless of how long it takes.
'Our love will win what war will lose' reminds me to be compassionate to others. Probably the most important thing for all of us right now."
Artist and activist Melaw Nakehk'o
Shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic began, Dene artist and activist Melaw Nakehk'o packed up her three sons, left their home in Yellowknife, and set up camp with her parents along the Dehcho River. She says isolating on the land for five weeks gave her family an opportunity to reconnect with their traditional way of life.
Song: Falling Stars by Leela Gilday
"For me, it's like a love song to Denende, which is what we call the land up here, and to our Dene people up here."
Song: Yuck Sue Yaach by Snotty Nose Rez Kids
"My kids, especially my youngest one, really enjoys listening to the Snotty Nose Rez Kids, the hip hop group from the west coast. The one that I really enjoyed from that album [Trapline] is Yuck Sue Yaach. There's one lyric in there where it's like 'I gave up the city for the bush', and I'm like 'that's what we're doing!'
Imam Sikander Hashmi
Song: the Muslim call to prayer
Sikander Hashmi is an imam in Ottawa with the Kanata Muslim Association.
He has been instructing his congregation how to build their own home mosques and celebrate Ramadan in part online during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The chants of the verses of the Qur'an are considered to be one of the best things that Muslim could listen to — and especially in the month of Ramadan — because the Qur'an has a special link with the month of Ramadan and there's great virtue in reciting it," said Hashmi.
That's true even if the listener is isolated at home.
"We know from prophetic teachings that when there were instances that people were not able to come [to the mosque] due to bad weather, for example, or dangerous roads, the caller would tell them to pray at home so the call to prayer would still happen."
Professor Aisha Ahmad
Aisha Ahmad is a professor of political science at the University of Toronto. She has become a sort of online guide during the pandemic, offering advice on how to stay centred and positive, wisdom she earned during her years living in conflict zones around the world, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Mali and Lebanon.
SONG: A Bushel and A Peck by Doris Day
"Simon is my sweetheart, my fiancé, and our song is A Bushel and A Peck by Doris Day. It's sweet and it's light and it's all 1950s. [It's] simple sweet joy, especially at a time when people are all stacked together and piled into a little house and getting on each other's nerves. There's that line 'a bushel and a peck and you make my life a mess, a mess of happiness.' Everybody's life right now is a mess and so why not celebrate the mess of happiness that we have been thrust into with each other."
Listener choice: Suzanne Picot
Song: Traction by The Midnight Sons Band
Longtime Tapestry listener Suzanne Picot from Carcross, Yukon sent us this note:
"Hello Mary! I hope you received my postcard suggesting local music that I've been listening to for invigoration and thought-provoking elements. The Midnight Sons Band songs Traction and Disconnected tell a deep story. Hope you like it."
Pharmacist Sophie Châtillon
Sophie Châtillon is a pharmacist in Blainville, Quebec -- a town in the Laurentians, about 30 kilometres northwest of Montreal. She's also five months pregnant.
"Just being pregnant in general always causes a little bit of stress," she said. "So add on top of that being pregnant during a pandemic, as well as being a healthcare worker -- [it] just adds a whole new layer of stress."
Sophie has found some comfort in two songs during this challenging time. The first is Debout -- or "Standing" -- by Ariane Moffatt.
"She's saying how there's an unnatural feeling apart for so long, but that during these difficult times we need to stand together," said Châtillon.
Song: Debout by Ariane Moffatt
Châtillon is also finding inspiration in Thank U Frontline, by Chris Mann. It's an adaptation of Alanis Morrisette's Thank You.
"He's just giving thanks to really everyone who's been instrumental in working during this pandemic," she says. "Whether that be truck drivers, healthcare workers, stay-at-home parents, [or] teachers who are giving courses online."
Song: Thank U Frontline by Chris Mann
Listener choice: Helena Robb
Song: The River by Coco Love Alcorn
Tapestry listener Helena Robb emailed us from Orleans, ON:
"This song was introduced to me by my sister Janice as I visited her and viewed the flow of the North Saskatchewan River from her condo sun room. It was so healing then and is during this COVID pandemic."
Rugby Commentator Nick Heath
Nick Heath is a rugby commentator in London, UK. He came to international attention in the early days of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic with his parody videos. Instead of commenting on sports, Heath turned his attention to narrating the everyday events of his neighbourhood.
"If I see something I can find a bit of humour in, and… if I'm taking their minds off things during what we know are pretty unprecedented times, then I'm happy to do so."
There are two songs he's been listening to lately:
Song: You Should be Dancing by the Bee Gees
"It reminds me of a late friend of mine... called Johnny who we lost a number of years ago. He was only in his thirties at the time. He was an amazing character, one of those big personalities and lights that you can't ever imagine being extinguished… During his last few days, I managed to ask him, 'If you were deejaying Johnny…' and he just said 'You Should Be Dancing by the Bee Gees. ALWAYS.' And I thought that is a nice recipe for life. If in doubt, that's the tune to stick on."
Song: Shake It Off by Taylor Swift
"Maybe my colleagues and my peers within the journalist industry go, 'Come on! You're a credible journalist and broadcaster. You can't be seen to be being a clown.' And so I can kind of sit there and have those insecure moments and just think, well, I wonder what they're thinking of this? But then I can look at the hundreds and thousands of messages I've had from people that are loving what I'm doing and are loving seeing a different side to my personality. And Taylor's ability to have crafted that song that was 'haters gonna hate but you shake it off' has a certain resonance."
Psychiatrist Nel Wieman
Song: Lovely Day by Bill Withers
Psychiatrist Nel Wieman is a senior medical officer at the First Nations Health Authority in Vancouver. She was the first female Indigenous psychiatrist in Canada. She's finding comfort in Lovely Day by the late Bill Withers, who died on March 30th.
"For me, it was a weird coincidence," Wieman said. "All of a sudden, he dies right after I put this on my phone."
"The chorus is almost like a bit of a mantra," she said. "'Lovely day, lovely day.' And I think that's something we can use in these times. I could sing that chorus to myself and find myself feeling happy or calmed down."
Listener choice: Gerald and Valerie Lee
Song: I Ain't Goin' Nowhere by Rick Moranis
Tapestry listeners Gerald and Valerie Lee wrote to us from Moncton, NB:
"We heard a piece of music that made us laugh out loud and this was good medicine for the spirit. From our own Rick Moranis.
Thank you for all you and your CBC colleagues are doing to maintain our health, social cohesion, and morale. Surrounding you all with virtual hugs."
Awww! The Tapestry team sends virtual hugs right back to you!
Listener choice: Tamsin Miller
Song: Lifting My Heart by UHF
Tapestry listener Tamsin Miller wrote to us from Port Alberni, BC:
"I would like to put forward Roy Forbes' song Lifting my Heart performed by UHF - three wonderful West Coast talents -- Shari Ulrich, Bill Henderson & Roy Forbes.
The song has given me great joy for many years, yet seems more appropriate than ever right now. It does lift your heart. It was written by Roy when he was struggling a bit & then heard his daughter singing in the garden outside his window."
***Video begins about seven seconds in.***
Song: Tokyo by Bruce Cockburn
Hawksley Workman is a musician and writer from Huntsville, Ont.
Workman is spending his time in isolation with his wife and father-in-law in Peterborough. He says years of touring have helped him deal with the quarantine.
"Life on the road sort of prepares you for these kinds of, 'Oh, I'm not somewhere familiar,' but I can easily find things that are comfortable and comforting."
Workman has turned to Bruce Cockburn's music for comfort throughout his life and finds Tokyo is a perfect song to listen to these days.
It kind of hits me right in the gut.- Hawksley Workman
"Tokyo is the most fascinating place I've ever been. And I think we're all confronted right now with the idea that travel might not look quite the same when we come out the other end of this. And I have been forcing myself into reminiscing this last little while.
"I had already been thinking a lot about impermanence up till this point, even before this COVID-19 sort of [took] us all over," said Workman.
"It's where I might find comfort in the fact that I might not be around forever, that humans might not be around forever, a song that I write might not be around forever.
"I think that there's something in the lyrics in Tokyo, where there's an impermanence narrative and a longing for things. He sees an accident in Tokyo and the lyric is, 'Did you have to show me that accident scene? Didn't I get enough shaking up? But still, I'm going to miss you.' It kind of hits me right in the gut."
- A previous version of this story stated that Yukon experiences weeks of darkness in winter. In fact, only parts of the territory does.Jan 15, 2021 10:52 AM ET