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Prairie Lament

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Not only a town in Saskatchewan, Belle Plaine is also a jazzy singer featured on this week's SoundXchange. Plus an elegiac reflection on home from poet Sheri Benning.

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Sheri Benning grew up on a farm outside of Humboldt, Saskatchewan, and spends much of her time at her parents' fishing lodge on Nemeiben Lake near LaRonge in the north of the province. She completed a B.A. Hens. in English at the University of Saskatchewan, where she also studied Creative Writing with Tim Lilburn, Hilary Clark, and John Livingstone Clark. Benning received first place in CV2's Inside Out writing contest, and her poetry has been published in a number of Canadian literary journals and magazines.

She is currently working on her PhD in English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta.

(From the U of A's website) Sheri's interest in how art can create an ethics concerning the relationship between humans and nature has a personal connection. Having grown up on a family farm near Humboldt, Saskatchewan that was sold in 1998 due to economic pressures, Sheri became interested in being able to write about place and landscape as a way to partially amend the exile that her family felt. "I believe that landscape can form the backdrop of our thinking and the core of our identity, and that one feels a sense of rootlessness when separated from that landscape."

When Sheri uses the term "place," she means it as not simply a marker on a map, but a complex relationship with what surrounds us. "With some writers, landscape becomes reduced to setting: it is simply the backdrop to the ideas that a writer explores; however, I'm investigating how we derive our sense of self through our relationship to the landscape around us. And I believe that by exploring this relationship, a sense of ethics develops, and we as humans realize that we have a large responsibility to place."

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It's not every performer at the Regina Folk Festival who can claim CBC Radio 3 host Grant Lawrence has named them "his musical discovery of the festival". Regina's Belle Plaine can. Described as having a voice that can silence noisy taverns, her journey has taken her from classical voice lessons as a child to jazz studies at Edmonton's Grant MacEwan College, and she found her songwriting voice during a year spent in Australia.

Sandra Butel, the artistic director of the Regina Folk Festival says, "Belle Plaine has the voice of an angel and the on stage presence of a seasoned professional. When she opens her mouth the audience stops their chattering to listen - works every time."

If you're travelling in her vicinity, though, beware... because fragments of overhead conversations may very well make their way into her songs. Though she's always careful to include those reveries long after she's forgotten their origins...

Her musical style can be described as part singer-songwriter, part jazz vocalist... and all prairie. Belle Plaine is currently in production with Orion Paradis (The Library Voices, Northcote, The Lazy MKs) for the completion of her debut EP, Hello from Belle Plaine.

You can also hear this concert at CBC Radio 2's Concerts on Demand site.

Belle Plaine @ The Mercury Café from Preston Kanak on Vimeo.