Lynne Chwyl Blues Singer

Lynne, In Her Own Words

 

I grew up with my older and younger brother on a small hobby farm, east of Edmonton, in the rural district of Ardrossan, Alberta. It was at an early age—around five years old— that my love for performing began. I would stand on an old, upside-down, wooden orange crate out in the middle of our cow pasture and pretend that it was my stage, and the cows (conditioned to think any human in their midst came bearing hay or oats) would gather round me in a nice, tight huddle. Of course, to me, they were screaming hordes of adoring fans! To them, I was just an empty-handed curiosity.

 

Under the stars (or more precisely, the cover of darkness), I performed many a grand concert for those cows….er….fans, singing at the top of my lungs out in that cow pasture, with big hand gestures and profound facial expressions. Night after night, I poured out the deepest darkest agonies of my soul—bled them out with flamboyant, dramatic flair to a very indifferent herd of cattle. Afterward, I would jump off the crate and air-sign thousands of imaginary autographs before I would retire to our tiny, pink-stuccoed farmhouse. Then I would crawl into bed underneath a generations-old patchwork quilt and dream of stardom, while the only sounds—the croaking of frogs and distant train whistles, sang me to sleep. It makes me laugh now, to a degree; however, they say every success story begins with a vision. Ha ha! There was never any lack of “vision” in my earlier child’s mind.

 

I took a few voice lessons when I was around ten, but they only lasted a few months until my grandmother (who raised me) ran out of money. My voice teacher was the incomparable, Mrs. Jean Ward (rest her soul). She taught me the breathing techniques that would prove invaluable to me later on.

 

I really wanted a piano when I was young – I was mesmerized by the piano – or a harp (the instrument of angels), but the piano seemed more attainable. Instead, I got a tiny, toy accordion. Red plastic. It was all my Granny could afford. But I would not be daunted; I laid that beautiful, red, plastic, toy accordion on its back and had my baby brother pump the bellows for me so I could play it like a real piano. Granny saw this as a real aptitude for music, so for my birthday a few years later, my family chipped in and bought me a full 120-bass accordion (so much for the way-more-impressive piano I had been dreaming of). My baby brother had to dig his heels into the ground and pull the bellows in a rowing-like motion on this much larger, heavier, version. Eventually I gave up and just learned to play the accordion in the traditional position, but sadly, I abandoned the desire to play as I merged into my adult years.

 

Singing, however, was something I never (fully) abandoned. I sang throughout my school years in various school concerts and festivals. I remember the Strathfort Festival in grade six, in which I won second place, and the adjudicator wrote on my feedback form, “Lynne has a very mature voice for such a young performer. She shows great promise”. I clung to that positive reinforcement and soldiered on. I sang “Early One Morning”, a traditional English folk song sung to a melody that some of you might recognize as the theme song from The Friendly Giant …

 

“Early one morning,

 

Just as the sun was rising,

 

I heard a young maiden,

 

In the valley below.

 

CHORUS:

 

Oh, don’t deceive me,

 

Oh, never leave me,

 

How could you use

 

A poor maiden so?”

 

In high school, I performed at the school concert with a fellow student who played acoustic guitar. We were a hit! We performed Elvis’s version of “In the Ghetto”, which, to me, had the depth of tragedy that any of Shakespeare’s greatest works did. I thought I was being so deep and profound at the time, but I realize now, that then, and to this day, it was simply the experience of really connecting to a song. For me it usually is deep and profound.

 

Once out of high school, I sang for a few months with various local bands, and then I met my first serious boyfriend. I moved from the farm to the city into a one-bedroom apartment with a few roommates, and eventually I moved in with my boyfriend. Life went on and eventually I gave birth to the cutest dang twin boys that ever lived. The relationship did not last with him, however, and I became a single mom. Ten years and one husband later, I had two more, beautiful children. From the time I left high school to the end of my marriage, a span of 25 years had passed, during which I did not sing, except in secret (alone in my car or at home when the kids were in school and my husband was at work). No one knew that I was still singing…albeit to myself.

  

That’s where the story really begins…..

  

25 years after high school….

 

I was that person. You know, that one you pull up beside at a red light and look over at to find them singing to themselves with exuberant, animated, and often quite comical enthusiasm in their car, completely oblivious to anyone around them. This was where I practiced, where for years I secretly developed my craft. This was my private concert hall. My car. This was where I healed my emotional wounds and where I came for self-therapy. This was my safe place – where I was free to be me, where my heart would sing and my soul could soar. This… this is where I would sing, soaring down the highway or on the back roads.

 

Then came the separation from my husband.

 

Whether it was the Muses, Fate, Destiny, God, or sheer brain malfunction, I still don’t know what propelled me towards that stage in Millwoods Town Center Mall one particular day. Being newly separated from my husband, with shared custody of the kids, I was struggling with who I was when I wasn’t a full-time mom or stay-at-home wife anymore. That had been my identity for 25 years and I was at a sudden loss as to what to do with myself when the kids were away on ‘Dad’s week’.

 

It started out as a simple time-killer that day, just something to do to fill the void hours until my kids came home. I had decided I would walk over to the mall across the street from my house to window-shop! Somehow, from there, it concluded with me standing on a stage in the center court of the mall with a mic in my hand, legs shaking so bad you could visibly see my pants fluttering. My dry tongue stuck in the back of my throat so bad I thought I was swallowing it, and my hands shook so bad I almost chipped a tooth. I remember staring like a deer caught in the headlights, out into the gathering crowd and thinking, “Oh shit. This ain’t no orange crate and those aint no cows!”

 

Ha ha – needless to say, my heartfelt, but highly nervous rendition of “Go Rest High on That Mountain” did not garner me a place as one of the top 5 finalists in that particular karaoke contest. I would not be advancing. However, it did draw quite a crowd around the center court, and it did draw the attention of the karaoke host MC-ing the contest (let’s call him Kent).

 

Kent came up to me after the contest and said, “You know, you’ve got something there. You just haven’t learned how to handle it yet”.

 

Being the smartass I can be sometimes (I know – hard to believe, right?), I replied, “Hmph! Gimme an orange crate and 20 head of cattle and I’ll knock your socks off.”

 

Ha! Just kidding! I didn’t say that. (I’m pretty sure my tongue was still stuck in the back of my throat for days after that contest. Ha ha)

 

Anyway, Kent offered to tutor me in technique and all manner-of-things-vocal-contest. I followed him around to his various shows over the next six months and he taught me mic control, crowd engagement, stage movement…all kinds of things. The more I sang, the more my confidence grew. The next contest I entered, (6 months later) I won!

 

I had found a piece of me that had been lost for years, part of who Lynne was, and still is—Lynne, the singer. Over the next few years I was a finalist many times, singing numerous times at Big Valley in Camrose, the Ponoka Stampede, West Edmonton Mall, festivals, vocal competitions in Calgary, and at town picnics, mayor’s breakfasts, fundraisers galore, and many pub contests. One of the pinnacles of those days was becoming a semi-finalist on a national reality television show – CMT Karaoke Star!

 

So when did I stop doing music-track vocal competitions and become a live musician performer?

 

Well, one day about a decade ago, I read somewhere that Beaumont was hosting its first annual blues festival. I immediately volunteered and requested a position in the musician’s hospitality tent. It was there I met several people from the local blues scene who remain my highly respected colleagues and friend to this day—an Edmonton area musician and jam host, and a bass player and Edmonton Blues Association executive member. Meeting these two gentlemen would change the course of not just my career, but my life.