Sienna Dahlen

I met Sienna a few years ago at a French Meet-Up here in Toronto, not suspecting that her beautiful voice and music would trigger my emotional self deeply and help mending my sometimes conflicted heart.  She is  a wonderful, artistically intelligent and spiritual musician and singer whose melodies and words have often taken me to another world of hopeful thoughts and comfort.  Sienna regularly collaborates and performs with other international aritsts from across Canada and Europe.  She has won many accolades in the Canadian music scene notably in the form of arwards from the Ontario and Quebec Art Councils to finance her work.  I am absolutely delighted to share her work in this interview today.  Sienna is releasing her new album "Verglas" this November.  As I have been touched by her songs before, I am very excited to support her in her most recent endeavour.  For more information about this artist, visit:
Interview by: Valerie Bastien
Valerie: What three words describe you as a person and your music as a whole.

Sienna: Intense. Passionate. Searching.

Valerie: Your most recent album Verglas is being released this month. What expectation do you have for this album?

Sienna: I hope the album will be heard by more people than my previous albums were.  I hope that people with feel moved by the stories in these songs and the different moods in the music.  

Valerie: You are a very personal and spiritual writer. Explain how you turn challenges into opportunity and how does it inspire you to better yourself? 

Sienna: I learn from every playing experience that I'm involved in.  Sometimes the music or the musicians need to be adjusted, not to mention the venues I choose to play in.  Those can all be challenging aspects to this business but every change fosters more wisdom and patience.

Valerie: What song on Verglas is the closest to your heart and why? What is it about?

Sienna: "Verglas" probably lies closest to my heart.  I was very saddened by the passing of Lhasa de Sela.  The subject of premature death in its many forms (loss of life, loss of love, loss of direction etc.) has been a prominent theme in the my life over the past few years. "Verglas" depicts the passage from one dimension to another or more specifically, from this life to another... I imagined the maple trees covered in ice rain (verglas) bending down to form a sacred path for Lhasa to walk along across a snowy park in Montreal the night of her death.

Valerie: Compare a happy song and a sad song on Verglas.

Sienna: Well, it's hard to compare the happy songs with the sad ones on this album...  they're worlds apart!  "Lil Drummer Boy" is a happy song that I wrote about my drummer, Karl Jannuska.  He's a fairly eclectic composer and therefore, that song is reflective of his personality.  "Carrie" is a sad song about a woman seeking freedom in her life who eventually commits suicide.

Valerie: You are an excellent jazz singer and pianist; your improv skills are impressive. What place does improvisation take in your music and especially on Verglas?

Sienna: Improvisation is carried out by myself and each of the musicians on the album at different points along the journey.  I wouldn't call this specifically a 'jazz' album but the musicians I work with are as versed in jazz as I am and therefore, when solos of any kind occur one senses the depth of our skills and knowledge of that genre surfacing.  As in any style of music, improvisation provides a vehicle for expression.

Valerie: I know that you enjoy collaborating with other artists during the writing process. Tell me about the people who have made a difference in making this album.  How do you help each other shine?

Sienna: On this album I did not collaborate with anyone in the writing of the compositions.  Every song is an original composition of mine.  Andrew Downing, the cellist in the band, wrote, arranged and performed the string parts in "Carrie" and "Verglas" but aside from that, the other artists simply played their parts- brilliantly, of course!  At times we would collectively discuss some of the arrangements of the songs and as a group, make decisions about section lengths and overdubbed parts but overall, I was the principle producer of this album. David Travers-Smith, the mixing and mastering engineer for the album, has a great ear for many forms of music and he was able to really bring a special ambiance to the entire sonic experience.

Valerie: In what situations do you find yourself the most creative? Have you ever experienced writer's block and how did you overcome it?

Sienna: I feel most creative when I'm in a good head space living in a foreign environment, often far from my home and surrounded by nature.  I continually experience writer's block and choose not to fight it.

Valerie: Besides writing music, you also teach vocals at University of Toronto. What do you enjoy the most in sharing your vocal knowledge?

Sienna: I teach at the University of Toronto and Humber College, actually.  I enjoy witnessing students getting excited about experiencing positive results from their voices.  I also teach a songwriting ensemble and I love watching my students arranging and singing their own music for the first time.  I know how gratifying that feeling can be.

Valerie: What is your proudest accomplishment?

Sienna: "Verglas" is my proudest accomplishment to date...  From the artwork, to the songs, to the musicianship, to the mixing and mastering. I think it's a really strong collection of songs.

Valerie: What are your future touring plans?

Sienna: I am going back to France in January and also doing one gig in Lausanne, Switzerland. I'm hoping to be back in Europe next spring to perform in Germany at the Jazzahead music showcase.  With any luck, some Canadian touring will happen next year as well.

Valerie Bastien is a vocal coach, teacher, musician and freelance journalist.
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