Ann Mortifee, Musical Shaman

806 1024 Ann Mortifee

by Lisa Tant
Originally published in BC WOMAN Magazine August 1997

Ann Mortifee Musical ShamanA 17, West Vancouver singer/songwriter Ann Mortifee discovered her calling when her improvised songs from the play Ecstasy of Rita Joe moved the audience to tears. It was that awakening that led Mortifee, now 48, to use music not as a star vehicle, but rather as a healing tool to drive herself and others down a path of self-discovery. Mortifee’s own course has taken her from a Zululand cradle to Indian ashrams, to New York’s bright lights, and now to her home in the North Shore mountains. Over the past three decades, she’s forged a celebrated career by constantly straying from the straight-and-narrow and into uncharted personal territory.

Twice, she walked away from the promise of international stardom after earning reviewers’ praise for her performances in plays and musical scores. “I felt like I had been offered the world in New York, but I just couldn’t go down that road. I knew that something deeper was calling me.” That instinct has unfolded over the last decade during which Mortifee had a child (Devon, 9), and became world renowned as a musical healer. In 1992, she was presented with an Order of Canada. “My own healing has become my work,” she says, as a trio of finches chirp in the back-ground. Her holistic workshops – first launched nine years ago at Hollyhock Farm on Cortez Island – Mortifee uses music to “contact your deeper feelings and your own value in life.” “Musical ability and self-confidence are inseparable,” she says. “You can have tremendous talent but if you’re shut down emotionally, it can’t get out.”

Another detour along her musical highway was David Feinstein, a California psychologist who listened to her music while writing Rituals for Living and Dying. He approached her to write an album, “Serenade at the Doorway”, for people facing death. “I was in the middle of a middle-age crisis,” she recalls. “I realized that it doesn’t matter what the death is – the death of a dream, marriage or youth – all of these transitions are hard to make.” Without marketing, the album found its way into cancer, AIDS, and palliative care clinics, and steered Mortifee down another life-forming path.

Music as a healing tool became Mortifee’s message at global conferences and workshops for caretakers of the dying.

One of the album’s tracks, “I Won’t Stay Silent Any Longer”, became an anthem for survivors of sexual abuse, and forced her to face her own childhood abuse at the hands of a gardener. “It made me realize that everything in life is a two-edged sword. One of my deepest woundings is turning out to be one of the gifts I bring to help others. The experience becomes part of your story as opposed to this dreaded secret and dark place of pain that you can’t share with anybody.”

“Music has been my therapist, my friend, my consolation,” she says. “Every person should have a creative outlet – whether that be painting or baking muffins – every person needs a place to pour their soul.”

Mortifee’s latest work is a Phantom-scale semi-autobiographical musical called “When the Rains Come”. A love story set in South Africa, its characters mirror her own inner struggles. While searching for a major production company, she’s also working on the book version of “Serenade at the Doorway” with Feinstein. Perhaps it’s because stardom’s bright lights are twinkling again that Mortifee insists she’s heading into an other soul-searching hiatus. “Yet,” she says, “if you’re absolutely sure of who you are, and where you’re going, then chances are you’ve wrapped your life up in a package and you’re set in your ways. If you don’t get trapped in being depressed about self-doubt – if you can share the discomfort – it becomes a natural part of being human. I’m committed to finding purpose in life. In pursuit of that purpose, you’re living that purpose.”

Ann Mortifee

Singer Ann Mortifee is a genre unto herself. Blessed with a remarkable four-octave range and a gift for impacting hearts with her music and lyrics, her albums, concerts, full-length musicals, scores (ballet, film, opera, TV), and In Love with the Mystery book have generated national/international distinctions and awards. She is an Order of Canada Member, the country’s highest civilian honour. A world traveller, compelling storyteller, and sought-after keynote speaker for major conferences, Ann creates and facilitates inspiring arts and consciousness workshops and co-founded two foundations - for social innovation and for forestry conservation. Based in BC, Ann is the wife of the late jazz flutist, Paul Horn.

All stories by: Ann Mortifee