Canadian born Celtic singer and Lyrichord recording artist Sandra Reid passes away at 53.
October 12, 1958 - November 7, 2011
It is with great sadness that we share the news that Sandra Reid, Canadian born Celtic singer and Lyrichord recording artist and performer, lost her three year battle with leukemia at her family home in Ottawa on November 7th, 2011. Throughout her illness, Sandra was poised and valiant, never losing her positive outlook and remarkable sense of humor - remaining her true and stalwart self until the end…
I have written the following as both close friend and as President of the label that produced two of Sandra’s memorable recordings. I write in praise of her tenacious spirit, her unforgettable voice, and depth of professionalism, all of which I was fortunate to have experienced for the better part of twenty years.
Sandra was a classically trained mezzo-soprano, and folklorist who specialized in original-language songs from the six Celtic nations; specifically Brittany, Cornwall, Ireland, The Isle of Man, Scotland, and Wales. Sandra first became fascinated by Celtic music while growing up in Canada’s Ottawa Valley, where Scots settlers once mingled with Irish and Bretons from neighboring Quebec. Her own ancestry was comprised of three ethnic groups, and she felt a deep connection with this collective Celtic heritage that became the focus of her work. Sandra saw her choice to perform traditional songs in their original Celtic languages as an expression of her solidarity with all those who struggle to preserve their Celtic heritage and identity in the present day.
Rather than being a pure traditionalist in style and performance, Sandra was acutely aware of the history of interconnectedness between the traditional and art-song presentations of Celtic songs. She knew that a wealth traditional Celtic songs would have been lost to posterity had not art singers and collections of the past preserved and introduced them to audiences around the world. So Sandra drew on her classical training as a vocalist to perform Celtic traditional songs in a manner that was completely her own: distinctive, evocative, and brimming with intense emotional and spiritual power.
Sandra recorded two albums for the Lyrichord label, the first was the 1995 release “Hal An Tow – Songs of the Six Celtic Languages”, accompanied by her colleague frame drummer Randy Crafton, and the second one, produced by Crafton was 1997’s “La Traversée: Traditional songs from France, Celtic Brittany, Canada and Louisiana”
At her live performances, Sandra would generally sing a song in its original language, only after having fully explained its meaning and usually its sociological and historical function as a myth or allegory. Though the subject matter was often dense with context and specifics, when delivered with Sandra’s charm and engaging off-hand manner, the story’s descriptions were always highly entertaining, never sounding overly academic or factually leaden. Frequently learning about the meaning of these songs – many now all but lost to history - was almost as fascinating as hearing them performed by her amazing voice. Many of the songs she unearthed naturally are concerned with the ubiquitous themes of lost love, grief, and tragedy, but many of the Celtic songs she would sing told of elaborate supernatural events, beings returning to life, animals that could adopt new corporal forms, and the beauty and ferocity; the danger as well as the security to be found in the natural world. For several years, she would annually perform special afternoon concerts for students at the New School for Social Research, through the Parsons Office of Liberal Studies in New York City. These concerts were equal parts musical performance, and a remarkable invocation of themes and tales of great significance to Celtic peoples, long since passed into the dust of centuries. Through her voice she rendered the long silent songs of ancient peoples, alive again, to inspire, challenge, and enlighten anew. In keeping with the traditions of Celtic song, Sandra was as comfortable singing traditional songs a cappella as she was performing with accompaniment. Indeed her wonderful voice and wide vocal range usually needed no accompaniment.
Sandra’s friend and great mentor was the late Alexei Kondratiev (1949–2010) the author, linguist, and internationally renowned teacher of Celtic languages, and Celtic folklore and culture, who taught at the Irish language and Celtic history at the Irish Arts Center in Manhattan, New York from 1985 until his death on May 28, 2010. Kondratiev was very helpful to Sandra when researching the songs on her second Lyrichord album that explored the French Diaspora, “La Traversee: Traditional songs from France, Celtic Brittany, Canada and Louisiana” Sandra made many trips to learn Celtic songs from natives to the Arran Islands in Galway Bay, the Isle of Mann, and elsewhere in Ireland, as well as Eastern and Western Europe.
In the late nineties, Sandra and Randy Crafton appeared in an extraordinary music video, produced and directed by her multi-talented nephew, the noted actor, director and screenwriter Adam Greydon Reid. The video 'Ma Zadig A Mam Mamm' (a song from “Hal An Tow – Songs of the Six Celtic Languages”) was produced for the Canadian Bravo network, and subsequently won a Silver Plaque at the Chicago Film Festival's Intercom Awards and was nominated for several other music video awards. A beautifully crafted and elaborate period piece with a large and highly effective cast, 'Ma Zadig A Mam Mamm' is essentially the enacting of the song’s story, in which a young woman is forced to wed an old and ugly (but wealthy) man, due to an arranged marriage. Fortunately for her, he dies of natural causes shortly thereafter, and the young woman is not only free of him, but also inherits his fortune. Sandra and Randy perform the song and appear as troubadours with the story’s action unfolding around them. It is an exquisite piece of film making – evoking rich images reminiscent of John Ford’s 1941 classic “How Green Was My Valley”, and deftly interweaving the song’s characters, narrative and story arc throughout the short form of a music video, in a manner possibly unique to the genre. And it serves as filmic adaptation of precisely Sandra’s intent with Celtic music – to bring the fables, allegorical themes, values, characters and insights of Celtic peoples back into the light for us to experience today.
Last week, in an email to me, Adam wrote of his late aunt:
“She always knew where she wanted to be, and lived exactly how she wanted to live, making both New York and the Arran Islands, her homes. She was a gift.
I hold on to her soaring voice, her radiant personality, and her capacity to love, as her gift to me and everyone she knew. I was lucky to be her nephew, her good friend, and to have had the unique opportunity to work with her creatively on the music video commissioned by Bravo. The power of the piece is a testament to her soaring, haunting voice. A voice that evokes so much feeling. She had an incredible gift. Thank God you [Lyrichord] made that album with her. I think it's so powerful that it stops people cold when they hear it. You can see it in their eyes, I witnessed it at her funeral. Even though they don't understand the Celtic words, they are moved by Sandi's voice and by the ancient quality that she evokes through the songs.”
Sandra was a great friend and colleague to us at Lyrichord. In addition to her other talents, she also was also a great voice-over artist, and in the last two years her voice was used to introduce all the Lyrichord Early and Classical Music Podcasts, and the promotional spots within each program. We had planned and had begun recording for her to host a new series of world music podcasts on Lyrichord. We were also planning an album of Celtic lullabies. In the 90s, we arranged for Lyrichord sponsored concerts, and as noted earlier, she worked with my wife Lesley Doyel for years to perform annually at Parsons School of Design in workshop/concert events. She even gave our daughter Nora voice lessons for a time. Sandra also worked for many years at The Collective School of Music, (formerly The Drummer’s Collective) in New York, where she had a great many devoted friends and colleagues, among them John Castellano and his wife, whose boundless kindness to Sandra during her illness was a great help in her regaining her health, prior to the last round of the disease.
The Collective School of Music is also in the process of setting up a
Scholarship for Vocal Studies at The Collective in Sandra’s Reid's memory.
Sandra will be sorely missed, and we echo the sentiments of her nephew Adam, who said who said of Sandra that, “She was a gift.” And, so fortunate for the world, the gift of her voice and musicianship can still be heard.
View video 'Ma Zadig A Mam Mamm'