What’s behind the creative mind: Shirley Spencer

By Hannah Polinski

Celebrating the arts in Brome-Missisquoi

Several years ago, Shirley Spencer was waiting in the line at the bank in Knowlton when the teller pointed right at her and exclaimed to her colleague, “There is the woman I was telling you about. She is a really good country singer.” Spencer glanced behind her, eager to see who this great musician could be, and found no one there. It soon dawned upon her that the teller was pointing right to her.
Spencer had always been a singer, starting off by singing folk music and taking part in the St. Lambert Choral Society for three years as a mezzo soprano. But it wasn’t until she relocated to Knowlton in 2007 that she was thrown into the wonderful world of country music and began to make a name for herself locally.

One night while attending a concert at a restaurant in South Bolton, Spencer was fatefully in the audience as the lead singer of the band forgot the words to a Christmas song. Knowing the song by heart, she was reluctantly talked into getting up and singing with the band to finish off the song, which was the beginning of a beautiful collaboration with local musician Arnie Davis.

Davis was one of Spencer’s mentors as she began to pursue classic country music. Davis instilled Spencer with a sense of faith in herself as she learned songwriting from him, coming up with lyrics that spoke from an authentic place of emotion. Spencer was given the opportunity to sing some of his songs, and the duo even collaborated on a CD called Glory and Gold.

As a songwriter, Spencer writes from a place of compulsive emotion. Her writing process is one that takes on a life of its own, as she writes lyrics when she feels emotionally compelled to do so in a near-meditative state.

“I find that once the song is written, whether it takes a day or a year, that it is like a therapy session that has wrapped up,” she says. “I can put it away and start on something else when the mood hits.”

Since she was 17, she has been enthralled by the poetry and music of Leonard Cohen. By travelling to different cities for “Cohen Events”, she has met many like-minded folks who have encouraged her to pursue her passion for music.

When not playing guitar or singing, Spencer is an avid painter. Painting is something that came to her later in life, out of a curiosity to try a new form of expression. Upon realizing that anything she didn’t like on the canvas could simply be painted over, she unlocked a creative force within herself, drawing inspirations from Georgia O’Keeffe and Maude Lewis.

“We stop ourselves from so much creativity because we put so much angst on ourselves,” she says. “The one thing I did learn [from music] is if you strive for perfection then you’ll never write anything.”

Spencer is currently working on her own collection of original songs in collaboration with Maurice Singfield and John Cameron. She also co-teaches a Mother Child Mother Goose Program with her sister, Catharine. The program brings together young children aged 0-4 and their parents to enjoy songs, rhymes, and stories in Brome-Missisquoi County. To learn more about her work, you can find her on Facebook or LinkedIn under Shirley Anne Spencer.

This project has been made possible by the Community Media Strategic Support Fund offered jointly by the Official Language Minority Community Media Consortium and the Government of Canada.

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