Music Interview: Carrie Hryniw arrives in pieces

By Katherine Fletcher

Benjamin Franklin once said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Well, Ben, how about stress, something stuff like death and taxes certainly cause? The quote-spewing American Founding Father and inventor just might change his perspective if he could witness the technology-obsessed, impersonal, tension-filled environment of the 21st century where we run around like decapitated chickens trying our best to accomplish every task in measly 24-hour cycles.

Edmonton singer-songwriter Carrie Hryniw is doing her damnedest to balance life as a single mother, a classical piano teacher, a visual artist and a musician. Last September she released her first CD Pieces of Me, a collection of songs exploring feelings of sorrow, loss and aloneness but also expressing hope and determination. Most of the album has its basis in Hryniw’s own trials and tribulations, including a brief, failed marriage. It’s not exactly the kind of music Hryniw’s father would like to see her create–he even tried to bribe her with a new keyboard if she would write a short, happy song–but Hryniw believes you can’t force the creative process, although she might have to pencil it in for an appointment amongst a hectic schedule.

“Lately it’s been a little bit difficult,” Hryniw says of trying to immerse herself in the creative process. “It’s so busy right now. I just have to try to make time for myself. Prior to being in the state that I am now, I always thought and appreciated that art inspires art, that [my music] would come of that, but no. Just being in that creative space and time, and allowing time, it can be tough.”

Hryniw’s status as a singer-songwriter has been a lifelong process. At a young age she began playing classical piano, continuing all the way through university and earning a Bachelor of Music at the University of Alberta. After graduating, Hryniw travelled across Canada, Europe and India, where she spent six months studying Indian classical music, yoga and meditation. During her world exploration the travel-friendly acoustic guitar accompanied Hryniw so she could bring music wherever she went. She didn’t begin to engage in songwriting until she returned home.

“When I went on my first trip, which was to India, I wasn’t really writing much,” she explains. “While I was traveling I kept journals and then wrote down stories of hope, peace, growth, self-realization, of the people I’ve encountered. I think that just getting into the physical act of writing, that’s helped once I decided, ‘OK, I’m going to write this song.’ I had already [material] that I was writing in my journals. It’s easier than to start being creative immediately.”

In addition to the intimate nature of Pieces of Me, the album includes political commentary. On the track “Peace Waltz,” Hryniw decries the war in Iraq. In her blog she’s expressed opinions on Ralphbucks and the recent federal election. Though she’d like to tackle political themes in her songs, she still finds healing in writing songs based on past painful experiences. “Losing Grace,” a song she entered in the 2006 Calgary Folk Music Festival and Ship & Anchor Songwriting Contest, confronts the loss of her stillborn daughter Grace and her crumbling marriage to a drug abuser.

“When I recorded this first album I sort of felt that, OK, I’ve written all the songs about personal hardship,” says Hryniw. “I sort of thought I’ve dealt with it all. But the process of writing made me realize I’ve kind of fooled myself. I’m still writing songs that are helping me come through personal hardship. That’s actually been a surprise for me because I don’t want to focus on little old me. I’m concerned with the state of the world, but I thought maybe I had to get that all out of me [and] move on.”

It’s difficult to find a release from daily pressures in this fast-paced world, but Hryniw finds an escape from the busy life of a single mom and teacher in the therapeutic wonders of songwriting. With a 10 day tour underway and the opportunity to play at the South Country Fair in Fort Macleod this summer, Hryniw’s musical passion is making life in a world of constant stress a little more bearable.

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