‘Life can take you on many paths,” says singer/songwriter Brenda Berezan.
After years of transformations — from top country songwriter to teacher to publisher to volunteer to world traveller and mother — the slight-statured guitarist is once again focusing on the strings and verses of the music business.
“Now I feel there’s a fire under me to do this,” she adds with a smile.
Berezan, her husband and eight-year-old son live off the grid in a solar-powered house near Kathleen Lake, just outside Haines Junction.
They moved north from Calgary five years ago and the territory’s landscape and vibrant music scene kindled her desire to return to music and start writing songs again.
“When I came to the Yukon, I was pretty amazed at all the musical talent,” says Berezan.
Southerners would be amazed by the possibilities here. “People ask me: Aren’t you too far away? But as a person who’s serious about writing music it’s a great place.”
Between stoking the fire and taking care of the house, Berezan writes notes and lyrics at the kitchen table or plays around with the guitar and keyboard in the corner of her living room.
She’s been working out tunes in her spare time for the past few years.
And this Saturday she’ll realize the fruits of her labours when she releases her first CD — the self-titled six-track sampler of recent songs.
Berezan grew up in Alberta with two musical parents.
Elton John’s music was her first passion.
Berezan began strumming in her teens at university coffeehouses. She completed her degree in English lit and drama at the University of Calgary, and then set her sights on the far side of an ocean.
She accepted a two-year teaching gig at a Catholic girls school run by “wild and crazy Irish nuns” in American Samoa, a small island in the South Pacific.
“Samoans are really musical people; I think they chose me because they knew I was a musician,” says Berezan.
“Music seems to be an innate part of their culture.”
She began writing scores of music on the island and playing with the locals.
Eventually, she filled up the school gym and played her first concert surrounded by her students.
Berezan returned to Canada where she enjoyed early success as a songwriter.
She penned an early-‘90s radio hit, Rocky Mountain Night, which was sung by vocalist Heather Brooks. In 1991, it hit No. 31 on the Canadian country music charts.
But then Berezan fell out of the music business and “put all of her creative eggs” into starting up a publishing business with her husband, a wildlife photographer.
The pair ran a successful company, Wilderness Images, for 13 years before heading north.
Berezan’s folk-rock melodies range from soft and mournful to something more on the order of swinging jazz.
Her lyrics are inspired by everything from newspaper headlines to the trees outside her kitchen window.
The CD’s first track, Deep Inside, came from a newspaper story about a man who walked through Haines Junction en route to Alaska, on his journey around the world on foot.
It’s a sad song about a fellow who tries to escape the pain of lost love, but no matter where he goes he’s still the same hurt person inside.
“What would compel a guy to walk around the world? For me, it was love gone wrong,” says Berezan thoughtfully.
Track two, Swept Away, is a slow and mournful elegy for Canadian peacekeeper Jamie Murphy, who went to Afghanistan in 2003, and came home six months later in a casket.
“I had abandoned music in my life and wasn’t sure if I’d ever come back,” says Berezan.
“It took a man’s death to ignite a new musical life in me — I was the phoenix rising out of his ashes, musically speaking.”
A thoughtful and resonant song called A Wild Man Dreams (for Tony Bird) wraps up the six-track CD.
Bird, now based in New York, is a white African protest singer who grew up at the foot of a mountain in Malawi.
Berezan had a chance encounter with Bird while he was touring Canada in the late ‘80s. She was newly wed and living on the Stoney Creek Indian reservation with her husband while he taught school.
Bird spent the day with the couple in their small home, playing songs and telling his story.
“He was living in the city, but he still felt wild. For me he was sort of a tumbling soul,” says Berezan. “He wanted to go back to Africa, but wasn’t welcome because of his protest music.”
She was also inspired by his unique singing voice — a voice Bird himself described as sounding like “Donald Duck on acid.”
“He’s definitely someone you don’t forget easily,” she adds.
Berezan will release her newly pressed recording Saturday at 8 p.m. at the St. Elias Convention Centre in Haines Junction with special guest BJ MacLean.
The CDs are also available at Rose Music for $12 a pop, and currently she’s shopping them around to other spots in the territory.
Then, on February 4th, Berezan will be in Whitehorse to play a solo acoustic set with the Yukon Folk Society at the United Church.