Think of your favourite piece of music. Hear its melody, feel its rhythm and call to mind its lyrics. Like a good friend, it speaks to you and makes you feel understood, and less lonely when real friends are in short supply. Music can take you on a nostalgic journey of what once was, and fuel your heart with hope for what is to come. It’s elevating, thought-provoking, motivating. It changes moods, changes minds, changes lives; in the words of the great Louis Armstrong, “Music is life.’’
Joanna Grace’s interest in music sparked when she was only two years old. Her older sister, who was four at the time, was adamant about getting a piano. She had threatened to run away from home and live at her babysitter’s place where she had been leering to play. Shortly thereafter Joanna’s parents gave into their daughter’s demands, and once her sister started lessons, Joanna’s favourite activity quickly became listening to her sister play and counting her mistakes. “Before I could really speak in complete sentences, I was noticing the little blips and the stops in her playing,” she shares. Joanna was fascinated by the piano, and a natural understanding of music motivated her to learn more. When she was seven she started learning piano and after seeing her first opera at age nine, she also picked up the (French) horn. She never wanted to choose between the two instruments, so she continued to play both. Today Joanna shares her talent with the community by teaching others to play piano and horn, organizing performances and healing others with the power of music.
Joanna has always marched to the beat of her own drum. Gifted with an entrepreneurial spirit, she started her first side hustle when she was only eight. Joanna‘s neighbour and peer had wanted to learn how to play the piano and since Joanna was taking lessons she was happy to share her new talent, but not necessarily for free. Meeting demand with supply, she decided to give her friend lessons for a very reasonable price: $1 per month. “If you think about it, it’s a really amazing deal!” Joanna exclaims. “That’s the kind of deal I can’t offer to anyone!” However, her friend’s mom didn’t quite agree, and she quickly put a stop to the lessons. “The entrepreneurial side of me, wanting to make a buck…was somehow horrifying to this mom. …[She asserted that] ‘My daughter’s allowance, is not going to pay your daughter to teach her piano lessons.’ ” But Joanna knew her value, and although she lost her neighbour friend as a pupil, she gained a few more clients. She took what she was learning during her lessons and created her own course work to teach her family members.
“I just find so much value in sharing space for performers to connect with audience members, and audience members to learn about the performers. That wouldn’t happen in a big concert hall.”
Today Joanna sparks a love of music in students young and not so young. Inspired by some great teachers that she had while growing up, she understands that students have to feel empowered in order to develop a real love for the instrument and an intrinsic desire to practice. “The idea is that when students want to play, and they love being here, and they feel respected and valued, and they feel empowered, then they’re gonna wanna play, and practice, and they’re gonna get better. And they’re gonna wanna keep getting better because they feel successful.” When teaching a longer or more complicated piece, Joanna breaks it down to smaller challenges. As students learn each short section, they experience small achievements along the way and they want to continue to learn. She also makes the lessons more interesting by offering her students choices. Instead of telling students what to play, Joanna says “ ‘Here’s a piece that I think is good for you, here’s why… Or here’s a choice between these pieces – you pick.’ And each of them have a certain instructional value, [but] they get to choose which one they like.”
Joanna balances teaching, freelance performing, and running a concert series called Clearly Musical Home Concerts. Since 2016, Joanna has been hosting intimate concerts in her home studio in Richmond Hill, which seats between 15 and 20 people. Her goal is to showcase the work of artists in the community. She first invited freelance orchestral musicians she knew personally to perform, then expanded to new connections with local artists, and is now inviting full scholarship prize-winning performers from the Glenn Gould School in Toronto. The concerts are opportunities for people to come together and enjoy music in a unique way and start a dialogue. “I like that people can be close to the music,” says Joanna. “I just find so much value in sharing space for performers to connect with audience members, and audience members to learn about the performers. That wouldn’t happen in a big concert hall.”
Joanna believes that the connection between musicians and the audience has changed over the past twenty years. Something has been lost in audience engagement and behaviour, and technology is partly to blame. People are not fully present during performances as they are often distracted by notifications on their phones or are busy taking photos. An intimate performance brings engagement back by providing “a great atmosphere for connection, and beyond just enjoying a concert, but enjoying friendship and recognizing someone’s passion and how they’re sharing it,” Joanna smiles.
“People are gravitating towards music and sound to assist with so many different emotional experiences in life. Then what is it about sound that’s reaching people in such a special way?”
Besides sharing the gift of music through her concert series, Joanna also uses the power of music to heal others. “I was inspired to…figure out the connection between sound and music, and how it can help us feel better. ‘Cuz my belief is that most people like music – they just don’t necessarily like the same music. So, people gravitate towards music as a way to feel better, when they’re stressed, or when they’re working out, or when they [want to be] uplifted or happy… People are gravitating towards music and sound to assist with so many different emotional experiences in life. Then what is it about sound that’s reaching people in such a special way?” Her curiosity inspired her to study sound healing under the internationally renowned Sound Healer Jonathan Goldman and Sound Reiki Master teachers Catherine Varga and Heather Hannan. Joanna uses her voice with Sound Reiki toning, vocal toning and harmonics, tuning forks, crystal bowls and other instruments to create energetic sound vibrations that help relieve stress and physical and emotional pain. Since 2015 she has been offering Sound Healing Energy workshops to individuals and groups, including long-term care residents with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
“Try something different because you might find that you like it, and you can have an appreciation for the type of art that’s been shared. Or, you might find that you don’t like it. [But] you’re gonna find something out!”
Joanna says having a head full of ideas is both a saving grace and a weakness. Her biggest challenge over the years has been cultivating patience. With new ideas constantly swirling around in her head she finds it hard to slow her entrepreneurial spirit down and wait before taking action. “When I have an idea I want to make it happen, I want it to happen yesterday!”she admits. Waiting is really hard for her, but she has gotten better at it – experience has taught her that it takes time to develop connections, get known and get recognized. Yet, Joanna’s creativity is also her strong point. “I have a lot of ideas that [will probably never be realized] but just knowing that there are so many possibilities and I’ve come up with so many possibilities of how things can work…helps me survive the day to day…I don’t worry about running out of ideas!” she laughs.Even when ideas flop or plans don’t materialize immediately, Joanna is comforted by the fact that she can always find other ways to achieve her goals. Her creativity counterbalances her impatience.
Music inspires you to think differently. When you hear something unfamiliar, you learn something new about music, life and yourself. “I would encourage people to go to an experience…where the music is presented in a different way. …[Check] out something that’s kind of like off the beaten path, whether it’s music, or even a theatre production, or a dance performance…try something different because you might find that you like it, and you can have an appreciation for the type of art that’s been shared. Or, you might find that you don’t like it. [But] you’re gonna find something out!” she smiles. When you embrace new experiences you open your mind to welcome new ideas into your life.
Music has the power to put a smile on your face, cure your broken heart, reduce your pain, heal your soul or empower you to take action. Through music, artists share the gifts of hope and love, which bring about change in the world. So listen and get inspired. You could just find your next big idea.