• By: Ali Matthews

Tara Shannon Wants to Break the Barrier Between Listening and Experiencing

Images used courtesy of Tara Shannon. Recording session images by Ali Matthews.

Have you ever experienced Inuit throat singing? I don’t mean that you have heard it somewhere or saw it performed on the stage or in film, but that you have actually experienced it?

My first experience took place as I walked through the doors of Raven Street Studios this past weekend.

I was greeted by Tara Shannon, an award-winning Ottawa-based singer/songwriter, who was taking a quick break from recording a making of video for her new song “Someone Who Understands.”

Her energy and warmth could be felt in every corner of the studio as she graciously hosted her recording crew, the film crew for her video, a documentary film crew from Algonquin College, and an entire choir. She may be in the middle of releasing an album soon, but you would never know from her laid-back attitude and enthusiasm.

1e0a4393From our first interaction, it was easy to see that Tara is an individual with a big heart and her heart is at the center of all her music.

Despite writing for other artists on both sides of the border for years, it was the heartbreaking story of Jonathan Pitre, better known as that ‘Butterfly Child’, that motivated her to create her first album.

“I am a believer in music being a powerful force to affect change as it is a healing energy that transcends spoken language,” Tara Shannon explained, “So for any of my projects, I like to explore the possibilities of who might benefit from that music and ask myself who could this help?”

Earlier this year, Tara’s single “Butterfly Child” was recorded in support of Jonathan, as he continues to battle a vicious and life-threatening disease. Her latest single follows the same theme of giving.

“We have been hearing a lot about young people and mental health issues which are close to my heart as I have struggled with depression and anxiety since I was a child and a few of my children do as well,” Tara continued. “And in particular we have been hearing more and more about the state of crisis within the aboriginal youth and their struggle with mental health.”

“Someone Who Understands” was recorded in support of the Ottawa Aboriginal Coalition to help fund programming that provides support for aboriginal youth and includes the uplifting voices from a figurative and literal choir of supporters.


The song, written by her part Metis producer Hayley McLean, is an emotional declaration of support for people struggling.

“[Hayley] was hesitant to suggest the song as she didn’t want to impose any of her own songs onto the project but she had a nagging feeling that she should play this one for me,” Tara reflected. “I am so glad she did because the message of the song resonated with me profoundly. It has a haunting melody with a deep sense of reaching out to those who feel alone and particularly young people.”

Judging by the bodies in the room, the song indeed resonated. The choir that I met included a number of the aboriginal youth and their joy was contagious.

During a break in recording, two of the women in the choir shared some of the history of Inuit throat singing and treated everyone in the studio, including Tara, to an impromptu performance. Watching and listening to them, essentially battle, arm-in-arm and eyes locked was spellbinding. Each throat singing session ends in giggles as one of the women ‘wins’, immediately breaking the spell. Truly, you don’t listen, you experience.

img_6981It is this connection between the artist and listener that Tara hopes to achieve in her new album.

“As an indie singer/songwriter, I had a certain approach to writing songs in the past. It was about processing my experiences and my emotions and channeling that into the song regardless of the effectiveness in communicating with the listener.”

“I learned the art of active listening and craftsmanship from those who have been doing it for decades and by virtue of that training, writing for myself this time around was very, very different. They are still my stories but I have widened the scope and have a fuller understanding of how a lyric can communicate,” Tara continued.

img_6999There is no doubt that Tara will continue to create a connection throughout the rest of her album, set for release this fall. Self-described as a piano-driven country soul record, we can also expect not only her favorite songs but also one written by her songwriting inspiration, Lori McKenna.

“She is the reason I started to believe I could become a professional songwriter,” explained Tara. “She has 5 kids and lives in Boston. She only travels to Nashville a few days a month and has built this amazing career. Once I heard her story, I knew I could give it a try too!”

At the end of the last throat singing session, Tara doesn’t lose this opportunity to broaden her musical horizons. Together with a friend, she attempted her own throat singing with some brief instruction from the women. This time for Tara, along with the giggles came goosebumps, the sign that something special was happening here today.