Karen Richards is a woman making her living by singing, but chances are you won’t find her in front of a full band singing to the bar. Although in the past Karen has performed with a variety of musical acts, in this incarnation of her life as a singer, Karen is a music therapist.
Essentially, Karen sings to people to make them feel better. She is the founder and owner of a company that offers music therapy to seniors living in old folks homes. Sometimes Karen sings to small groups, and often she works one-on-one with people, tailoring a completely unique improvised moment of music to fit each situation. She’ll sing some old favourites to residents when they ask, but she also uses chanting and toning to help ease both physical and emotional agitations. Karen explains to me that she often sees a little movie in her head that relates to the accompanying music.
At first glance, it might seem a little crazy or optimistic- but in reality we use music this way all the time. When you throw on the radio to get you through your workload or work-out, or when a mother sings to her child to calm them down- music is being used therapeutically. And besides that, Karen’s singing often yields improvement in the lives of the recipients.
However, my chance encounter with Karen came in a different context. I was manning the reception office at CIUT, and Monday afternoons don’t see much action. Karen came in and brightened my afternoon with her kind chatter and misdemeanor, and so before she left, I asked if I might have a listen to her album which she was submitting for potential airtime.
Karen sings everywhere, and some of her inspiration came to her just walking. When she tells me this, I can’t help but think of another singing Torontonian. Maybe you’ve heard him too- he’s a little old man who can be caught singing his own Toronto-centric version of “This Land Is Your Land” on public transit and anywhere else where there are people with ears. As it turns out, Karen’s run into him once before. But although the singing is his expression of joy, often the reaction he receives from those within earshot is mostly frustration. With an album full of songs about happiness and freedom, it’s a sentiment that Karen can relate to. She tells me she worries that some people might find her lyrics hooky.
Be that as it may, the voice on that album that I listened to after she left the CIUT office really left an impression on me- which is how it came to be that Karen ended up again in my office last Monday to sit for this portrait and to tell me some of her stories.
Today at 11:30 AM she holds a CD release party at the Neighbourhood Unitarian Universalist Congregation- 79 Hiawatha Road, for anyone who is interested.