Triple Award Nominee, Recording and Performing Artist
Introduction: Don't be afraid of the space between your dreams and reality. Read about Canadian CareerConnect Mentor, Rebekah deHaan, and how she followed her dream to become an award-nominated recording and performing artist.
The Story: Greetings! My name is Rebekah deHaan and I am very happy to be able to tell you that I am living my life-long ambition of being a full-time recording and performing artist. As I share my story I plan to speak from the heart, not just share practical tips and experiences.
People often think that this kind of work is pretty much all glamour and applause but trust me, it isn't. To be honest, most of it is spent inside my head: while brewing—and later sipping from—a pot of tea while I'm writing a new tune, outlining the next one, arranging older material or mentally "rehearsing" either an upcoming or hypothetical performance. If I have more than one "task" going within a given day or week I am always sure of the status of each one, so as not to be disorganized. A song never hits the air (and I mean not only radio airtime but also the physical air) until a first draft is complete. All of this writing, arranging and scoring is precisely accomplished in the absence of an instrument, so that all the intricacies can at least be present in my mind and not limited to just my piano.
The part of this work that most people are well aware of is the rehearsing and stage performances. Currently, I am in several bands and ensembles, and most of those rehearsals are held in the evening. If I rehearse privately, usually on a day with no ensemble practices, it's either in the late afternoon or mid-to-late evening. So I've created as much of a routine as I can, because let's face it, my brain still likes to work in four-four time. But this is the kind of job where you have to be prepared for not only the odd piece in seven-eight time, but also the odd bar within a piece. To put it less metaphorically, I like routine when I can get it, but more often than not, I have to go with spontaneity.
Then there are the actual show days. On those days I have to sit and get all dolled up for a show and then, being in Atlantic Canada, it may snow so much the show is canceled! Or, maybe I've worked hard both in my head and rehearsing only to have a song get nixed from the set list at the last-minute. Those are the five-four bars I have to play, but they are there to remind me that tomorrow is no more predictable than today was, so I just sing it as it is scored out for me.
The kind of work I do lends itself to being self-employed so I've had some choice in whom I work with and they help make my job all the more interesting. I get to work with quite a variety of people, yet persons all with the same passion for music, in one way or another. Where I am geographically and career-wise, I don't work with many others who are in this industry full-time. Most have "day jobs" and do music on the side, thus the talent level and amount of experience and training varies from person to person. For me, this is definitely what makes my job the most interesting, and is at once the challenge as I have to tailor the language to whomever it is I am working with. Sometimes I'm in one group with many of different levels, so I may have to say the same thing a few times in different ways, not to mention being sensitive and prudent of egos. This shows me just how universal the language of music is, whether or not one can articulate its alphabet.
Having the rewarding privilege of being an eclectic artist performing across several genres, in very diverse venues, makes my fan base rather wide and my list of colleagues is long too. From church folks to café patrons it is neat to see such a mosaic for an audience. Occasionally a friend from church comes to a café night, or vice versa and sometimes they are surprised to see me in all the different places I perform.
Being in so many different venues has taught me that it is important to know where I stand morally and ethically and for whom I stand. Having a solid belief system keeps me from being swayed by every interesting or tempting thought I come across. Yet, the glimpses of unity I've seen in humankind through my career are deeply touching and I am certain that makes it worth going places that, ordinarily, I may not have gone otherwise.
Most people, especially younger ones, need to understand how one job leads to another and how it helps a person develop skills and establish a career. I had several clerical jobs for two summers in university. The first job had me scanning textbooks and performing some online research, the second was a week-long job with Elections NB, and then a three-month clerical job at University of New Brunswick. These jobs helped me to acquire efficiency with some of the tedious tasks I have to do and to develop my spoken voice for professional usage in my career today.
I may be a little different from others in that I've really had but one vocational passion in life—music. I followed a textbook called Music Through Braille [bibliographical information unknown] in the mid 1990's and was taught some at the school for the blind in Halifax, but I didn't pursue it after a year or two, finding it faster to learn by ear. I still know enough to get by, and I am, with thirteen years of classical piano training and music theory behind me, glad to know how to break a piece down into note values, use Italian terms, and so forth.
While I was in school at the Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, Manitoba, a role-model artist gave the advice, "Don't try to make the career happen; just make the gigs happen.' That has been my motto ever since and it's paid off.
Little did I know that after graduation it would take months of skill-development and more to get gigs at all, never mind regular bookings. But once the regular bookings started, without a recording, it became all the more challenging to keep my name in the public eye for exposure to get ahead.
In the spring of 2008 a local studio had a job posting, for which I applied. I didn't get the job, but something much better happened. I was discovered by the company's president, who connected me to several local influential people, and after winning a national competition, the time for me to start recording was finally right. My debut album was fittingly entitled, "Wait for the Wind." The title reflects my belief that, for me, the key is to let the wind blow where it may and find the best way to cooperate with it.
As a totally blind person I have JAWS for Windows and Kurzweil on my computer which make it possible to do reading and writing tasks, including braille, a slate and stylus for little cue cards, a "say-when," for pouring tea (just in case anyone's wondering—smile). I also have a digital recorder, but it's not an adapted one, and a label gun. All of these devices I use every day to complete tasks both for work and personal business.
What I like most about my job, I readily admit, is the thrill of the applause and standing ovations, which I can often feel in the floor, even before being notified of them! Shouts of "encore!" are thrilling too. At the same time, however, I equally love the individual stories I've gotten of how a song, or even a whole album, has inspired or comforted even a single person. Those accounts are truthfully worth more to me than my bank account; it means I'm doing my job well.
What I don't like though is the business side of things. Luckily I enjoy writing enough to put out creative news letters to a mailing list—but things like promotion and marketing, I don't naturally have a gift for. Nor am I very helpful with the practical end of things like lugging equipment.
If you are considering a career as a recording/performing artist, I would advise you not to let yourself or your work be compromised or devalued (i.e. be prudent as to what you sign), but do let it grow and be shaped and nurtured. You must be like a flower in a storm—flexible but not uprooted. It requires a great deal of discipline and diligence, perseverance and introspection, as well as a firm, steady "knowing." You must be unflappable in selling what you know you've got, while always aspiring to improve yourself to the fullest potential.
Rehearsals can be rigorous and thirteen-hour studio sessions draining. And in this highly-competitive field, you shouldn't expect instant stardom, which arguably isn't healthy anyway. Keep the reality checks coming by recording some rehearsals, even if only on a hand held machine. When listening to the playback, an exercise I call a "moment of truth," take note of what you like, and do not ignore anything you don't. Moreover, these playbacks will reveal some startling realizations about your talent, some good, some not so good. Don't run from them; learn from them. These self-examinations are chances to look in the mirror to see if the light you intend to shine on those around you, onstage and to the media is well illuminated and really the one you want surrounding you.
Keep the commitments you make, but feel most free to say no, aware of the potential for burn-out. Lastly, don't forget to listen to music for sheer pleasure—and yes, include your own albums when/as they are released in that collection; such is not vain if it is in humble gratitude for where you have come.
The Contact: Becka deHaan
- View video of Becka deHaan singing Etta James' classic, "At Last"
- Listen to an interview with Becka on Embrace Your Vision. Conducted by fellow Mentor, Judy Redlich, host on Web Talk Radio.
- Visit Becka's website to hear samplings of her music.