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Kelly S.Thompson: ‘Torn between loyalty to the military and to my work’

Discipline might be considered the greatest virtue a writer can possess, and Kelly S. Thompson has it in abundance. Consider her output during her recent stint in The Banff Centre’s Leighton Artist’s Colony: She drafted 120 pages of her novel and three short stories, edited five shorter pieces, and wrote seven poems – all in a two-week span. It’s enough to make any fellow writer envious, but delving into Kelly’s past as a Logistics Officer in the Canadian Forces reveals a unique necessity for expression.

Kelly S.Thomspon working hard in her writing studio in the Leighton Artist Colony. Photo:Rita Taylor

Kelly S.Thomspon in her writing studio in the Leighton Artist Colony. Photo:Rita Taylor

Coming from a military family undoubtedly shapes ones ideas of servitude and responsibility, and such was the case when the September 11 attacks prompted Kelly to enlist.

A severe leg break at the outset of basic training proved to be a major setback. (It did, however, introduce Kelly to her husband, who carried her for three kilometers after the break in an act of unprecedented chivalry.) This led to Kelly serving in a more administrative capacity, which created its own set of difficulties when she eventually had to reintegrate to civilian life.

“The military has this problem where they make people feel like lepers if you can’t go anywhere; it’s like a stamp on your forehead, and I was injured from almost day one of my career. When you leave medically you’re not leaving by choice; you’re leaving because you’ve been told to go… No matter how much time you have, there’s this feeling of really belonging to something and that’s really hard to leave.”

Kelly left the Canadian Forces without having written a word during her tenure, but she did sustain her desire to be a writer. Her first nonfiction piece was about attending her first military funeral, which began a process of saying goodbye to her soldier self and welcoming a new artistic self. This led to Kelly blogging for Chatelaine about her transition to civilian life, and eventually to the University of British Columbia’s MFA Creative Writing program, where she is currently working on two novels – one of which addresses military themes and experiences.

Kelly matriculated to UBC because she wanted to find a way to share those military stories – the stories that she felt “went untold”. But this hasn’t always been straightforward. Kelly took flack for the Chatelaine blog and for exploring specific issues that women in the military face. In order to even write for Chatelaine, Kelly had to get formal approval through her chain of command. There is a tension inherent in telling these kinds stories, but her posting to the Integrated Personnel Support Centre, where she worked with injured and ill soldiers, exposed her to men and women who needed a voice.

“I’m torn between loyalty to the military—that does exists—and my loyalty to my work,” Kelly says. “I want to give all those people a voice. They’re already in a position where they could lose their jobs.… I want to give them a voice because they can’t, or think they can’t [express themselves].”

As Kelly continues to write, her focus has become on crafting a true and honourable voice, even if the subject in non-military.  And she isn’t worried about getting pigeonholed; she intends to continue exploring her military past: “I can’t let it go either. It’s this part of me—part of what shapes me as a writer.”

Find out more about Kelly’s writing, editing, and volunteer work here:

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What would you give back in a minute?

The Banff Centre recently started curating Kickstarter crowd funding campaigns of alumni and artists of the Centre. Aaron Rosenberg, a composer from Massachusetts, managed to fundraise $3,579 to fund a 70-day stint here for the Banff Musicians in Residence program, during which time he aims to compose ‘Ascent’, a trio for piano, cello and violin. To meet his Kickstarter fundraising goal, Rosenberg offered a special incentive to prospective donors. I spoke to him about the fundraising process.

Aaron Rosenberg in the midst of composing a trio for piano, cello and violin

Aaron Rosenberg in the midst of composing a trio for piano, cello and violin. Photo: Meghan Krauss

“What’s unique about my project is the rewards that I’m offering people. I’m writing short piano character pieces, about 1-2 minutes long, in homage to those who donated $50 or more to my campaign,” he said.

Drawing inspiration from the 19th century classical composers, primarily Chopin and his prelude pieces, Rosenberg will embark on creating 11 romantic short piano pieces once his residency here is finished. “I think it will be really fun, especially writing pieces for the people I know.”

For some people the compositions will be a minute-long piece, for others it will be two minutes. “I feel like it’s really something I can give back to them but it’s also something of an incentive for my next project when I’m finished here, which is to write a collection of piano character pieces. It would be an opus of mine, to write a collection of piano pieces based on certain people or their ideas.”

“The compositions are really portraits of the people who are giving me money. If I don’t know the people then they get to decide what I write about, the subject matter.”

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Philanthropy for the community?

Community foundations leaders from across Canada gathered at The Banff Centre recently to connect and engage in conversation about leadership opportunities, social innovation and what’s next for community philanthropy. The gatherings were the beginning of a new relationship with The Banff Centre to develop the kind of smart and caring leaders that our communities need.

Gabriel Kasper detailing his ideas on philanthropy and the community

Gabriel Kasper detailing his ideas on philanthropy and the community.

In this podcast, Gabriel Kasper from the Monitor Institute shares stories from across the philanthropic sector,  unpacks the future of community philanthropy and addresses how we might re-imagine the charitable landscape leading up to Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017 and beyond.

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Buford Jones: “They bake the cake and I serve it”

Buford Jones is an award winning audio engineer from Texas. For the past 37 years he has been sound mixing live shows for some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry- David Bowie, Pink Floyd, George Harrison, Eric Clapton and Prince to name a few. He has also worked at the famous Abbey Road recording studios in London. He was at The Banff Centre recently as guest faculty for the Meyer Sound Workshop. I asked him about the tricks of the trade.

Sound mixer Buford Jones spent three days here for the Meyer Sound Workshop. Photo:Meghan Krauss

What is the difference between being a studio sound mixer and a live sound mixer?

In the studio you’re in a controlled environment but on a live stage the acoustical environment is constantly changing. One day it can be very difficult to make things sound good and on another day it’s quite easy. That alone is a major challenge but it’s something you learn to cope with.

When some studio mixers go on the road they find it very disruptive not to have the sounds the way they are used to. The other thing with touring is that you only get one shot to get the sound right, but in the studio you rewind, go back and clean things up and keep cycling through it until we get it right. On the road it’s much more challenging. You get to do sound checks but on the road you’re lucky if you even get one sound check to prepare yourself for what’s going to happen in a live show.

David Bowie, Prince, Pink Floyd, Don Henley – you’ve worked with some big names. Who has been the most enjoyable artist to work with?

Linda Ronstadt. There are so many things I learned from that experience back in the 70’s. We first started working together in 1975 and through to 1980 when she toured. It was a step up for me and I was really learning a lot. I was still young and when I look back I think that’s where my whole career shaped itself.

How much time have you spent on the road?

After 37 solid years of touring I can think of only a three-month period not being on the road. For the first 10 years I think I was averaging nine months on the road, as things settled down it went down to maybe eight months and now I’d day I go on the road about three months of the year. It’s still enough travel enough to fill up five passports.

What keeps you going?

There’s something so special about doing a live show for 800 – 80,000 people; when all the elements come together it’s just priceless. You can’t describe it to family and friends you just have to be there. What keeps us driving is the inconsistency of it all because you’re always trying to get that amazing moment back. That’s the drive that keeps you going. I tried other areas of work but just keep coming back to the touring thing.

Can a live performance be greatly enhanced by the work of a sound engineer?

There’s some things that we can add to, to sweeten the cake, but I think when we overdo that we are taking away from the originality of it all. I remember in the mid 70’s I arrived in New York city and a cab driver asked me what I was doing in town and I told him I was in the live concert touring business, that I mix sound. And that I was mixing sound at that time for Linda Ronstadt. And he said, ‘ah,she bakes the cake and you serve it’. I’ve used that analogy ever since. In fact if I ever write a book that will be the name of it: ‘They Bake the Cake and I Serve It’.

Were there ever any major disasters during a live concert?

I don’t remember any show that didn’t come off on schedule but I do remember one show with David Bowie in France where the transformer ignited during the show and started a fireworks display. People in the audience just thought it was part of the show and started to cheer it on which was funny because it was actually a catastrophe.

What are the most important personal characteristics associated with being a live mixer?

A love for music is the number one. All the technical aspects are extremely important to understand and how to manipulate the equipment but it goes so way beyond that. I think that if you have a musical background it helps. I look at the musical console as an instrument. It’s your own way of playing a musical instrument. When you have that desire to play music and you collaborate with the artist you almost become like a band member. You have to understand musically what they are thinking and what they require. When you find that musical slot and you fit into it that’s when the true magic comes out.

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Around Banff: Hogarth Lakes Trail

Our photography workstudy, Meghan Krauss, spends a lot of time taking beautiful pictures in and around Banff, so we thought we’d share some of her stories and images with you.

The Hogarth Lakes Snowshoe Trail is a 4.5km loop along flat terrain through dense forest in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park and follows a route that includes great views of surrounding mountains from the shoreline of a series of frozen lakes. It’s a perfect trail for beginner snowshoe users, as avalanche gear is not a necessity. The trail starts at the Burstall day use area, which is about 41.5 km South of the Nordic Centre in Canmore along the Smith Dorrien/Spray Trail.

It was a weekend in early January that I headed out on the Hogarth Snowshoe Loop. There had been some fresh snowfall the week prior, so the snow was deep, which added to the quiet natural surroundings of the wooded trails.

After finishing the loop, we began the trip back to Banff. The Smith-Dorrien Spray Trail is a gravel-road that gives “backdoor” access to Peter Lougheed Provincial Park and Spray Lakes Provincial Park, for ice fishing, skating, skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, and boating. The drive is long, but has its own great views, such as this one of Mount Nestor.

While driving down the Smith-Dorrien Spray Trail in Spray Lakes Provincial Park, we spotted something moving out on the frozen lake. Pulling into the nearby parking lot, it became obvious that it was a group out on a local dog-sled tour. Along with a couple of ice fishers, we watched as the groups finished up their excursion.

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4:45 a.m.: Time to make the Danish

In her five years of 4.30 am starts at The Banff Centre, pastry cook Yaeko Hamazaki has never missed a day of work. If you’ve ever eaten a pastry, muffin, scone, Danish or freshly baked bread at The Banff Centre, more than likely it was Hamazaki who prepared it. We decided to see what a regular work day looks like for her, beginning when most of us are all still tucked up in bed asleep.

Nightfall at The Banff Centre.

3:30 a.m. – Rise n’ Shine! Hamazaki is up and ready for her work day.

4:30 a.m. – Under the cover of dark Hamazaki arrives at The Banff Centre and gets to work prepping croissants and Danish pastries for the day ahead. She then proofs them for 15 minutes (that means she lets them rise).



Hamazaki proofs croissants and Danish pastries.

4:45 a.m. – She begins to bake croissants and Danish for the coming day.







The first batch of cupcakes.

5:30 a.m. – It’s non-stop in the kitchen despite it being a one-person team. In between preparing goodies for the coming day, Hamazaki starts the food preparation for Conferences. This can range from fruit platters to baked goods and sandwiches. Today she has 1200 cupcakes to ice.



Making delicious cheese bread.

6:00 a.m. – 8:00 a.m. – She prepares and bakes all the breads for The Banff Centre – Tuscany and grainy loaves, ciabatta, baguettes, and buns.

8:00 a.m. – It’s almost lunch time for Hamazaki, and the start of the work day for some of her colleagues.







Cookies and treats for Conference guests.

9:00 -10:00 a.m. – She starts to prepare cookies and afternoon snacks (usually fruit squares and cookies) for MacLab and Conference guests. Today it’s a mix of assorted cookies and cupcakes.





Happy to be baking!

11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. – She sets to work preparing for the following day’s events. At her busiest times during the year (Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival and the Midsummer Ball) Hamazaki can spend two days making 1200 cookies and muffins, carrot cake, and oatmeal slices.



Job well done! Hamazaki heads home.

12 p.m. – One hour left before home time! Time to clean up and make last-minute amendments to tomorrow’s orders.

1 p.m. – It’s a wrap! As most people are taking their lunch break, it’s time for our hard-working pastry cook to hit the road.

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