Sarah McLachlan among laureates of Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards

By Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press

TORONTO – Canadian chanteuse Sarah McLachlan was immersed in the arts as a child.

She says her school in Halifax had great music and arts programs. And her parents, noticing her creative and artistic abilities at an early age, enrolled her in private lessons.

Music and arts education helps to define a culture, says McLachlan, who hopes to make that point in her acceptance speech for her Governor General’s Performing Arts Award that was announced Thursday.

“(It’s) really important to keep fighting to have it in the schools and as a relevant thing in society,” McLachlan said in a telephone interview, noting she wants to stress “how important it is for kids to be able to learn and think creatively and how that forms the brain.”

“I think music and art are such great avenues for exploration, for discovering our place in the world and our connection with our own emotional centre and with other emotional worlds.”

McLachlan is one of five recipients of this year’s Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards for lifetime artistic achievement. The others are composer Walter Boudreau, filmmaker Atom Egoyan, actress Diana Leblanc and actor R.H. Thomson.

Filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallee is getting the National Arts Centre Award, and philanthropist Michael M. Koerner is the recipient of the Ramon John Hnatyshyn Award for Volunteerism.

Vancouver-based McLachlan doesn’t just know from her own personal experience how valuable music education can be.

She’s witnessed the influence of such education through her two daughters (ages 13 and 7) and her 13-year-old Sarah McLachlan School of Music, which offers a free after-school program for hundreds of at-risk and under-served youth in Vancouver.

“I think that music is such a beautiful bridge for people to hear and understand each other,” she said. “And it’s so imperative, even more so in this day and age when computers and technology are so prevalent in our society.”

McLachlan said she was feeling “amazing, thrilled, humbled, a little bit surprised” in advance of accepting her award.

“It’s a bit like when I got the Order of Canada. I feel like, ‘But I’m not done yet. Aren’t I supposed to get this when I’m 70?'” she added with a laugh.

At 47, McLachlan has already released eight studio albums (the latest being “Shine On”) and has won three Grammy Awards and nine Junos.

She said one of the things she’s most proud of is founding the Lilith Fair women’s music festival.

“When we did Lilith, it catapulted me and many other artists into a whole different spotlight. It was a case of strength in numbers. All of us together brought in so many more people.”

The festival also fulfilled her desire to be part of something bigger than herself and showed her “the power of people coming together and being part of something important,” she added.

“It wasn’t planned, which was part of what was so beautiful about it,” said McLachlan. “It wasn’t a preconceived: ‘We’re going to set out and we’re going to change the world and we’re going to create this big thing.’ It was like, ‘I think it would be really fun to play with a bunch of other women musicians. Why not?’

“Then when people dared to say, ‘Well, because you can’t,’ well, that certainly just adds fuel to the fire for me. It’s like, ‘You’re telling me I can’t do this? Why in the world not? You say people aren’t going to come because two women are playing on the same bill? It’s ridiculous.’

“And we certainly proved them wrong.”

The Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards were founded in 1992 and are given to Canadians whose accomplishments are deemed to have inspired and enriched the country.

A gala honouring this year’s recipients will be held at the National Arts Centre on May 30.

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