By Venta Ruthkauskas –
The Community Arts Council of Williams Lake is excited to present a day-long singing workshop with Pharis Romero on March 11.
There’s a little slice of heaven round the corner from here. A river dances through it, and all the birds gather there. A songbird makes her home, builds her nest, in the middle of it all. Voice smooth and bright, its gossamer tones wave in the wind, her calling card.
That little slice of heaven is really all about the music. It is the home of J. Romero Banjo Company, for one—the site of countless lawn or kitchen jams, and the birthplace of so many beloved tunes by Pharis and Jason Romero. The couple, and the large musical community they’re a part of, have infused it with a sweet sound and harmony.
So goes the sound, around and through generations, too. Observing her three-year-old daughter singsong her way through the day, Pharis realized she’s been doing the same thing since she was a girl. “Singing is just a part of my normal everyday life,” she affirms. For Pharis, to sing is a soulful magic that gets in touch with the deepest part of self. “You have no instrument to hide behind. It’s all up to you.”
Pharis grew up in a household full of music and began her vocal training when she was four years old. Her formal ‘classical’ training coincided with the daily life of her family practising and performing country music. The contrast offered her insight to the lighter side of performing and collaborating with a group, while building technique and discipline through the conservatory style—with an ex-nun-opera singer, no less! The classical training was thorough and rigorous, and eventually, in her late teens, Pharis moved away from it due to its competitive nature. “It was so competitive, a much tenser environment to be in,” she adds.
By this time, Pharis had moved to Victoria for university. While she pursued her biology major, she discovered song-writing courses she could take for credit, and became the “chick singer” in a number of cover bands doing Neil Young or Bob Dylan. “It was a lot of fun,” Pharis remembers, and it propelled her further into musical spheres around Victoria. Something really clicked into place with Outlaw Social, a rootsy five-piece band that saw Pharis dive into song-writing headlong. “The band gave me the confidence that I could move forward and bring music in to my life as a regular practice,” she recalls.
A decade later, and the Romeros have had an epic 2016. It brought the birth of their son, critical acclaim and the coveted Juno Award for “A Wanderer I’ll Stay” (their third release as a duo), and construction of their new home. Then, on an unforgettable summer night, The J. Romero Banjo Co. shop burned to the ground, taking with it all of their beloved instruments and so many more possessions stored inside, awaiting the house build. The heartbreak combined with a gratitude that all were safe, but no one is prepared to watch their livelihood go up in smoke. “I’d never wish what we went through on anyone,” Pharis reflects, “however, I would wish for people to feel how a community at large can have your back.”
Support for the Romeros came from all over, through physical labourers and childcare, fundraisers, and digital album sales.
“We’re so lucky to live in such an incredible community,” Pharis adds, feeling grateful and lucky to receive all the help and attention they’ve had. The family is now in their new home, the banjo building back on track, and Pharis is hitting her stride on a song-writing streak. She still draws from the well of the old-time folk tradition, perhaps a little less intensely than during the early years of her song-writing. “It’s the majority of what we listen to, but it was all-consuming when I was learning how to write my own songs in that style,” Pharis explains.
Juno or no Juno, Pharis approaches song-writing the same way she did a decade ago. “I’m more practiced at it now,” she says, “and I like more of the songs I’m writing.”
She finds inspiration in the outdoors quite often, discovering rhythms and lyric patterns through her movement.
For Pharis, singing is more than just an occupation; it is a way of life. She discovers ways to use it as a tool for personal expression, processing emotions, and deep relaxation. She describes the way her practice alerts her to all that she’s holding onto at any given moment, and helps her tune into the stuff that’s preventing her from finding her open voice. “All of the aspects of your life can really affect your singing,” she says, “so I’ve learned ways to relax and let go when I hear or feel that tension.”
Pharis promises to draw from a reservoir of techniques for her March 11 workshop with the CACWL Soundscapes Project at the Central Cariboo Arts Centre. “Everything from formal training to sitting in the kitchen singing,” she laughs. “I love teaching singing, and sharing the joy in the art of singing.” She notes that for her, music is done best with others. Her workshop will guide participants towards finding freedom in their voices, breath-work, projection, and range, while also developing the ability to sing well with others. Interested parties should contact Sharon Hoffman at 250-392-5671, or email firstname.lastname@example.org to register, as space is limited. Cost TBA.
May 2017 be oh-so-good to you, dear Romeros, so you keep weaving that magic we love so much.
Venta Rutkauskas is the co-ordinator for the Community Arts Council of Williams Lake (CACWL). She is an advocate and lover of the arts, and has taught drama and written plays for young children. She is also passionate about the healing arts. Visit www.williamslakecommunityartscouncil.com to learn more about CACWL and local artists.