'Grief is not all bad': B.C. composer channels emotions during COVID-19 pandemic into personal song writing
Published Monday, September 21, 2020 9:31AM PDT Last Updated Monday, September 21, 2020 1:26PM PDT
VANCOUVER -- With the music industry struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic, artists have had to find creative ways to share their work. For B.C. musician Hamish Thomson, that has meant turning his personal tragedy into art.
Ever year, the composer, who has been active part of Vancouver's music industry for decades, visits West Vancouver's Whiteclyff Park on the same day to go for a swim.
"I often come here on the anniversary of when my son passed," he told CTV News Vancouver.
But this year, nature had a surprise for him.
"I hopped out and immediately smelled this decaying smell and heard this blowhole noise, and I turned around and three feet from me is this killer whale," he said.
"I was like, 'show me a sign' and OK, here's an orca."
Inspired by the rare encounter, Thomson went directly to his music studio and recorded a song.
It's not the first time the composer's used music to process his experiences – both positive and negative.
In the span of 10 years, Thomson lost his mother, his father and his son, who died suddenly at the age of 14.
"I'm grateful that I have music to dive into, because I don’t necessarily journal with words, but I journal with music."
Thomson, a drummer, is best known for his work with Big Tall Garden during the 90s, releasing three albums and touring. He eventually founded his own music project, called the Hermit, and secured a record deal. He then went on tour and released another three albums.
But after having worked a day job for 14 years, Thomson pursued his dream of working on film scores and was hired by filmmaker and friend David Ray to compose the music for one of his productions.
The experience Thomson had was transformative. The independent film, along with Thomson's score, achieved critical success, and planted the seeds for the future. Unbeknownst to Thomson, director and producer Martin Wood pitched the film's score for a television series he was working on.
"I didn’t realize this, but he was putting me up for the job of composer for this new TV series," Thomson said. "The network said yes, and I didn't know this."
But the news came hours after his son's death.
"I'm in children’s hospital in shock with my family and trying to understand what was up, what was down," he said, recalling the time he got the call that he was chosen to compose for the series, "Chesapeake Shores."
Even though he was torn between grief and a new opportunity, Thomson signed the contract. Two weeks later, he was back at his studio.
"I pressed play and started seeing the scenes come at me, something shifted and I just felt things channeling through me," he said.
The next four years were like a whirlwind for Thomson, scoring four more seasons of "Chesapeake Shores," working on more than 45 movies and winning a Leo for his work. He also worked on "Operation Christmas Drop," a Netflix movie that involved working with an orchestra in Budapest over Skype.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, his work, like many others' in the film industry, stalled. Instead, he was inspired to write music for himself.
"I heard my voice and it changed," he said. "My voice was different and it was like something had been ripped and it was OK to be raw and emotional and just let it out."
Now, this new song inspired by his experience at Whiteclyff Park is an encouraging sign for the road ahead.
"I've come to understand that my intimate relationship with grief is not all bad. It's rich and beautiful on the dark side, as well as the beautiful bright memories. It all needs to be together to fuel each other," Thomson said.
"I know when I feel sad, that the sadness is coming from love, because I love them so much. Grief is with me forever and it’s a never-ending love story."