With her new album recently released, singer-songwriter, Jane Lewis shares how she found her voice—and is helping others find their own.
The chapel light travels warmly along the pews, coming to rest on the rich curves of the piano. A woman sits at its keys. She’s slight, fair, her face framed by a riot of silver curls. Her eyes are closed, fingers moving deftly along the instrument as she sings, softly at first, then with increasing emotion: “Here we are at the end, here we are, no regrets, just gotta take that one last step off the edge.” Above her, the stained-glass beckons, a reminder of things beyond the chapel space.
The singer in the video is Jane Lewis ’90, and the song, Carry You Home, is dedicated to her late father, Paul, a teacher, coach and historian whose name many Ridleians will recognize. For the daughter of two long-time faculty members—her mother, Janet was the first housemaster of Dean’s house the year girls started boarding and eventual Assistant Head of Upper School—it was the perfect place to be. “I started writing it when he was sick, and we knew his time was limited,” Jane responds, when asked about the song. “It was really special to be able to film it in the chapel.”
The girl who once wrote poetry and was one of Ridley’s first environmental activists is now a musician based in Guelph, Ontario. Her passionate vocals and piano accompaniment have been compared to legendary singer Carole King, her songs described as “intelligent, poetic and cinematic.” (You’ll want to get to know her playful Beatles cover of Come Together—it won the Independent Music Award for Best Cover Song in 2015.)
“It might not be the way you initially imagined, but if you have a passion for something, if it’s authentic to you, you’ll find a way to manifest it.”
Speaking to her, it’s easy to see why. She’s thoughtful, reflective, empathetic—and if you read through the yearbooks, you’ll see that early writer’s voice slowly take shape; listen to her lyrics now and you’ll still find those echoes. It’s unsurprising that she finds inspiration in confessional songwriters like James Taylor and Joni Mitchell, and perhaps even less so when she says she’ll often choose silence, as it gives space for the ideas to come. When she’s not busy writing, singing solo, or teaching vocals in the popular workshops she runs, Jane is half of award-winning folk duo Gathering Sparks. Their compelling new album, All That’s Real was just released this fall.
For Jane, the road to music was a winding one. A philosophy major in university, she was already working in publishing when the opportunities to perform started popping up. And, by 2009, Jane found herself wandering a different, surprisingly natural path—“a decision that came out of what was already happening,” she eloquently puts it.
As someone who herself was at first shy to perform, Jane kept hearing from people who wished they could sing. She soon realized she could fill a need. “If you don’t go to church or aren’t a musician yourself, if you don’t have a family that sits around the piano, then where’s your outlet for singing?” she asks.
Jane founded All Together Now, a singing workshop series in Guelph. There’s no pressure to attend, no public performance; it’s simply about being in the moment, about embodying music. “It can be a powerful thing to get in touch with your voice, or the reason you’ve felt blocked,” she says. “But to share your authentic voice as a human being can be an act of courage. That really motivated me.” For some, these workshops have become a place where they learn to use that voice; for others, it’s a place to stop in and just let it all out. “I’ve had people say this is better than therapy,” she laughs. “And cheaper.”
Jane is also co-founder of the Women’s Music Weekend, an annual retreat where women of all musical abilities can perform in a supportive, inclusive community. There are powerful moments at these events, moments where a woman gains confidence, where she feels brave enough to step out front and sing on her own.
“It can be a powerful thing to get in touch with your voice, or the reason you’ve felt blocked. But to share your authentic voice as a human being can be an act of courage.”
The Women’s Music Weekend also has a bursary programme, now in its third season, where women can apply for financial aid. Having herself received assistance for a workshop she’d once found challenging to attend, the musician quickly saw an opportunity to pay it forward. “That definitely ties back to my time at Ridley,” she recognizes. “The motto, ‘may I be consumed in service’—that’s important.”
Ridley feels those ties pulling right back. Last year, Gathering Sparks performed as part of an artistic lineup at the Toronto Branch Reception at the AGO. “It was a celebration of the arts,” remembers Jane, “and felt like a recognition that this is an important career path a lot of people are taking.”
When asked what advice she has for Ridley’s budding musicians, she takes a moment to reflect. On where she came from. On the work she puts in now. On the new album that’s taken years to come together—and the recognition that’s already trickling in. “It might not be the way you initially imagined,” she muses, “but if you have a passion for something, if it’s authentic to you, you’ll find a way to manifest it.”
And, if she’s learned anything, it’s that you never know what’s next. Looking back at the road which led her to this point, in some ways not where she thought she’d be, in others right back here at home, Jane seems content.
“Maybe the road is still winding.”
This article was printed in the latest issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from our winter issue.