The Ever-Deeper Gratitude of Lori-Ann Speed
Battling breast cancer renews Deep Cove musician's
commitment to her Muse.
By Trevor Carolan for The Outlook, December 8, 2000
John Lennon reckoned that life is what happens to us while we're busy
making other plans. For Deep Cove pianist and composer Lori-Ann Speed,
the full reality of Lennon's insight came crashing down less than three
Raised near Shuswap, Speed's impressive arrival on the West Coast music
scene always had a made-for-TV movie quality about it. Learning piano
at an early age, she gained a music degree at UBC before training in France
to compose for films back home in Canada. Then a flock of feature performing
gigs at the posher Vancouver hotels dovetailed with the highlife as she
worked as a ski instructor on the slopes of Whistler-Blackcomb. Amid all
this she recorded a pair of albums, establishing the fact that she really
was an artist who knew how to play.
Add a near-brush with an Academy Award, a daughter who arrived en route,
a growing reputation as a community supporter in the Cove, and then -
the phone rang one February evening.
"I remember the moment like yesterday," Speed recalls. "My knees became
weak; I felt stunned - a breast cancer diagnosis."
We are talking together above Burrard Inlet on a brilliant December morning.
Speed looks toward the immensity of Mount Seymour and relates how she
began her inner search.
"I sensed that my life was over as I'd known it," she says. "So I took
the cancer as a big red flag of imbalance on the physical, spiritual and
emotional levels. In order to come to an understanding of its message,
1 knew I had a journey ahead of' me - a pilgrimage to the deepest parts
Her cathartic experience strengthened and deepened Speed as a human being.
The cancer, she explains, ultimately led her back to herself.
The illness is trying to get our attention," she says. "We can have a
dialogue with this part of us that's ill and learn from it."
Speed sought grounding in her wounded body. A year previous she had followed
her young daughter into the practice of Tae Kwon Do. She gave herself
a goal - to earn a coveted black belt.
"On a certain level I like working away at something where there's a
tangible result to show for it," she explains. "Sticking to a commitment
is a good metaphor for life and Tae Kwon Do is ideal for helping us see
the places where we've tended to quit on ourselves in the past - where
we've wavered in our life.
"That's the 'art' of the martial arts."
Working through endless hours of treatments, Speed also renewed her commitment
to music, a thing that had become a diminished presence in her life.
"I came to see that wellness comes from following your heart's desire,"
she says with a smile. "That's a common theme among cancer survivors -
following your bliss, whether it's moving to the country or the city,
or getting married or unmarried, whatever. I decided the best possible
medicine was my own music, and much of my first new album in five years
comes from the whole process of this cancer business."
Speed got her musician's chops back. Three months before recording her
remarkable In the Wake of a Whisper, she performed in concert at Christ
Church cathedral. Steadily, the return to her Muse brought Speed back
"Working with music became a constant reminder
to trust in myself, and ultimately in a higher
power," she says with conviction. "It showed
me that in the midst of all this chaos there's
a place of real quietness and certainty. And
knowing that 1 had to walk through that doorway
- well, that became my mantra.
"Creating something of beauty is very therapeutic!"
Her getting well again shows all over In
the Wake of a Whisper. Exquisitely recorded
with lush orchestral overtones at UBC's acclaimed
Chan Centre, Speed's bravura work at the Steinway
Grand packs a lyric triumphancy that cuts across
traditional genres like a glistening pianissimo
stairway. Sparkling classical technique marries
North Shore soundscapes with just a taste of
nightclub jazz that's flavoured with all the
soulful richness of the Beatles and the simple
magic of the laughing Buddha. One listening
tells you this is soulful stuff, an adult contemplative
music for counting your blessings to.
Could any artist ask for more?
"When I consider the alternatives, I don't think so," Speed laughs. "As
an artist, finally finding your own voice is what it's all about, whatever
payment we might have to make. Can we be reminded often enough of how
important it is to know gratitude?"
Trevor Carolan is a Deep Cove-based writer.