An Interview with Singer Songwriter Kelly Kancyr
by Staff writer L.M. Browning
The first time I saw Kelly Kancyr play was at the Greenwich Art Festival on the lawn of the Bruce Art Museum in Connecticut. It was a crisp October day. I sat off to myself jotting down a few reflections in a moleskin journal as I listened to her strum through covers of Edie Brickell, The Sundays, and a few of her own original offerings. My cellphone went off and signaled me about an urgent business matter. In an instant I was pulled away from the bright autumn afternoon, the melody of the music faded, and I was sucked into the digital vacuum of work. However, as I talked on my phone, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something very special happening and I was pulled back into the present. A little girl who couldn’t have been more than 8-years-old pulled a folding chair up along the tent under which Kelly was playing and there—legs swinging back and forth under her chair—sat and listened to the entire set. After which, Kelly stopped and gave the little girl the pearl-finished pick with which she had played the day’s tunes. In the weeks and months since this event, I’ve become friends with Kelly and seen time and time again that children and adults alike gravitate towards her deep warmth and love, music always being at the door through which she enters her community.
Leslie: When you play shows such as the Greenwich Art Show, I saw you give out a pick to a little girl. What is the significance behind that gesture?
Kelly: Well, when I see little kids at my shows, especially little girls, listening to me it is important for me to plant a little seed of encouragement in them for later in life. I didn’t have a lot of women guitarists to look up to when I was younger. So, when I see a little girl listening to me and interested in what I do, I like to give them a pick as a little seed, and I hope that one Christmas or birthday her mom will buy her the guitar to go with that pick.
Leslie: Has the significance of music changed in your life since you’ve gotten older?
Kelly: When I was younger I was wrapped up in teenage angst and was strongly moved by the bands I listened to and I think those feelings made me want to be a musician. I wanted to be a role model and connect to others through my lyrics so I became interested in writing and performing. But at this point music’s significance changed because you go through life and so many things happen to you and music’s place changes. …I lost my close friend and drummer unexpectedly a few years ago. He took his own life. That certainly made music bittersweet. For a long time I wasn’t writing or performing. Now, at this point, I am trying to give back and teach. Music, for me, at this point in my life, is something that I want to pass on.
Leslie: You do a great deal of work with causes suicide prevention, cancer research, animal shelters, playing for group homes for those individuals who suffer from developmental challenges. Doing these charity gigs on top of your full-time job denotes heart and commitment. What compels you to take on all those shows unpaid, atop your other commitments. Where is your passion for doing these shows rooted?
Kelly: At the end of the day, I don’t have a lot of money to donate to these causes but I can perform and potentially help raise more money than I’d ever be able to give. My time is all I have. I can donate that. It’s nothing for me to go and play for an hour for a cause I believe in. Volunteering, I believe, is part of being a good citizen. We each have to give back.
Leslie: So many artists can’t make a living off their passion. In addition to your musical pursuits, you have a full-time job. Tell us a little about what you do.
Kelly: I manage a day program for adults with disabilities for The Kennedy Center in Connecticut. We organize field trips, volunteer programs, and activities.
Leslie: Are you able to integrate music therapy into the program?
Kelly: I am able to play music for them. I brought in my electric guitar and wah wah pedal and everyone loved it. Even members of the staff were playing it. I also was able to get a famous drummer to donate his time as an intern to the center. With him, we had “jam sessions” and drumming circles. So, yes, I am able to integrate a lot of music into my job and I am grateful for that. I love sharing the joy of music with the people I work with.
Leslie: Before you managed the day program, you worked as a teacher for 15 years?
Kelly: I was a teacher for nearly 20 years. I taught in an afterschool program and a music program for preschool-aged children. We would make instruments and it was really fun because I saw so many of the children go on to become musicians and actors and really find a passion for the arts all because of the little music program I lead. I think it is a great way to instill confidence in children who maybe aren’t into academics or sports, who don’t know what they are good at but they find that they are good at music and you see their confidence grow and carry them into their adult lives.
Leslie: Lastly, how can our readers follow you?
L.M. Browning is the author of nine books. In 2010, she debuted with a three-title contemplative poetry series. These three books went on to garner several accolades including a total of three pushcart-prize nominations, the Nautilus Gold Medal for Poetry and Forward Reviews’ Book of the Year Award. Balancing her passion for writing with her love of learning, Browning sits on the Board of Directors for the Independent Book Publishers’ Association and the Art’s Cafe Mystic, she is a graduate of the University of London, and a Fellow with the International League of Conservation Writers. She is partner at Hiraeth Press as well as Founder and Editor-in-Chief ofThe Wayfarer. She is currently working to complete a degree at Harvard University’s Extension School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Visit www.lmbrowning.comby