This reflection was written by Soundfly alumna Sophie Guay, a Canadian singer and songwriter known for her work in Cirque Du Soleil’s Kurios, and details her experience working with a mentor throughout recent Soundfly course and mentorship sessions.
By Sophie Guay
For the past two years, while singing under the marquee of Cirque Du Soleil, eight to ten performances per week, I’ve been committed to deepening my music studies with Soundfly. I completed several online courses, such as Unlocking the Emotional Power of Chords, The Creative Power of Advance Harmony, The New Songwriter’s Workshop, and a customized mentorship session with Sırma to work on my songwriting skills.
Before subscribing to Soundfly, I had never written a single song.
Sırma helped me to push my boundaries, and she guided me to new worlds of possibilities with her outstanding musical knowledge. And because she customized both the course content and our mentorship sessions according to my specific needs, we were able to continue working together remotely via email and video conferencing even with my busy tour schedule. Whenever I had doubts, or was experiencing creative blockage, she would always be there to give advice and help me accomplish what I was aiming to with the harmony or the lyrics of my songs.
So recently, when I was asked to collaborate on Cirque Du Soleil’s “Strength In Unity” piece, by fellow Cirque musicians and cohorts, I felt confident and ready, and that I knew I had the right set of tools to execute my contribution.
On that note, if you haven’t yet seen the viral video for “Strength In Unity,” check it out:
Strength In Unity is a collective of 15 musicians from all around the world, who regularly contribute to Cirque Du Soleil. When the COVID-19 crisis left us unemployed, we all came together to create an original song with a message of hope to help both our fellow Cirque employees and everyone out there get through this difficult time.
“What I loved most about this experience was being able to connect with these humans and that I can now call them friends. Although we work for the same company, we didn’t know each other before, so that’s what I value the most.” – Omar Martinez (composer & trumpet player, Puerto Rico)
Omar Martinez, trumpeter on Luzia by Cirque Du Soleil, came up with the initial idea seed. Martinez contacted singer Majo Cornejo, who eventually contacted me along with five other Cirque singers to see if we were interested in collaborating on the piece. Then eight musicians were added from different Cirque shows around the world, to lend their musical talent and ingenuity to the project. Little did we know, but this was turning out to be an enormous project, and everyone brought the same level of excitement and passion!
Once we hashed out the basic ideas, we started a group chat where we could exchange ideas with all participating artists across ten different countries. Omar then sent us all a Dropbox folder where he uploaded his first draft of the music; next, Virginia Alves, singer on Alegria, recorded a vocal guide for the melody and started drafting some lyrics.
The piece begins in the key of C minor, pursuing a solemn mood to start (this song is about our quarantined isolation after all!). Then the key changes to E♭ Major, the relative major of C minor, and this is done to change the mood towards a more hopeful ending — alongside the lyrics. The main idea here was to create a song with an anthemic vibe, but to introduce the feeling of struggle at the beginning and finish with a hopeful, strong, and united conclusion.
The song structure is:
Intro – Verse 1 – Verse 2 – Verse 3 – Verse 4 – Interlude – Chorus X2 – Outro
The intro is open and not locked into a tempo; we hear ethnic sounds made from instruments such as the duduk and didgeridoo. Voices are then added to further infuse this “tribal” soundscape. With each verse that comes in (and there are many!), various instruments are then brought in to accentuate these colors and intensity. When we reach the key change, the mood changes with it, and we end with the final chorus and outro.
Each and every singer wrote their verse in their native language, and it isn’t until the final chorus that we all join together — in keeping with the theme of the song.
Viginia Alvez, from Spain, initiated the main lyrical theme and the melody, and shares her first verse with the soulful Mexican singer, Majo Cornejo. Lari Finocchiaro and Julia Tazie, both from Brazil, wrote their second verse in Portuguese — their soft, bossa nova influence transporting us quietly to São Paulo. I appear in the third verse singing in French, which brings the listener back up north to Quebec (where I’m from); and I’m accompanied by the pure, snowy Finnish vocals of Camilla Bäckmann. The fourth verse is sung in English by powerhouse, Destani Wolf, from California.
Everyone recorded remotely using our own equipment. And this is really where my lessons with Sırma came in handy. I recorded my vocals using Ableton Live and an Audio Technica 4033A condenser microphone, which can have a bite around the 3kHz range, so I EQed my dry vocals and sent the raw WAV files to Omar as well as Gerard Porqueres, who mixed and mastered all 75 channels!
“Strength In Unity” does not only speak to the world on the issue of the pandemic but it also speaks to the worldwide movement of social justice, equality and hope. The lyrics state how we got strong in life, confident, thinking it would never change. We fast enough realized that nothing is guaranteed and learn to be humble, appreciate what we have and all the small windows. Working together, in unity, to achieve beautiful changes!
“Our unity is our strength and diversity is our power!”
Here’s a full list of all of the musicians and singers who contributed to the song:
- OMAR MARTINEZ (Puerto Rico | show: Luzia) – Composition/arrangement, production, piano, keyboards, trumpet
- VIRGINIA ALVÉS (Spain | Alegría) – Lyrics and melody writing, vocals
- MAJO CORNEJO (Mexico | Luzia) – Vocals
- JULIA TAZIE (Brazil | Joyà) – Lyrics, vocals
- LARI FINOCCHIARO (Brazil | Ovo) – Lyrics, vocals
- CAMILLA BÄCKMAN (Finland | Volta) – Lyrics, vocals
- SOPHIE GUAY (Canada | Kurios) – Lyrics, vocals
- DESTANI WOLF (USA | Bazzar) – Lyrics, vocals
- CARLOS LOPEZ (USA | Mystère) – Percussion
- YILMER VIVAS (Venezuela | Luzia) – Drums, Venezuelan cuatro, maracas
- LESTER PAREDES (Venezuela | Bazzar) – Tenor sax, acoustic guitar, oud, duduk
- KEVIN JOHNSON (USA | Kooza) – Trumpet, didgeridoo, electric guitar
- SARA FORMOSO FÁBREGAS (SPAIN | Alegría) – Accordion
- STEVEN BISHOP (Australia | Bazzar) – Trombone
- JUAN PAVAS (Colombia | Luzia) – Tuba
- GERARD PORQUERES (Spain | Luzia) – Mixing
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