Changing jobs mid-life is risky, but for award-winning family entertainer Charlotte Diamond, it was worth the gamble. "I was bitten by the [performance] bug," she says. "It started when my kids were very young. I offered a preschool music class, just with friends, and then got really involved doing music for children when mine were in preschool."
Formerly a junior and senior high school teacher who taught French, sciences and music, Charlotte felt the itch to perform early on. While teaching at New Westminster Secondary School, she had the opportunity to be the choral director for productions of *Fiddler on the Roof*, *Show Boat* and *Oliver*, put on by the school and the Royal City Players.
"I loved teaching and even played some of the roles," says Charlotte. "So, there, I was doing the coaching, conducting out front, and yet I knew there were times when I wanted to be the performer as well."
Rather than quit teaching, Charlotte sang in a folk group, which performed throughout the Lower Mainland, but soon found this was not the right answer. "I realized since most of my time was spent teaching music and French, it was really difficult on my voice," says Charlotte. "It's odd - you just can't speak all day, particularly in a foreign language where you use lots of emphasis, and then expect to be able to sing all night."
In 1983, Charlotte began teaching only part-time at an alternative school she found enticing because of its music curriculum. "I was really interested because they were being very experimental - taking songs from, say, *A Chorus Line*, changing the words and creating things that were very relevant to the teenagers I was working with," she says. "I loved it, and I got a taste of writing. So, that year, I gave up teaching and said, 'Okay, I'm going to throw my hat in the ring.'"
Charlotte quickly realized her niche was performing for children. "I found in the area of children's music, I could bring to it all the things I had done with my high school kids - involving music and singing with literacy," she says. "And there was just no limit to the styles of music I could introduce."
Still performing for children and preschools, Charlotte formed her own band and, in 1985, recorded her first album, *10 Carrot Diamond*. "We were still doing LPs at that time," she says.
Charlotte released her first recording as an independent artist; taking responsibility for all costs, and still runs her company in-house. "Being independent is always much more costly for the artist. So, I took out my teacher's pension, which was something like $25,000, and invested it in my first recording."
The album propelled Charlotte into the limelight, winning the 1986 Juno Award for best children's album, the prestigious American Library Association Award, Parents' Choice Award, and the album went gold. "I just poured my heart and soul into it and I think that's why it did so well," she says.
Charlotte says the awards and recognition helped her realize she had made the right career move. "I had very little experience in it. So [winning] validated all the hard work and spurred on the 12 other recordings that have followed."
Looking back at almost 25 years of doing what she loves, Charlotte, now 63, realizes how fast time has gone. "It has been a whirlwind, but I've reminded myself each step of the way that you have to celebrate what you've achieved," she says. "You don't always know what the next step is, but enjoy what you have accomplished."
Charlotte grew up in North Burnaby, moving to North Delta when she was in Grade 6. After high school, she attended the University of British Columbia, graduating with a degree in secondary education with majors in biology and French.
Having a French-speaking aunt and uncle in the Okanagan, Charlotte grew up hearing the language and remembers trying to speak it when she was young. "I used to sit in front of the mirror and do commercials in what I thought was French," she says. "I think it was the music I had heard in French, the old folk songs, that really captured me. So, when I was teaching, I constantly used music in my French classes."
Charlotte has three recordings in French and two in Spanish. Her latest CD in Spanish, *Todo el Mundo Come Banana!* [All the Nations Like Banana] won the Parents' Choice Award and National Parenting Publications Award for 2007.
As with every stage of her life, Charlotte says she tries to approach getting older with the same appreciation and wonder she infuses into her music. "I think I went through that phase where I really felt sad, because every single one of us is going to lose some of our skills and abilities. For me, I have glaucoma, so my eyes have weakened, but we need to celebrate what we have."
Being a woman and a senior is not easy, says Charlotte. "I think life throws some whammies at us from 50-on," she says. "I got a great statement from my girlfriend about age, she said, 'we have deeper and richer colours when we are over 50. We just shine and glow in a different way with wisdom.'"
Charlotte believes, with age, she has become more moved and appreciative of friends, family and co-workers. She and her husband, Harry, have lived in Richmond for more than 30 years, and raised two sons. Harry was a commercial salmon fisherman for 20 years, but now manages her career and record company. Charlotte believes the birth of her first grandchild, William, in 2007, has inspired her to write new songs.
"There's a timelessness to many of the songs I've written. But I've recently thought, 'Okay, I'll write about what I'm going through at this age." And so, I wrote songs that I think will become a family CD," says Charlotte. "I think it will be really valuable to parents, children and grandparents with songs like 'Don't Stumble on the Little Things.'"
While children and parents may feel they know Charlotte from her performances, tapes and CDs, she says people might be surprised to know a lot of her songs are the result of her own frustrations as a parent. "They come from writing out of a dark place. 'The Laundry Monster' came out of me being stuck with multiple loads of laundry when I had just gotten back from a tour and was exhausted," she says. "Of course, my husband had been taking care of the kids, so he hadn't done the laundry. I sat down and wrote that song in protest."
Just returning from concert tours in California and Ontario, Charlotte's performing schedule is busy, but she says she tries to stay balanced and take time for herself. "I get outdoors as often as I can and go for a walk. Getting out and being involved with nature and doing exercise, I think, is really crucial."
Charlotte also believes in the power of songs, singing and music to improve memory. "It helps us focus and helps our memory because it de-stresses us. You can't sing and not feel happy. It resonates within your body; there's a vibration," she says. "And you don't have to sing on tune. So, instead of thinking of all the things you should be doing, find a song, and sing it through the day."
For others facing mid-life career changes, Charlotte believes it is important to look at a new career as more than just a job, but as a place to grow and find where one's past experience can be beneficial. "Be true to who you are and when you go out seeking, you will be enthusiastic if it's a passion for you," she says. "We may have to jump through new hoops. We have to change with the times and sometimes that [is] painful."
Charlotte has seen the world change for parents and teachers working with children, but believes music is an important bridge. "[The world] has changed and it is sad, but I think what is important is for parents and children to spend quiet, reflective time together - and music should be a part of that," she says. "Try to build connections rather than separations."
She thinks grandparents have a lot to offer the younger generation. "We have to not be shy. You need to talk to your grandkids, and you need to talk to their parents," says Charlotte. "And with other grandparents, you need to commiserate. The world is changing. It has become so complex and so fast, but I know that my music is keeping me young."
JUNE 2009 SENIOR LIVING VANCOUVER
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