Ann Mortifee: The Mystery of it All

By Hans Tammemagi


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Singer, songwriter, author and philosopher Ann Mortifee. Photo: Tallulah Photography

Singer, songwriter and author Ann Mortifee is fascinated by the mystery that permeates life. She always has been. Her beautifully photo-illustrated second book, In Love with the Mystery, sums it up well.

“I encourage readers to awaken more fully to the gifts in themselves,” she says, “and I provide solace and inspiration to all who revel in the mystery of life.” The book was internationally acclaimed, including a glowing reference by Oprah Winfrey.

Ann has a thoughtfully deep understanding of life. Not only is she poetic, but also a philosopher. She has studied meditation at an ashram in India, and is interested in Buddhism and Shamanism.

“All my life, I’ve been peeling away the layers,” she says, “trying to get at the enigma that lies below.”

In 2007, she narrated the Emmy Award-winning documentary Bhutan: Taking the Middle Road to Happiness. (Bhutan is the world’s only country that has a Gross Index of Happiness, which is considered in all government policies.)  

Seeing clearly through some of the mystical mist, she has led a bountiful life and aged well. “I love being older. We get wiser with age, and the world needs more elders,” says Ann, who is blessed with talent and energy, and has crammed her life with epic accomplishments. Now, approaching her 70th birthday, she hasn’t stalled one iota.

“I typically rise at five a.m. and do yoga, meditation and a long walk before settling into my work day, which runs from about nine a.m. to 4:30 p.m.,” she says.

Ann’s current project is a full-length musical, complete with choir, tentatively titled Remembering the Mystery, which will likely open in London, England. It’s based on an ancient Greek myth where Demeter, the beloved goddess of fertility and the earth, had a daughter named Persephone. When Persephone was abducted to the underworld, her mother’s grief wreaked havoc throughout the land.

“The myth’s complex themes of male/female power struggles, betrayal, grief, and devastation of the earth are as relevant in today’s world as they were in ancient times,” she says.

Ann’s life journey has criss-crossed the globe. Born in Durban, South Africa, she remembers, and was shaped by, the hostility of Apartheid. At age 10, she moved with her parents, brother and three sisters to Vancouver, and grew up on the west coast. Studying English at University of British Columbia, she graduated in 1968, which contributed, at least in part, to the prolific writing skills she later exhibited.

At the same time, she discovered her gift for music, which is formidable with a four-octave range and rich timbre. By age 17, Ann was singing folk and blues regularly in folk clubs. Her first big break came in 1967.

“The club manager insisted on driving me to an audition I didn’t even know about at the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre,” she says.

Good move! She wound up co-writing the score and playing the role of The Singer in The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, which recounts the difficult and ultimately tragic life of a young Indigenous woman in the city.

The play, one of the first to address issues relating to Indigenous peoples, was pivotal for Ann, who loves First Nations’ culture, and says, “We owe a terrible debt to Native people. Canada was formed on big brutality.” In 1971, she revised and performed the music of The Ecstasy of Rita Joe for a performance by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

Audiences are captivated by her rich, melodious voice and, even more, by her likeable and fascinating personality. That helps explain why she has received national and international recognition for her albums, concerts, musicals, scores for ballet, film, opera and TV. Her first solo album was recorded at the legendary Abbey Road Studios in London.

“It was such a thrill to record at the same studio as the Beatles,” she says.

Ann has so many accomplishments, they are difficult to enumerate. She has written lyrics and music for 320 original songs; recorded 10 albums; and written and acted in several one-woman shows, including the highly acclaimed Journey to Kairos. In 1991, she was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada. Despite her success, Ann has remained warm and friendly, always reaching out to people, always striving to resolve the mystery.

And in reaching out, Ann has encountered some very famous folks. She dated Pierre Trudeau and has met Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip three times.

“In 1983, I unwittingly caused a furore,” she says, “when I came direct from a rehearsal for a state dinner aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia in Vancouver. My yellow VW Beetle was quite noticeable among all the large, dark limousines.”

In quieter moments, Ann has always sought the deeper, inner meaning of life.

“In my first book, The Awakened Heart, Finding Harmony in a Changing World (co-authored with John Robbins), I explore balance, harmony and peace in the stress of modern life. Yes, I’ve gained some insights into the mystery, but I keep seeking.”

Today, Ann lives near Granville Island in Vancouver; she also spends time at her home on Cortes Island. To her delight, her 30-year-old son, Devon, and his wife have just welcomed her first grandchild. When people ask whether she’s slowing down now that she’s almost completed her seventh decade, she responds emphatically.

“No! I’m picking up speed. Fortunately, I’m blessed with being resilient and have a strong constitution. When I’m on Cortes Island, I chop wood for the winter.”

One of Ann’s ongoing commitments is designing and leading workshops about music and inner life. With her melodious voice, philosophical outlook and friendly personality, she is a natural facilitator and great at guiding people towards a connection with their innermost self. In fact, she just finished delivering two five-day seminars in New Zealand. As many attest, Ann is inspirational, instructive, and warmly informal. Her workshops are held internationally and often at Hollyhock Learning Centre on Cortes Island.

“This year I’ve been really going for music,” she says. “Just before my husband, Paul Horn [a jazz flautist and saxophonist, and an early pioneer of new-age music], passed away in 2014, we recorded an album, Beloved. I was just in San Francisco remixing it, and it’s an inch away from being finished. I very much miss Paul and, for him, I want *Beloved* to be perfect. It will be released in 2018.”

Ann’s writing is also going full-steam ahead. She has recently penned an illustrated children’s book, Pookie Poem, and is seeking a distributor. Part of her time is devoted to two adult books. One, with the working title *Beloved* is about love and how she and Paul Horn connected.

“It will explore the interface between thoughts, dreams, intentions and real life,” she says, “and will express my belief that you can attract what you dream. You really can, you know.”

The second book is about Africa, in which she describes her ongoing journey, including her early years witnessing Apartheid and her later interactions with an African healer and keeper of the ancient wisdoms and traditions of the Zulu nation. Some of these ideas are expressed in a musical she wrote earlier, Into the Heart of Sangoma.

If all this isn’t enough, Ann has also co-founded and is involved with two foundations: one for social innovation and one for the conservation of forests.

When asked about the future, she responds. “I take one step at a time, and don’t have long-term plans. I seize the opportunities that arise and follow them. Paul predicted that my 70th year would be very prolific,” she says, “and he was right.”

On November 30, her 70th birthday, Ann will sing at a concert at Christchurch Cathedral in Vancouver. This will be a symbolic and moving experience, for on her 20th birthday she sang in the same spot at midnight by candlelight. Ann Mortifee has come a long way during her last half-century; the mystery of life still fascinates her and continues to propel her forward.

Snapshot with Ann Mortifee
If you were to meet your 20-year-old self, what advice would you give her? 
AM: “I’d tell her not to take life so seriously. Don’t suffer needlessly. Don’t torture yourself. Stay in your own body and be true to yourself.”

What does courage mean to you?
AM: “Courage is being afraid, and then doing what you feel called to do anyway.”

What does success mean to you?
AM: “Success, for me, is coming toward the end of life and being able to say I absolutely did my best, I gave it my all. It’s a good feeling.”

Who or what has influenced you the most and why?
AM: “What has influenced me the most is my love and passion for Nature and my fascination with the unseen energies that underlie the mystery of what this incredible creation is and who we are that journey through it. Our religions, myths and understandings are always fascinating, as is our growing understanding of the quantum universe. In other words, the mystery of it all.”

 

august 2017 INSPIRED senior living


ANN MORTIFEE - THE MAGIC OF SEVEN
7 Decades of Spirit in Story and Song with Ed Henderson (guitar), Bill Sample (keyboards), Finn Manniche (cello)

Thurs Nov 30th & Fri Dec 1
at 7:30 pm (doors at 7pm)
Christ Church Cathedral, 690 Burrard St., Vancouver

Tickets on sale Oct 1, online only, $40 + ticket charges
www.magic-of-seven.eventbrite.ca

 

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Comments

Showing 1 to 5 of 5 comments.

In the late 80's my sister took me to a one woman show on Granville Island. It was about a woman turning 40, which I was about to do that December. I was from Saskatoon and had never heard of Ann Mortifee. I was so taken by her, her humor, her wisdom and her incredible voice that I was changed forever by her that experience. I now live in Victoria and had the good fortune of actually giving Ann a hug when she performed at the Alix Goolden Theatre with the Gettin' Higher Choir. She is such a warm, open and totally present woman, I feel inspired and motivated to be the best I can be and live life to the fullest. Ann, bless you. May your life continue to be filled with laughter, love and all your heart desires. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Posted by Colleen Lieffers | September 1, 2017 Report Violation

It's next to impossible not to fall in love with Ann Mortifee. She is one of the most authentic, down-to-earth and warmest individuals anyone could have the pleasure to meet. Despite her accomplishments, Ann is without airs and is completely present to whoever is seeking to connect with her. I feel most fortunate to have had the great pleasure to have met both Ann and her husband Paul when they accepted my invitation to perform at the inaugural Creatively United for the Planet Earth Day Festival (www.creativelyunited.org) in 2012. At this year's sixth annual festival, Ann graciously collaborated on a forestry presentation. Her generous spirit, sage wisdom and talent was very much appreciated. A video of the event can be seen at http://bit.ly/2fwnQFa

Posted by Frances Litman | August 10, 2017 Report Violation

In the spring of 1980 I was honoured to have worked with Ann on her show called A Journey to Kairos, the television version for TVO of the stage show. I was the floor director at the time. I had seen the stage show with my wife and then was thrilled to find out I would be doing the taped show. I will never forget it as long as I live, because half way through the song Tiger Tiger, I looked over at the cameraman, Jim Borecki and tears were streaming down his face. I had no idea how he was able to focus. Then we did the song about the young boy who had died in the bombing in Beirut and the whole crew was in tears. It was so cathartic, that I decided to get out of Television because I knew I would never do another show (and I haven't) that would move me the way this did. I quit and my wife and I travelled because this is what her music made us want to do, and I have never regretted a single moment travelling since. We always wondered where Ann went, and I am so glad to now know she has thrived and continued to move the world ever since. I fell head over heels in love with her while doing the show....and I still feel the same way. What a great moment of joy it was to be part of such a project with someone as talented and loving as Ann.

Posted by Norman Coutts | August 7, 2017 Report Violation

I had the marvelous opportunity for work for your Dad at Mortifee Munshaw from January 1968 to October 1972. It remains the best loved job I had. One day I gave your Father a ride in one of the little volkswagons - he sat on the folded down rear seat (as the front passenger seat was removed to allow space for the photo delivery bags and suitcases). As he was a well built man and in his suit, I was honoured to be the driver that day. It is a cherished memory from my 21st year, I am now 71. He sat there and told me how his Son, your brother (who went on to become a Doctor) had the flu and he was worried about him. My own son was 3 at the time. He was so down to earth and treated his employees with dignity and respect. I also did the Bank run and carried large amounts of cash to deposit to the downtown banks. I missed the 40 year reunion, and phoned a few times to your Dad's home phone number over the years past. He answered the phone and was friendly and welcoming, yet I know he was way above my standing in life. To him, it did not matter, I was an ex-employee and was someone he knew. I met both yourself and one of your sisters, did not realize there were 3 sisters until now, after reading this article. I am so proud of the hard work that you have accomplished all of your life. I believe that your Dad is no longer with us, though I could be misinformed. He taught all of you so well. Sincerely, Loretta David

Posted by Loretta David | August 4, 2017 Report Violation

So glad to have read this article and I am so glad I met you in Vancouver at the UCW 55th Anniversary. Sandra Child

Posted by Sandra Child | August 4, 2017 Report Violation

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