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
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