A gift for creativity, a fierce passion for her art and a steely determination to succeed beat in the heart of the otherwise reserved Rosemarie Hurst. A late bloomer, she has enjoyed more success with her creative endeavours in the past decade than all the years leading up to it put together. At the same time, it is easy to see how her love for music, writing and photography developed from her keen interest from an early age.
“Music was my favourite class in kindergarten,” she says. “I still remember and can play a piece of music I learned when I was five years old. We sang, but we also had a big box of instruments. There was always a big fight over who would get to play the triangle, and I never got it, but I did learn about rhythm and beat using the other instruments.”
Born in Sussex, England, Rosemarie grew up in Norwich until moving to Toronto when she was eight. Music filled their home while Rosemarie and her sister grew up.
“When I lived in Norwich, we were in the country and I didn’t have many friends,” she recalls. “We had no television, but we would listen to Glenn Miller and jazz on the radio or the wind up record player. My sister and I would perform for my mother and some visitors, singing songs, doing acrobatics, and presenting it as a play. Our living room had a [pocket] door, which we used as curtains. I loved my childhood in England.”
Rosemarie did not love the next phase of her childhood in Ontario. Not only did she have to adjust to life in a new country and culture, people driving on the wrong side of the road, and the much colder winters, but also Rosemarie stood out and in elementary school that is not always a good thing.
“It was a hard thing for me to go through at such an early age,” she says of the transition. “I went from an all girls’ school where we wore uniforms to a school with both boys and girls, and people wore anything. It was difficult, but it has made me more compassionate today toward people who suffer from discrimination. I will always be a champion of the underdog.”
It was during that difficult time that Rosemarie turned to writing as an outlet to express her feelings. She wrote stories and poetry and has continued writing through the years, even when absorbed in other projects. Rosemarie recalls, “In high school, you were allowed to choose music but you had to have science and the arts first, and I didn’t have them yet, so I chose business. Not able to play music, I kept writing and got very good in my stories. I received encouragement from my teachers.”
One diversion Rosemarie pursued following high school was running a fan club. On a trip back to visit relatives in England, she stopped by the building that housed the company Brian Epstein ran. In addition to the Beatles, Brian managed a number of other acts, and Rosemarie wanted to be in charge of the fan club for Gerry and the Pacemakers, another Liverpool group.
“They told me it was taken already,” she says. “This was not like me because I was quite shy in those days, but somehow I managed to inquire if the Cilla Black fan club was still available. They gave it to me and I ran it until shortly after Brian died. I once took the bus from Toronto to New York to watch Cilla perform on the Ed Sullivan show. After seeing her perform, we were shown to her dressing room. She was surprised we had come all the way by bus and signed photos for us. It was a real thrill!”
Her love for music also showed when Rosemarie left school and worked at various jobs, including modelling, over the next several years. Her first purchase was a guitar.
“I just loved Joan Baez and wanted to be like her, even though I don’t sing as well as she does,” Rosemarie recalls. “I bought myself a big classical guitar and taught myself to play. I even wrote a few songs.”
Not satisfied with the types of work she was getting, Rosemarie went back to school to learn image consulting, which is all about dressing people and helping them learn their colours. “It was a lot of fun,” she says. “I did it in Ontario for 13 years. It was my favourite job because it involved helping people and allowed me to work by using my creative talents. I had a lot of success helping people learn how to present themselves and put forward their best appearance. When I came out to the coast, I tried to continue doing this by getting into the local music business, but I wound up having plenty of work one week and nothing at all the next.”
In 1997, Rosemarie needed a positive change in her life, so she decided to move to Vancouver. Intending to only stay for a six month sabbatical after selling her home and putting most of her belongings in storage, Rosemarie settled in the west end, bought an acoustic guitar and started taking guitar and singing classes at the West End Community Centre. “I met so many people right away and started making friends,” she says. “I just loved it there.”
The big break came in the form of a notice in the mail from the BC Festival of the Arts inviting songwriters to send in their material for a contest. “I really stepped out on a limb to try it because normally I would not try anything like that,” says Rosemarie. “I did a little homemade tape and sent it in with my application form. There were only 14 winners out of more than 100 applications, so I was really shocked when they phoned me and told me I was in!”
Along with the other winners, Rosemarie attended a one-week workshop on songwriting and had to produce a song out of the sessions. At the end of the week, all the participants had to perform in front of 250 people, singing the new song they had created, plus one other. Though she had sung for some children along with a hand puppet at one festival, Rosemarie had never performed on stage in front of an audience prior to this evening.
“The show was on CBC radio on the program ‘North by Northwest.’ I was an absolute wreck,” says Rosemarie. “These people were all great songwriters. Some played the guitar, some the piano. I had to go on late, well after the intermission. It was very nerve-racking but I went over very well. It was the highlight of my life, for sure. I received so much tremendous feedback, I decided to go for it and make a CD.”
Her first CD, *Eyes of the Angels* features Rosemarie’s original songs headlining her on vocals, guitar and shakers, and the producer adding some guitar licks. While promoting that CD on her website, at open mics, local cable television shows and by word of mouth, Rosemarie also stayed busy with her photography.
She specializes in nature photography, but her biggest accomplishment involved two photos she took of Pauline Johnson’s cairn in Stanley Park.
“I took them back to Ontario and presented them to the Six Nations council,” she says. “They accepted them and have placed them in a trophy case in her house near Brantford. This is the highlight of my life as I am a big fan of her and her poetry.”
In fact, her next project is a CD dedicated to Pauline Johnson, featuring Rosemarie’s music and Pauline Johnson’s poems. The working title is *The Pauline Project*, though Rosemarie also likes, *Faithfully Yours*, which is how Pauline Johnson signed her letters.
In all of her creative endeavours, Rosemarie maintains that the process is the same. “When songwriting, I have a tape running and just doodle away on the guitar while some words come out. It’s kind of weird: the song just comes out of the blue. I get in a zone and think, ‘wow, that’s really great,’ but when I hear it the next day, it sometimes isn’t. Editing is important, but I have to keep the critic out whenever I am writing.”
The same holds true with her photography. “I just shoot what I feel,” says Rosemarie. “It is what comes into my brain at the time. I am happy and peaceful when it happens. You get in the zone and become oblivious of time and even skip meals.”
Rosemarie has recently suffered some health setbacks though she is well on the road to recovery. What she now realizes, however, is that there is no time like the present to work on all her projects. In addition to the Pauline Project, another CD and an upcoming nature photography exhibit in Ladner, she plans to learn how to play an electric guitar and a mandolin. With a laugh, she says, “I will also have to get a triangle one day.”
To find out more about Rosemarie’s projects check out myspace.com/rosemariehurst
MARCH 2010 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER AND LOWER MAINLAND
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