Sue Malcolm’s life is full of music. Since she was a child, brought up in a musical family, Sue has been singing and playing an instrument. She learned to sing while harmonizing in the school choir and listening to the Beatles. Both her mother and grandmother were singers, but she was the only family member who pursued music as a lifelong vocation.
During the ‘60s, when she was a 20-year-old single mother raising two children, Sue took up playing the guitar and became involved with the popular folk music scene. Later, she learned to play the banjo in the “frailing” style, popular with old-time mountain music. She’s been playing bluegrass music for 30 years, and helped found the Pacific Bluegrass and Heritage Society. Now, she conducts bluegrass workshops for the Society and teaches others how to play in her popular Slow Pitch Jam Workshops. Her workshops at the annual British Columbia Bluegrass Festival held at the Sorrento Centre, Shuswap Lake have attracted as many as 100 players at a time. She also teaches beginner adult guitar classes for the School Board Continuing Education programs.
Bluegrass may sound easy, she explains, but it’s a complicated three-chord structure, played fast with improvised solos and tight harmony. Sue is a master of this technique.
“I love motivating people and helping them discover how much fun it is to play music,” she says.
In addition to playing traditional bluegrass tunes, Sue also writes her own music. Her first solo CD *Highrise Lonesome* was recorded with some of her colleagues from the Sorrento Bluegrass Camp. Over the past 30 years, Sue has played with several different bands and her current group, Highrise Lonesome is composed of several original band members. They perform regularly at local venues.
An attractive, youthful woman with a vibrant personality, Sue spent her career in counselling, as a youth worker with inner city troubled teens. She found music was a successful way of reaching the kids. Using her counselling skills, she introduced a novel concept in the schools in 1995 with her “Buddy System” program. She and her partner Paul Norton formed the West Coast Violence Prevention Society, a non-profit society that did fundraising to support this program, using music to teach children, Kindergarten to Grade 3 how to get in touch with their feelings.
“I created the program based on the curriculum taught in schools as it is meant to support this curriculum,” she says. She used children’s songs she wrote such as “Take a Deep Breath” to teach children how to calm down and control their anger. She hopes to continue this very successful program in the coming year, performing in solo classroom presentations.
Sue has also used her music as therapy by playing at the Crossroads Hospice in Port Moody where she eventually worked full time as co-ordinator of the bereavement program. Working here made her realize the importance of following dreams while there’s still the chance.
In spite of having retired two years ago at the age of 61, Sue is as busy as ever. Besides performing, writing and recording music, she co-hosts “In the Pines,” a radio show on CoOp Radio. She also enjoys visual arts and hopes she’ll have time in her busy music schedule to start painting again. She is actively involved in exercise programs, yoga and cycling. In 2009 and 2010, she did the 220km-ride from Vancouver to Seattle, raising $6,000 for cancer research in the Ride to Conquer Cancer, in memory of her mother and brother who both died of the disease. Her future plans include volunteering at the Vancouver Cancer Agency, bringing her music to the palliative ward as well as to patients undergoing chemotherapy who must spend long hours in the chair.
“Everything I do I seem to gravitate toward a community development focus,” says Sue. “I really enjoy getting people together and helping to inspire them to do things together, whether at a workshop or camp, band or night school class. I think music makes the world a better place.”
For more information, visit Sue Malcolm’s website: www.suemalcolm.com
FEBRUARY 2011 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER & LOWER MAINLAND
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