For decades, musicians have honed their skills at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. But music program manager Allison Brock saw a gap in the offerings to date.

    Audio produced by Laura Stewart.

“The history of the Banff Centre in classical music is huge,” she says. “They have an incredible jazz program that they’ve had going for 40 years that was started by [the internationally renowned Canadian pianist] Oscar Peterson.” However, Brock explains that there is nothing specific for singer-songwriters at the moment and for this reason the centre is planning to premiere a residency specifically for these artists next March.

BODY MG 4603Inspiring natural landscapes are the backdrop to almost any angle of view at the Banff Centre. Photo by Laura Stewart.

Participants will live at the Banff mountain campus for 12 days, working on their songs, drawing inspiration from the surroundings and learning from five recognized songwriters. These mentors have written famous songs, had hits recorded by others and earned several major awards.

Among the professionals in the program there is Matraca Berg, who co-wrote “Strawberry Wine,” originally recorded by Deana Carter. The hit won Song of the Year at the Country Music Association awards in 1997.

Along with Berg, lead vocalist and bassist of Canadian country band Prairie Oyster Russell deCarle will be also one of the mentors in the program.

deCarle wrote and co-wrote many successful songs for his band, including two that won awards from the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada – the performing rights organization for Canadian music creators.

Two other mentors earned recognition in the music industry through the Grammy awards. Don Henry won in 1990 for co-writing the country song “Where’ve You Been,” and Mike Reid wrote “Stranger in my House,” chosen as the best new country song in 1984.

BODY MG 4549Tiny cabins offer private studio space for creative work at the Banff Centre. Photo by Laura Stewart.

Pulling it all together as artistic director for the new residency, Kevin Welch has writing credits on hit songs such as Moe Bandy’s, “Too Old to Die Young,” and Don Williams’ song, “Desperately.”

In addition, the centre offers a recording studio where participants can create demos of their works, and Nashville studio musician Fats Kaplin will be on hand to play “anything with strings,” according to his bio.

The program builds on existing residencies for classical and jazz musicians, as well as a broader musicians-in-residence program, which offers more independent time for creative work.

BODY MG 4545John Guliak stands in front of a favourite view of Mount Rundle. He says the mountain’s ever-changing appearance has been feeding his creativity at the Banff Centre. Photo by Laura Stewart.In recent years, this program has attracted a growing number of singer-songwriters, including John Guliak.

He discovered the program last year and returned this fall for another dose of the centre’s support for his writing.

“The assumption is you’re here because you’re an artist and you’re a songwriter. And just being surrounded by that sort of attitude all the time makes you believe in yourself,” he says.

Given that kind of environment and the outstanding mentors, Brock expects the new program to have a big impact: “My dream is that for the individual songwriters, this could be a game changer.”

To get a sense of what participants can expect, Laura Stewart, Calgary Journal reporter and occasional songwriter, checked in with Guliak and caught his performance of a brand new song.

The editor responsible for this piece is Ingrid Mir and can be contacted at

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