After interviewing Caroly Harley for the Fabulous at 50 Podcast: Changing the Aging Narrative, I knew I wanted Carolyn to expand on her journey. She is such a inspiration for following your dreams at any age.
Her is her submission:
I hear this 'Late Bloomer' slogan all around me and I love it whenever I hear it! I have been saying "I am a Late Bloomer" for about 20 years and every year it seems to have a new meaning for me.
When I first started thinking seriously in the 'Late Bloomer' mind set I was about 55 years old and was working as a pre-school teacher and loving my life-long occupation. I started teaching pre-school in my 20s and never left the field of early childhood education. It suited my basic silliness and creativity.
Throughout this same time, I was also working on my music. Songwriting and performance went hand in hand for me and so I was always looking for workshops to attend to improve my songwriting skills and opportunities to perform.
However, as the years went by, I slowly had to work to overcome a musical glitch that held me back for many, many years.
I couldn't keep time to save my soul!!
I have come to believe that I had (have) a special disability that prevented me from sensing the form of the song and so I was always like that singer who never knew when to 'come in'. I could always find the 'key' but I couldn't tell when to 'come in'! I was told by many people that they loved my voice and my songs but my guitar playing was distracting. Besides being a detriment to my solo performances my inability to keep time meant that I would get lost in the 'turn arounds' and I couldn't play through the chord changes to allow someone to take a solo. Needless to say, this made it impossible for other musicians to work with me.
My husband, sons and friends all have stories about how impossible it was to ever perform with me because they never knew what I was going to do. I would add bars, delete bars, stop and talk in the middle, speed up, slow down and generally wander through the song like a lost sheep.
However, I believed in my music and I believed in my ability to entertain even when I was being a jokey folky. I became determined to overcome this disability that kept me from being able to work with other musicians. I joined choirs, I took guitar lessons, I went to musician friends and got suggestions on strategies to work my way through my problem. One friend threatened to duct tape me to a chair to make me stop moving like Joe Cocker! Spastic movement was not a successful way for me to keep time or an attractive look for a performer. (Even Joe Cocker).
Every year in January I would take an assessment of my ability to form a band and every year, for years, the answer was always no! I would then come up with another strategy to improve my time keeping. I would work up 3 songs and go to open mics and get feedback from other performers. I started three different songwriting groups to get feedback and suggestions from other songwriters about my songwriting and my time keeping. I started organizing songwriter events for more opportunities to perform. I was always looking for ideas on how to keep a solid steady beat that others could work with. I am not kidding when I say this went on for years!
Finally in my mid 50s once again I did an honest evaluation of my progress and decided that I was ready to form a band! My determination had paid off.
My dear friend Laurel, played lead guitar and sang harmony. My hubby Joe (also a 'Late Bloomer') had recently started learning bass in his 50s and he joined up with Laurel and me. We worked for a long time creating two sets. Laurel would sing lead on some cover songs, and I would sing lead on my own songs. I played brushes on a bongo for Laurel because I couldn't play guitar on her songs. Finally, my son Tucker helped me put together my first self-titled Carolyn Harley CD. It was made up of songs I had done in a variety of Calgary music studios.
Our trio did one short set in Kensington and then I booked an evening in High River at Gitters Pub.
We had a full house and I sold some of my first CDs! On the way home from High River to Calgary I noticed that the sky was filled with the most amazing Northern Lights!! I got Joe to stop on a dark side road and I got out to experience the wonder of the colours. I started crying and laughing!! It's a sign!! It's a sign that I am supposed to keep singing! I remember that feeling so strongly. It convinced me to keep struggling and keep moving forward.
The year before I was going to turn 60 my dear friend Alison died of a rare spinal cancer called chordoma. I decided for my 60th birthday I would organize a fundraiser concert with the proceeds to The Chordoma Foundation. I called the event 'The Purple Aster' in Celebration of Late Bloomers! Everyone came dressed in purple. Such fun!! I invited musician friends to come and perform 3 songs and I asked them to learn and perform one of my songs. By this time, I was working with great musicians. A blind fiddler (Craig West) and a lead guitarist/mando player (Robb Mann) and of course Joe on bass. I played (amazingly) rhythm guitar and we were called Carolyn Harley & The Davidsons (a take-off on Harley Davidson motorcycles). I got to perform as part of the fundraiser evening with my band. The event was a hit and it confirmed my belief that I should keep moving forward with my music.
During the following years I hosted the Purple Aster 5 time. I organized and performed at events on Olympic Plaza to commemorate the Famous 5 winning The Persons Case. I continued to organize songwriter events called 'The Magpie Cafe'. I kept going into the studio and recording albums and slowly but surely learned how to keep time! I also started reducing my hours of teaching pre-school and finally retired from one occupation that I loved into another occupation I also loved. I was excited to be able to dedicate time and energy to my music. I am eternally grateful to all the musicians who worked with me and helped me through this ongoing process. I grew to love performing with other musicians and I continued to write and take workshops including jazz vocal workshops. (Another story of struggle!).
As a 'Late Bloomer' I learned many new skills including, how to create and maintain a website. I learned how to use Instagram and LinkedIn. I learned how to release an album to Spotify, etc. I released to Europe and received great support from Wales, England and Ireland. (Somewhere in Wales a small church choir is singing my song ‘Singing in the Choir!’) I had a video created for the title songs of my albums Heartbeat of the Worldand Ordinary Man - A Song For Ukraine. I have had the opportunity to perform as the Opening Act at three of Calgary's Folk Clubs and in the Crystal Ballroom of the Palliser Hotel. Along the way, on social media, I keep describing these events as 'Adventures of a Late Bloomer'!
This is my philosophy about being a 'Late Bloomer':
If I went on a holiday to some wonderful exotic place and paid for the plane fare, the hotels and meals and excursions - when I got home, I wouldn't expect a 'return' on my holiday investment. I would simply see it as a wonderful adventure. This is how I have viewed my musical adventures. I have had wonderful experiences. I've met wonderful people. Now, I actually receive some financial return on my investments, and I turn it right back into my music account. If I had been struggling all this time, simply for a financial return I would have quit a long time ago. I would never have struggled through the years to learn the simple act of keeping time!
I have been doing it all for the love of writing; for the love of performing; for the adventure of trying something new without ever knowing exactly where it would lead.
So far, I would say I have written around 600 songs. They are in an eclectic array of styles and subject matter. I always say that when I get a song idea, I like to think about what style of music would best suit that idea. A a result I have written country, folk, blues, rock-a-billy, jazz, historical, humour, children's songs etc. etc. I see songwriting itself as an adventure!
I have released seven albums of original music and I have placed songs with other artists. My album Heartbeat of the World was nominated for Folk Recording of the Year for the YYC Music Awards in 2021.
I have had some successes and some disappointments. Such is life!
I am heading for my 75 birthday in the spring of 2024 and I'm planning another special event to celebrate this significant, birthday. I'm going to reinvent The Purple Aster in Celebration of Late Bloomers! I need to start shopping for something purple to wear!
At this point in time, I am starting to work with a promoter to learn skills for finding homes for more of my songs with other artists. I want to find new and exciting opportunities to perform. I am working toward building a network of support; trying new things; asking for help and helping others in return.
I consider myself a 'Late Bloomer' even thought I started writing and performing in my 20s. So much of what I wanted to accomplish had to wait until later in my life. This was due to a lack of time keeping skills, work and family obligations and monetary limitations.
However, every step I took forward over the years resulted in my final success as a performer!
My definition of a 'Late Bloomer' is anyone who comes to anything later in life that is usual. This could apply to anyone at any age. It could apply to any later than usual success. You might go back to school in your 30s; learn to drive in your 40s; get married for the first time in your 50s; learn to play an instrument or a new language in your 60s; travel to Paris for the first time in your 70s. It could be as simple as learning to ride a bike when everyone around you already knows how to ride a bike.
Being a 'Late Bloomer' in my opinion, is a state of mind that allows for adventure. It allows for exploring new horizons no matter what the rest of the world is doing and without caring what others might think.
By following your heart every step toward a new adventure is a step worth taking.
I am looking forward to all my adventures to come. I see me singing when I'm 80 and still writing songs when I'm 90.
I'm going to keep blooming until the bloom is off the vine!!
Written and submitted by Caroly Harley