Gwen Swick

Singer, Composer, Arranger


ccording to the London Free Press, Gwen Swick is ‘one of the most imaginative singer/songwriters in the country’. Remarkably, this multitalented musician lives right here in Elora. Her work as a solo artist has distinguished her across Canada, the U.S. and Europe. Gwen has been a member of the prominent folk trio “Tamarack” and is currently a singer with the popular vocal group “Quartette”. She is known not only as a touring performer but also as an arranger and composer. Elora is lucky indeed to have this creative individual contribute to the artistic community.

Gwen Swick was born in Winnipeg to a father in the Armed Forces and a teacher homemaker mom. Her father’s career afforded her the opportunity to live and travel across Canada and to this day she loves to travel. Gwen is one of five daughters. The family finally settled in Ottawa where her parents still make their home.

Gwen attended York University, Toronto. She entered as a piano student in pursuit of a music education degree, but soon her talents sparked other interests. She learned to play viola da gamba, guitar and electric bass. Time at school led to an important revelation: “All I really wanted was to play in bands!” She enjoyed rock and roll and country music and wanted to sing back-up harmony in these styles.

If she could do it all again, Gwen says she would study composition. Her enigmatic voice, together with an obsession with harmony, make her an ideal choral composer. “I think in harmony.” She hears inner voices just as strongly as melody. Folk, country, blues and rock idioms are approached with proficiency and a deep respect for words. The K-W Record calls her songs “hip, intelligent and sophisticated, equal parts whimsy and serious commentary with a feminist edge”.

Gwen’s marriage to percussionist Randall Coryell took place in Elora, and during a return visit in 1988, the couple decided to relocate here (from Toronto) with their two year-old daughter Anna. They live in a century home with a large window looking out on a lovely back yard. “I get a lot of inspiration from looking out my kitchen window.”

Gwen enjoys regular visits from birds at her feeder. She loves the way everything is within walking distance. She finds this a wonderful community in which to raise a child. It is safe and artistically nurturing. The problem is that at some point you have to leave.

In the early 1990s, Gwen recorded five albums with the traditional folk trio “Tamarack”. In 1996, Gwen joined the group “Quartette”. It consists of four ladies’ voices: Sylvia Tyson, Cindy Church, Caitlin Hanford and Gwen. A trio of instruments accompanies the four voices: drums, guitar and bass. This popular vocal group is busy touring and recording. Gwen especially loves the Christmas concerts. ‘Quartette’ mainly plays to audiences of 350-500 people in intimate venues. Playing in small towns, the whole community gets involved.

In addition to “Quartette”, Gwen performs as a solo artist. Reviews from her previous solo releases “Gwen Swick” (1993) and “A Pebble of Mercy” (1995) compared her to artists like Joni Mitchell and Rickie Lee Jones. Her latest release “Love and Gold” is hailed as an “intense solo work that swings from jazz to folk to pop…”. Although there is a strong guitar base, her beautifully controlled voice is always in the foreground. This recording is rich with lush and sophisticated songs in keeping with her style. The Toronto Star describes “Love and Gold” as “a dynamic and complex recording, a series of lyrical poems about faith and spirituality, lost love, daily obsessions…and cats, surrounded by instrumental textures and underpinned by clever rhythmic embroidery”.

Gwen has an agent who represents and markets her talents. She is known as a vocal arranger for other recording artists and has written and arranged music for children in dramatic performances. A number one goal this year is to be more active in placing her songs with other artists. She approaches people in direct contact with performers who would be appropriate for her music.

She is a popular choice for CBC radio programmes, having had the distinguished honour of appearing on “Morningside” with Peter Gzowski and on Stuart McLean’s “Vinyl Café”. The Vancouver Folk Festival, the Edmonton Folk Festival and Germany’s Women in (E)Motion Festival are among the more prestigious venues she has graced.

Gwen reflects on the unusual opportunities to travel for a performing artist. This offers time to get to know her fellow musicians. They write songs on the road and use each other as a sounding board. Speaking of “Quartette”, she says, “we have enough in common to be able to speak the same musical language but are different enough to keep things interesting”.

Gwen has been actively involved in the Elora Centre for the Arts since its inception. Currently, she is in charge of the popular Library Concert Series at ECFTA. This venue provides the perfect intimate setting for jazzy, blues music featuring local performing artists.

The title “song-writer” does not do justice to Gwen. Her work, best described as pop art songs, has a way of turning the ordinary into the extraordinary. Her poetry explores seemingly simple life vignettes to comment on life’s larger issues with perception and imagination.

by Patricia Reimer, Spring 2004

…intelligent and sophisticated, equal parts whimsy and serious commentary with a feminist edge.

UPDATE – 2005

Gwen Swick, along with Caitlin Hanford and Suzie Vinnick have formed a group called “The Marigolds”, accompanied on percussion by Randall Coryell. They performed as the opening night entertainment for the Culinary Tourism Symposium, Ontario, in March 2005.

In the summer of 2005, Gwen organized the Starlight Jazz and Blues series in connection with the Elora Festival. These after-hour evenings took place in the garden of the Elora General Store, by the Grand River on Mill Street East, and featured many of the area’s fine musicians with guest artists.