St. John's musician Rozalind Macphail returns from ECMAs with more than just an award

'Like a piece of a puzzle about myself'

Published on May 7, 2017

St. John's-based musician Rozalind Macphail, in a snap taken last week at the East Coast Music Awards in St. John, N.B. Macphail brought home the award for Electronic Recording of the Year, as well as some new and important family connections.

©Submitted photo by Al Gagnon

Read Rozalind Macphail's Facebook post of gratitude to the people she met in New Brunswick during the East Coast Music Awards last weekend, and you might think it's a little intense.

Learn the backstory and not only will you understand her appreciation and emotion, you'll feel it along with her.

Macphail is a St. John's-based musician; a "classically-trained flute and electromusic renegade," according to reviewers. She went to New Brunswick as an ECMA nominee in the Electronic Recording of the Year category, and came back the winner. She also came back a lot richer in terms of self-discovery and family connections.

Macphail says she never knew too much about her biological dad or his family, and a few years ago she received a message from a cousin in New Brunswick who had just learned she existed and wanted to establish a relationship. The pair connected on Facebook and Macphail's cousin would sometimes share pictures and information about relatives, which Macphail says warmed her heart.

When Macphail announced she'd be heading to New Brunswick for the ECMAs, the cousin brought up the idea of getting the family together.

"It was super intense for me, as you can imagine," Macphail tells The Telegram. "I'm getting ready for this trip and thinking, 'What am I stepping into?'"

Getting off the plane in Saint John, Macphail was greeted by the cousin and her biological dad, whom she hadn't seen in almost 10 years.

"He's a pretty secretive person," she explains, "But any time I've met him I've always been amazed at how much we look alike and how many of our mannerisms are similar.

"There he is in the airport with my cousin, and literally a half an hour after sitting down with him, he tells me I have a half-sister."

Over the course of the next week, Macphail found herself putting together pieces of her life puzzle, meeting relatives she never knew existed, hearing their stories and looking through photo albums, finding pictures of herself as a baby and pictures of aunties with strikingly similar features to her own. She learned of the family's thick musical blood, and even found herself performing a house concert for her relatives; the first time her biological dad had ever heard her music live.

“It was the most amazing experience," Macphail says. "It was like putting together a piece of a puzzle about myself that I could never understand, and all of a sudden I'm surrounded by the warmth and beautiful way the family is welcoming me. It was amazing."

It's exactly the stuff of Macphail's inspiration: she's known for her audio-video projects that combine short films by herself and others with her original music. "Head First,"her first such project, featured the work of filmmakers across the country and screened at the Banff Centre, the St. John's International Women's Film Festival and the Cucalorus Festival, where her most recent project began.

Macphail spent three months as an artist-in-resident at the festival in Wilmington, North Carolina, and brought a Super 8 camera with her. With three rolls of film, many connections with local artists and the help of a close filmmaker friend she had met — now her husband, Josh Caine — Macphail began creating "From the River to the Ocean," a mix of 1950s footage, social commentary and hand-processed images (which Macphail learned to do in buckets). It's this project that earned Macphail her recent ECMA.

For the project, Macphail invited filmmakers to create short films inspired by their connection to Wilmington through identity, place and memory. She also shot her own, using an actor to play herself in the case of the autobiographical "Leave a Note."

"One of the things that was just so heartbreaking to me was the poverty I was witnessing, and the racism," Macphail says of her experience in Wilmington. "This hasn't happened very often in my life, but one day I just woke up bawling, and I couldn't control it. Something felt so wrong with the world, and I couldn't explain it."

Caine suggested the pair drive around so Macphail could use some of her film to shoot point-of-view footage to represent how she was feeling, and she did.

There are eight short films and nine songs in "From the River to the Ocean" in total, including the work of Macphail, Caine, Mariah Dunn Kramer (US), Mandi Edwards (UK), Matt Gossett (US), Matthew Malloy (US) and Shona Thomson (UK). Macphail composed the score back in St. John's, using her trademark layered sound looping, flute and field recordings — including sounds from Wilmington like cicadas, the beach and an ice-cream truck circling her neighbourhood.

"Every film is a special piece to do with Wilmington, but there's a running feeling about a very nostalgic time in everyone's lives," Macphail says of the project.

"To me, it's important to tell people to capture their memories."

"From the River to the Ocean" has already premiered at the Cuculorus Festival and in Woody Point last summer, and Macphail will debut the project in St. John's this week. She'll screen the films and perform the score live in front of an audience at MUN School of Music's Suncor Hall on Friday at 7 pm (parking is free in lot 15B).

Macphail has already begun hoping and planning another potential audio-visual project, based on the stories of her new-found family.

"I've said to them, please, please compile your home footage, and let's see if I can come up with another project," Macphail says. "So we'll see."
Twitter: @tara_bradbury