Retracing Music: Reconnecting with a Voice from the Past

My life has been a winding road of peaks and valleys, and some straight paths in between, propelled by my heart and shaped by life's epiphanies and adversities.

A dream I once had in my youth was to be a recording artist. While I did start breaking into radio and sang on some wonderful stages with some amazing people, I eventually set music aside as I felt serving people took priority over my pursuit of a music career. By the time I entered politics, I stopped writing songs and it was physically painful to sing after using my voice habitually for meetings, speeches and debates.

Then a journalist from a national paper called me a few months ago regarding a political matter. Although I told him I couldn't make a comment, he was still gracious enough to tell me he enjoyed listening to my music on Youtube and that I should continue sharing. Our conversation seemed to dwell on music more than politics. He doesn't know how much his kind words impacted me.

Although I had shelved music many years ago, I realized it's still a significant part of me and that I should give it more attention. But I was also trying to understand its place in my life and how to navigate it meaningfully amidst all the other priorities.

A few weeks after that phone call, I received a call from the President of the Conservative Party of Canada to sing the national anthem in Ottawa at the Leadership Convention as a former Member of Parliament and a member of the Leadership Organizing Committee. I was humbled because it is always an honour to sing the national anthem publicly. It had been a very long time since I'd last used my real singing voice. As I practiced, my voice started coming back like I was growing back my wings. It didn't hurt to sing as much as it did even a month earlier.

Since the day I performed the anthem publicly on September 10, I’ve been very contemplative about what it means to have a voice. I’ve used my voice in the House of Commons many times during my term in office to speak up for my constituents, those struggling during the pandemic, and people experiencing oppression around the world. To have a voice means to be able to say things to help bring truth, compassion and justice into the world. To have a voice also means to stand up for yourself and show self-respect when called for.

But to have a voice also means to sing and let your voice be an instrument of healing, comfort and hope. I miss doing that.

Recently, as I dusted off some old recordings in my archives, I found a recording I made when I was 28. "I Believe" is a song I composed and recorded in 2000 for an online songwriting contest at a web site called Tonos, launched by Canada's own David Foster and his colleagues Babyface and Carole Bayer Sager. An instrumental track was provided by David Foster and contestants had to create lyrics and a melody over it.

But it’s more than just a song I wrote for a contest held by a legendary producer. It’s an inspirational love song about how I was emotionally healed from some painful events that took place in my life through God's unconditional love, his grace. It's a Gospel song composed only four years after I became a Christian. Listening to it today, I can feel the freshness of my new Christian faith and the optimism of my faith in dreams.

I entered this contest just before I was about to start attending Teacher's College in the fall of 2000. I didn't have a lot of money. My parents were small business owners. They didn’t have a lot to spare. But my mother, who believed in my singing, contributed $900 to record this song at a studio in downtown Toronto, where other celebrities like Anne Murray, had also recorded. As I look back now, I am brought to tears as I think of the sacrifice my mother had made so I could find my way as a musician. I perceive the value of her sacrifice more now than I did then.

Although I eventually decided to take a different path, I see the sacrifices I made and that others made as being part of my life-long cultivation of courage to follow passion. Being a musician helps you live by your heart's convictions no matter how many setbacks you face because that's what being an artist is about...being true to yourself. I know being true to myself has carried over from music to my approach in politics.

Reconnecting with this recording from the past, I am compelled to look at my music with an honest assessment of the passion and dreams I once had, how I let it fall to the bottom of my list, and also perceive with greater appreciation, the kindness and support people showed me along the way. Like politics, music is also a team sport. It's also a garden that needs to be regularly tended.

As I glean more of these Proustian Madeleine moments, I think I will better be able to re-introduce music into its appropriate place in my life ... as something I can freely enjoy and also complete its cycle of purpose to enrich the hearts of other humans.

Today, I dedicate this song to my mother and all the parents who sacrifice so much for their children to find their way in life and have a fair shot at success with their talents and aspirations. Although things don't always turn out as parents wish for their children, I know they give their best believing for the best to happen for their precious ones. Thank you.

I also want to say thank you to friends and strangers along the way who have believed in what I have had to offer, whether as a musician, missionary or parliamentarian. Thank you for showing me that for all the darkness in the world, there is also prevailing goodness and kindness.

Thank you for helping me to believe in love and hope.

Nelly Shin

Artist, Educator, and Former MP

September 21, 2022

***************** Disclaimer: I have never personally met David Foster and we are not politically affiliated.