The recording of the song “Devoted Heart: A Song for My Queen, Elizabeth” last April in Vancouver involved, from left to right, Brian Chan (recording engineer), Hélène B. (soprano), Heather Kulyk McDonald (soprano), Donna Hanson (songwriter, soloist and soprano), Cameron Wilson (violinist), Karen Lee-Morlang (music director and pianist), Marlene Wood (alto) and Joanne K. (alto). (submitted photo: Bob Tsai)

MINTY: Queen Elizabeth ‘deeply moved’ by Surrey woman’s birthday song

Donna Hanson’s ‘Devoted Heart’ video inspired by hearing a Michael Bublé hit while out for a walk

By Melanie Minty, arts columnist

In the world of the arts, many things are created — songs, dances, drama pieces and stories — because someone has an inspiration or a vision. Donna Hanson’s vision was to create a special song for the Queen of England for her birthday. Her inspiration came while listening to a song by Michael Bublé (“Close Your Eyes”) while walking in Bear Creek Park.

“There were phrases which talk about the strength of a woman,” recalled Hanson, who lives in that area and works as an appeal co-ordinator with the provincial Ministry of Labour.

This inspirational moment was just before Mother’s Day in 2017, and the song turned her thoughts to her mom who passed away in 1999. “I thought of other women, too, who were important in my life. Queen Elizabeth came to mind.”

This was the moment of inspiration. She hurried home and sent a message to Michael Bublé and said, “Could you please call me regarding Mother’s Day, ‘Close Your Eyes, ‘and the Queen? It is very important.”

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Her idea was that if Sir Elton John could re-work one of his songs for Princess Diana, then Bublé could rework “Close Your Eyes” as a Canadian tribute to the Queen for her 90th birthday. Of course, there was more than just a song – Hanson wanted to include a slide show of pictures of the queen and her times in Canada. The moment of inspiration had taken wings.

Bublé’s management responded with a clear “no,” even though they felt it was a “heartfelt and sweet gesture, but re-writing a song with many artists is a massive project and expensive undertaking.” Understandable.

Never give up when you have a vision. Hanson was determined to honour the Queen, whom she felt is “an amazing woman and contributed to our history with such consistency, loyalty and eloquence.” She recalls a portrait of the Queen that hung in the hallways of her elementary and high schools in North Delta. Inspiration going back a lifetime. No way was this vision getting left behind.

Encouraged by a friend to “think outside the box,” Hanson jotted down words for a song, then needed to find a tune for the words. “Let me be clear,” she says, “this is not what I do.” Writing lyrics and music was not something she had ever done before. But hey – inspiration. A tune came to her and she sang it all day, then recorded it on her iPad.

Next step, getting her song transcribed on paper. A musical friend helped with that task, and the new song was copyrighted with Canada, certificate and all. Getting the certification was another new skill for the “new” songwriter. Now, get a recording. And musicians, and vocalists. No problem.

Hansen contacted Karen Lee-Morlang, who is a member of The Lady Larks vocal quartet. This small group performs songs from the Second World War era, and had had a recent performance at Surrey Arts Centre. Perfect. With Hanson’s persistence, and guidance from Lee-Morlang, the song was finally recorded, a task accomplished in one evening at the home of one of the singers. Everyone volunteered their time and talents to help the vision become reality.

Phase one done. Now Hanson would have to add to her skill base to create the slide show she wanted for her song. As she tried to assemble pictures of the Queen, she kept coming across the roadblock of copyright. Get permission. I think I would have given up at this point, but she found a part of the Canadian Copyright Act (Non-Commercial User-Generated Content) that allows use of photos as long as no commercial endeavor was attached. “Canada wants its citizens to be creative when they don’t want to make money,” Hanson quips. The “starving artist” syndrome is a familiar refrain for artists in all fields.

But now the vision was a reality. Apparently the Queen will accept correspondence but not gifts, so Hanson mailed off a birthday card, with a letter, and the sheet music. She sent copies of the CD, with song and pictures, to Governor General Julie Payette and B.C. Lieutenant Governor Janet Austin.

“But I did provide the Queen with the link to Youtube so she could watch the slideshow,” this newly minted songwriter relates. You can find it on Youtube by searching, “Devoted Heart, Donna Hanson, Queen Elizabeth.”

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“This gift of song has been married with a gift of pictures – a slideshow – of Her Majesty, with a particular emphasis on her visits to Canada,” Hanson explains in her post, from May. “Our goal is that she will be able to listen and view this gift for her 92nd birthday celebration in England June 9, 2018. It is a beautiful gift of song. My hope is that Queen Elizabeth may receive this token of appreciation and know how much her life and service are respected by me and this small group from British Columbia.”

Recently, Hanson received a letter from Windsor Castle on Buckingham Palace letterhead, signed by Susan Hussey, Lady-in-Waiting. The letter stated that the Queen was “deeply moved” and “very touched by the warm sentiments expressed.” And, the Governor General’s office did forward the copy of the DVD and CD to Buckingham Palace. Proper protocol.

And there it is. Inspiration, a vision, a plan, perseverance, and a song is born, created by someone who had no experience, but got it done.

“How many people do you know who wrote their first and only song for the Queen?” Hanson said about her achievement.

Bow and curtsy, and leave the stage.

Melanie Minty writes twice monthly for the Now-Leader. She can be reached at melminty@telus.net.

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