You guys! It’s been SUCH a whirlwind few weeks. I’m so excited to share finally, a preview of a BRAND NEW CHRISTMAS ALBUM! Recorded with Toronto based Harpist Chantal Dube (known for her work with Drake) we recorded in two different cities (when I was 8 months pregnant and couldn’t travel!) to create this beautiful serene instrumental Christmas album with all your favourite Christmas Carols! Out NOW for pre-order: https://music.apple.com/ca/album/christmas-classics/1485104910
Chantal began her musical journey when she was just four years old under her mother’s expert tutelage. Her mother, who owned and operated a piano studio, remained a constant inspiration in Chantal’s life as she explored her passion for music and ultimately, the harp.
In 1992 Chantal attended the Royal Conservatory Summer School of Music at Ridley College, which was sponsored by the Niagara Symphony. Here she began her enduring relationship with the harp and she continued to take lessons with the Niagara Symphony’s Principal Harpist, Doris Scharing.
As Chantal advanced her harp-playing techniques, she initiated studies with the Principal Harpist from the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Suzanne Thomas.
In 2006 Chantal and violinist Cheryl Hodgson recorded a Christian album entitled “Unto His Name”, a collection of spiritual songs interwoven with some well known classical pieces. After many requests for a solo album, in 2008 Chantal recorded her third album entitled “Still Moments”, a collection of hymns that have helped her through her spiritual journeys. Chantal also recorded a solo harp Christmas album titled “Heavenly Peace” which debuted on 100 Huntley Street Dec 7, 2012. You can purchase her latest albums on iTunes or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to purchase the CD.
Since 1996 Chantal has been sharing her musical prowess with others through performances at occasions such as weddings, banquets, funerals and cooperate events. Her repertoire is very current including songs from the Top 40 charts and consists of many genres of music to please the varied tastes of her audiences. Chantal performs for over 50 events a year, with her years of experience in the wedding industry she comes highly recommended by Toronto’s top wedding vendors and venues.
Most recently Chantal was contacted by Drake’s producers to record for Drake’s album VIEWS. She received credits for her work on Drake’s album VIEWS which was released in April 2016. The harp can be heard on the tracks titled: Keep the Family Close, U With Me & Child’s Play.
In her spare time, Chantal enjoys volunteering at the Credit Valley Hospital playing in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for the premature babies. The harp has been scientifically proven to benefit preemies. This is a unique way that Chantal is able to give back to her community.
“Chantal’s harp music brings a wonderful calming effect. The music creates a soothing environment for the infants, moms, and dads. It gives family members a moment to pause in an environment that can be very stressful and make families very anxious.” ~ Nancy Frank Patient and Care Manager, NICU.
Sophie’s video Unvanquished is OUT TODAY! We’re so excited to share this with you, all the way from beautiful Scotland! Check out video director Ewen Clarke’s notes about the video below. Ewen is an award winning producer and film maker, we are so lucky to be working with him!
When Sophie came to me with the song Unvanquished and suggested shooting a music video that reconnects with her Scottish roots I was pretty excited. My first listen of the song immediately conjured up visions of this epic Scottish scenery, dark skies, dramatic landscapes. Sophie explained the meaning to the song that she wanted portrayed in the video: overcoming personally challenges and ultimately succeeding in your goal. Hence the title “Unvanquished”. We decided on a storyline that wasn’t really obvious, but that would hopefully lead the viewer in their own interpretation of it. For the story, there are basically two Sophies. The performance Sophie (wearing the white dress) and the ‘real’ Sophie wearing the black dress. The music really inspired a kind of chased, hunted feeling for a lot of it, so we opted to have the real Sophie being chased by something that we don’t actually see. This is metaphorically her challenges, her problems: whatever it is that she needs to overcome.
For the most of the video, performing Sophie is separate from the storyline. She is simply playing the song, while the story unfolds to the ‘real’ Sophie. After an initial chase where we see Sophie running away from her pursuer, she happens across a bow and arrow. This signifies a change in character, as basically she is no longer panicking, she has the tools to overcome her challenges now. There are some more running scenes, but now Sophie is confident, and is more the one doing the hunting than being hunted. Towards the end of the video we see her stalking through the forest, and firing a shot, presumably vanquishing her foe. Following this, she proceeds to the top of this natural rock formation that looks very castle like, and stands victorious on the summit, unvanquished.
The video ends with us seeing what is presumably a flashback of performance Sophie (in the white dress) sneaking down to the river and hiding her violin, which turns into the bow and arrow that the hunted Sophie discovers. This is supposed to convey that the answers to your problems, whatever you need to succeed, is inside you already. In this instance, one version of Sophie essentially helps herself to achieve her goal and overcome her challenges.
Or alternatively you could say we just made a fun video, running around some stunning locations in Scotland firing a bow and arrow. Haha. Up to you.
The locations were all researched remotely while we were over here in Canada which was a little challenging. It meant we didn’t always know exactly what to expect when we arrived at a location to shoot because photos can often be quite clever and misleading! But I knew that we would also stumble across some great locations while we were travelling around Scotland, as it’s pretty hard to go wrong in that beautiful country. I was particularly excited to shoot in Scotland as I grew up in England, and we used to go on holiday there every year, camping on the wild west coast. It was my first real taste of wilderness, and I can remember vividly driving through the valley of Glencoe (which appears in one shot in the video), which was the most remote and wildest place I had ever seen at that time. It was really special for me to be able to go back there and convey some of that wild, mysterious feeling in this video.
Most of the locations ended up being on the Isle of Skye, because it had the highest concentration of all the different aspects that we wanted to include in the video. It really is a beautiful place. Filming was pretty challenging due to the short timescale for the video (just 2.5 days for all the shooting and driving time once in Scotland) and I was really worried that the Scottish rain would show up and make things extra difficult. Amazingly though, it only seemed to rain almost exactly as we were done shooting for the day, and my biggest problem was that we didn’t really get much of the dark dramatic skies I was hoping for and we were often fighting with too much sunshine! The wind and the cold were also really challenging, mostly for Sophie, as myself and the Steve (the other crew member) got to wear as many clothes as we wanted while telling Sophie that she had to stand on a cliff top in just a thin dress trying to play the violin!
One of the most memorable moments is actually the very first thing we shot, down in the gorgeous green canyon. I really wanted a performance shot with Sophie standing on a boulder in the middle of the stream. This got pretty involved as the three of us tried to figure out how to safely get Sophie and her VERY expensive violin out on the boulder without anything going wrong on the first day of shooting. I never actually asked Sophie what would have happened to the violin if we dropped it in the water…
My favourite moment was how everything came together on the final morning, for the final Unvanquished scene. We arrived before sunrise to check out the location and angles, and it was FREEZING cold with a howling wind. Steve and I figured out the shots we wanted, had a brief amusing conversation about whether we wanted sheep in the shot or whether we should scare them away, that I eventually won by saying that this was supposed to be the epic portion of the video and that sheep are definitely NOT epic animals. When Sophie was ready were brought her out and it was obvious we really didn’t have long to get the shots we needed. Both because of the rising sun, the fact that the location would soon be overrun with tourists, and that Sophie was REALLY freaking cold. To make matters worse, Sophie had to do a lot of the shots for this portion in her barefeet because we could see her shoes while she ran which really didn’t look right. In the end, it worked out perfectly despite only having time for one take of each of the shots. Right down to the fact that the sun crested the horizon in exactly the right spot to backlight Sophie’s epic walk along the top of the castle. And we managed to not get any sheep in too 😉
I just had the three most magical, and challenging days here in beautiful Scotland. I should always start to expect the unexpected, because I could never have guessed how this was going to go. I had in my mind, that we were going to film an epic music video…. And I think we did thanks to Ringtail Films… But the experience was so much more!
I landed in Glasgow and went to stay with family, which was awesome. Then on day two, we started filming early in the morning. We started at some famous forest areas (some of which were used in Outlander- I know some of you on social media have asked if it was from Highlander- did you mean Outlander?) and walked down to a waterfall right down in a deep crevice between some rocks called The Devil’s Pulpit. It was amazing to hear how my violin sounded down there on a large speaker! I had planned to host a Facebook Live session down there, but alas, terrible reception! I can see why it’s called the Devil’s Pulpit- you feel like you’re right down underneath the earth in a hidden place…. Hopefully we shone some musical light down there!
In Skye, I wanted to stay right out near the farms, however… we had trouble getting there! Google maps had trouble identifying the location and right out there, the reception was terrible, and…. There were no streetlights out there and it was quite dark by the time we arrived! Anyway, we found each other and all was well. The things you don’t expect! Well, at least, the things I didn’t expect. Once daylight arrived it was just breathtaking. It could have been a scene from 100 years ago. The rolling hills with the small houses and the farms, with very majestic and magnificent coastline everywhere, were just so dreamy! Check it out this picture of one of the very cute little houses and the scenery! Bonus- a double rainbow! It had been a LONG time since I saw a full rainbow let alone a full or double rainbow. It was very pretty, very mystical.
The little white houses with the grey slate roofs were just so cute and the local farmers provided a lot of the local restaurants with fresh bread and dairy, and the landscape like a scene from an old film.
My favorite location was definitely The Fairy Glen (this is a shot from the drone! Ringtail Films totally rocked it!)
Locals tell me that the Fairy Glen was simply the result of what they call a land slip, but that there is some legend floating around that it is home to fairies and magical happenings! It was a awe inspiring location and we found it just fascinating, and beautiful to film. I would have enjoyed being on top of the peaks much more if it hadn’t been so darn cold and windy though! There was the challenge: staying warm on top of very high peaks in the very cold wind. But we did it, and I can’t wait to share it with you!
The single Unvanquished will be out October 8th, and the video clip will follow soon after.
So last year, I changed my stage name, which many of you know. Some of you guys still know me as Sophie Serafino and that’s cool, I used that name for a long time. In changing my name back to my maiden name – my birth name of Armstrong (Scottish), I became more interested in my family’s history… and have a bunch of info courtesy of Clan.com and Wikipedia and the Armstrong Clan Association: “The legends of clan Armstrong say that the earliest ancestor was Siward Beorn (‘sword warrior’), also known as Siward Digry (‘sword strong arm’). Another traditional story claims that an armour bearer by the name of Fairbairn rescued his master, the king of Scotland, mid battle by pulling him onto his horse by the thigh. Fairbairn was allegedly later given the name “Armstrong” and granted lands in the Borders. It was in this border region between Scotland and England that clan Armstrong became one of the most historically powerful clans in the country’s history. Between the 13th and 17th century the Scottish Borders were in turmoil, with anything between personal rivalries and all-out war common between the two countries. The Armstrongs were arguably the most dangerous clan during this period, with King James V of Scotland believing they were a threat to even his authority.” So basically, the Armstrongs were quite defiant and non cooperative (at least I know where I get that rebellious streak!) so ultimately the Crown forcibly dispersed the clan who were moved into and scattered across northern Ireland. My great grandfather later brought his family to Australia in 1881, with his Irish wife. I also have a Dutch grandmother and my mother’s family are British… It was pretty amazing digging up all these details!
This is the Armstrong Clan coat of arms and family crest (courtesy of kingarthur.com and thetreemaker.com). There are a few variations out there, some Scottish, some Irish. The motto is the same, “Invictus Manneo” which is Latin for “I remain unvanquished”. So there is the inspiration for my latest single! I had SO much fun exploring this while pregnant with our third little one, and I’m excited to share this journey in my language of music.
Some of you have been asking me a lot… and ALL the time at my shows, about the instruments I play, and which is my favorite. So this blog post is entirely about my #1 violin!
I have played this instrument since 2005. It was made in 1820 in London, by Italian maker Joseph Panormo. I love it’s bold sound and haven’t played any other acoustic violin since then- I am still and always have been, totally in love with this violin!
A year or two after I bought it I became curious about some of the markings on it and repairs, so I had it checked out by a luthier in London who ran a few tests on it. He told me that the neck is about 50 years younger than the rest of the instrument which was a total surprise to me. He also told me that it had gun shot residue on it! I’ve since fantasized about how that could be… but since carrying firearms was probably quite common back then, I’m sure the explanation is a lot more boring that I might like imagine… 😉
Someone once told me that they knew it was me playing from the tone of my instrument, and I guess that sums it up… this violin is to me, and to some of you guys as well, one of a kind!