On Bonheurs partagés, Patrick Norman was very careful not to fall into “the obvious.” Instead of your run-of-the-mill duets album, the peerless guitarist chose to re-visit a different, but equally time-tested formula, by updating lesser-known songs from his vast repertoire. Here’s an overview of those 12 “forgotten” songs the singer-songwriter hadn’t dusted off in a long, long while.

Patrick Norman“Alors la vie” (with Martin Deschamps) —from the album Comment le dire (2007)
“With this as an opener, the album sets out to be one helluva party album! First off, we hear my old Harmony 1953 guitar, which gave a vintage feel to all of the arrangements. The lyrics were written by Roger Magnan, a friend of my good pal Mario Lirette. He gave me those words after one of my gigs, and I immediately loved the peaceful message it conveys. It truly is a hymn to life, and I can’t think of anyone better to sing this with than Martin Deschamps. I love that guy. His lust for life and joie de vivre are contagious.”

Juste toi et moi (with Nathalie Lord) – from the album Comment le dire (2007)
“There’s something very warm and sensual in this song, it makes you totally daydream about palm trees gently swaying in the breeze. That’s partly why I initially wanted to sing it with Gerry Boulet, but that didn’t pan out [laughs]. So I tapped Nathalie Lord, my life partner for quite awhile now. Seriously, she’s an extraordinary woman and I want people to discover her talent, because she deserves to be known and recognized.”

Quand l’amour te tend la main (with Jean-François Breau) – from the album Comment le dire (2007)
“I wrote the music in 1983. The original working title was ‘My Gunfighter Ballad,’ and it was an instrumental. Then, one day, I sent it to Jérôme Lemay Jr., and he got back to me with this wonderful love song. Having the opportunity to sing it again with Jean-François Breau made me really happy. I know that he and his family have been fans of mine for a very long time, and it’s a real pleasure to know that I played a role throughout his musical evolution.”

Comment le dire (with Marie-Ève Janvier) – from the album Comment le dire (2007)
“This is an exceptional song by Danny Boudreau and Roger Tabra, whose very simple goal is to say ‘I love you.’ I guess that’s the never-ending quest of all singers. Constantly finding new ways to express our love as if it was the very first time. I’m proud to carry such a message alongside Marie-Ève Janvier. She sings so divinely.”

S’aimer pour la vie (with Guylaine Tanguay) – from the album Quand on est en amour (1984)
“Originally, this song was much less rhythmic and I’d never sung it in concert. I decided to fix that by giving it more swing. The result is much more luminous and bouncy. Now I just can’t wait to play it live, especially alongside Guylaine Tanguay. She’s a magnificent woman that I’ve known for many years, incredibly talented. ”

Le temps (with François Léveillée) – from the album Soyons heureux (1988)
“It’s quite rare that I write both music and lyrics for a song, but that was the case for ‘Le temps.’ Back then, I was concerned with world peace, and that lead me to ponder the eternal circle of life. It’s only once I was done that I realized all the verses finish with the word ‘aimer’ [‘to love’]. Once again, I was guided by a quest for a better world. As for François, I just had an epiphany while listening to the song. We rarely think of him as a musician and singer, because he’s mostly known as a stand-up comedian, but don’t forget he started his artistic career in the ‘boîtes à chanson’. I gave him a call and everything went super-well. He brings a lot of emotion and credibility to that song.”

Chanter pour rien (with Pierre Bertrand) – from the album Patrick Norman (2000)
“I was in Montego Bay when I got the idea to give this song a reggae twist. I was by the pool and I could hear this groovy bassline from a cover band playing nearby. I started humming some of my songs over their sound, notably ‘Chanter pour rien,’ which worked really well. When I got back home, I called Pierre and he immediately agreed to come out of his lair and sing it with me. It’s somewhat of an homage to his huge hit ‘Ma blonde m’aime.’”

Patrick Norman“Dueling Banjos” (with Jean-Guy Grenier)—from the album Guitare (1997)
“I’ve always been attracted to instrumentals, and that’s why there’s always one or two of them on my albums. Instrumentals move me more because they allow me to write my own story. Jean-Guy Grenier has that same sensibility. I’ve worked with him since 2005; he’s extraordinarily talented. He’s a master of guitar, steel guitar and banjo, and we decided to treat ourselves.”

Les rois de Bourbon Street (with Manuel Tadros) – from the album Passion Vaudou (1990)
“Manuel and I wrote that song together as an homage to the French Quarter, the French neighbourhood of New Orleans. As a matter of fact, the whole original album from which that song comes was recorded in that amazing area of Louisiana. I swear it’s true, but that damn place changed who I am! So, I wanted to re-live that bustling atmosphere and asked Manuel to have at it with me. He’s a great friend of mine, we share a very deep bond.”

On part au soleil (with Virginie Cummins) – from the album Simplement (2004)
“Virginie is an exceptional woman with a magnificent voice and an impressive musical scope. I’d hired her to do backing vocals, but I ended up giving her a chance to sing this song with me. It was written by my super-pal Christian Simard, who passed away last December. I wanted to pay tribute to him by including this song on the album. Without him, I probably would never have had the courage to come out of my bubble back in the day. It’s partly thanks to him that I’ve made it this far.”

Plus fort que le vent (with Paul Daraîche) – from the album Comment le dire (2007)
“Now that’s a magnificent love song by Danny Boudreau. It’s very profound and noble. It wasn’t planned initially, but the song is so intense that we hired a string quartet to complement it, and we ended up using those guys on four songs. Paul graciously and generously agreed to join me for this song. He’s an old pal, and we’ve painted the town red many a time!”

Crois en l’amour (with Laurence Jalbert) – from the album Hommage à Kenny Rogers (1982)
“This Kenny Rogers song has an incredible message. To do it justice, I asked all of the album’s guest singers to sing the last verse with me. I wanted everyone to sing really, really softly, so that no one voice would stand out of the lot. The result was something really soft, yet powerful and very moving. And to top it all off, there’s Laurence Jalbert’s incredible voice. That woman has such a big heart that it’s impossible to not be moved when she sings. There was no one better to round off the album.”

In March of this year, in an announcement about its gender parity initiatives, Canada’s National Film Board revealed that of the music composers on its funded productions for 2016-2017, only 13 percent were women. The NFB is working to bring that up to 50 per cent by 2020. If emerging women composers in this country are looking for motivation to get scoring, they’ll find inspiration in the career of Lesley Barber.

One of SOCAN’s most successful #ComposersWhoScore, the Toronto-based Barber made waves internationally last year with her music for the Oscar-winning American drama Manchester by the Sea. Her bold compositions of a cappella chorales, quietly disruptive strings and minimalist piano were widely praised. In fact, her score was considered a front-runner for an Oscar itself, before being ruled ineligible on a technicality: Director Kenneth Lonergan chose to also include previously written classical pieces, a no-go for the Best Original Score category. Still, the attention on Manchester shines a deserved light on a Canadian composer who’s been successfully scoring films, both at home and in Hollywood, for more than 20 years.

When we reach her at home, Barber has just finished an all-night writing session for the upcoming horror film Boarding School, by director Boaz Yakin. At the same time, she’s completing music for the romantic comedy Paper Year, the directorial debut for Canadian comedian and New Girl writer Rebecca Addelman. “It’s been interesting working on them simultaneously,” she says. “You have to live in two worlds at the same time.”

Barber has been bridging the divergent from the beginning. A student of classical piano in her youth, she began composing at age 10. While obtaining her Masters in music composition from the University of Toronto, she also studied electro-acoustic music with the late, legendary Canadian electronic composer Gustav Ciamaga, and started to focus on minimalism. Her interest in unconventional film scoring was further piqued during university, after witnessing a live performance by Philip Glass of his innovative score for Koyaanisqatsi.

Barber brought her expertise in both classical and computer music to her first feature film assignment, 1995’s R-rated lesbian drama When Night is Falling, by Canadian director Patricia Rozema.

“I’ve always been interested in hybrid scores, and that opportunity was right in the film,” says Barber. “There were two characters from separate worlds, and they meet and fall in love. Right from the beginning I wanted aggressive, live and programmed percussion, and a really tight quartet – like ‘Eleanor Rigby’ meets The Kronos Quartet – to kind of reflect these two characters’ lives, interacting and crossing paths. It was a really fun film. The process taught me a lot – about the level of detail, the studio process of scoring, producing, and conducting an orchestral score with programming in it.”

Since then, Barber has scored for thrillers, historical dramas, children’s animated movies, documentaries and more, but she’s especially drawn to features by auteur filmmakers, like Rozema, David Bezmozgis (Victoria Day) and Yakin, who she first worked with in 1998 on A Price Above Rubies. “Music is an essential part of their filmmaking,” she says. “They take the time to create a sound approach, and they care very deeply. The music is part of their voice. It’s a really immersive collaboration.”

It was the year 2000 when she made her first film with the American playwright Kenneth Lonergan. The debut feature You Can Count on Me, starring Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo, was nominated for many awards, including both an Oscar and Golden Globe for original screenplay. For an emotional funeral sequence, Barber scored with a stark children’s choir, the type of atmospheric approach that she would later bring to their next collaboration, Manchester by the Sea.

“I do feel a responsibility to the characters. It’s like a communion, and tapping into their essential story.”

“I think with Kenny and I, when we worked on You Can Count on Me, it was his first film and one of my first,” she says. “Some years have gone by, and I think we’ve both really evolved. I think our voices are bolder. [This time] Kenny also brought me in really early in the process, so I had space to come up with my own ideas – like the a cappella voices. I could just simply get the singers in, and record them, and send [the recordings] in, and then we could talk about what worked and didn’t, and we’d get to music we both agreed on. It’s really exciting to work with a filmmaker like Kenny repeatedly, and get to the point where you can send really intuitive music and he’s open to it.”

One wouldn’t guess from listening to the high quality of the finished work, but Barber had little more than a week for the job. While she says there really is no typical workflow in film scoring – each production’s scheduling is unique – there’s one thing that regularly quickens the pace: A premiere at Sundance, one of the most prestigious film festivals, which just happens to fall right after the Christmas holidays.

Lesley Barber

Photo: Katherine Holland

“We had a multi-phased process,” she recalls. “I read the script and wrote a suite of music and sent it to Kenny. While he was editing I visited the editing room to see how it was working. I had done some improvisations on the piano that were working well, for example. And then, as is quite often with Sundance, you get accepted and your première date is set, while you’re still in the middle of finishing up! And it’s always holiday season. So it’s a real rush to get music ready. There were actually just a few weeks before the première, and I had to get that music delivered. So it was a very busy week. Thankfully, the writing flowed quickly, and I had an amazing team, which helps. Sometimes there’s something great about time pressure.”

A different challenge Barber has encountered is scoring for documentaries. She has worked on several, including Girls on Top (2010), How to Change the World (2015) and last year’s award-winning The Apology, an all-female production about Japanese “comfort women.” Unlike scripted films, where the composer can get work from a script and/or a rough cut, a documentary’s story often emerges in the editing process. Sometimes a direction presents itself in the premise, however. For the upcoming documentary A Better Man, in which co-director Attiya Khan re-visits a boyfriend who had abused her, 20 years later, Barber returned to her tools of synths and electronic programming to complement the chamber strings and dreamy woodwinds.

“Their relationship was in the ‘80s and I wanted to infuse the score with this sense of the past, and somehow create a music that reflected the two worlds of then and now,” she says.

Regardless of genre, or timeframe, or tools, Barber always comes back to the characters, and how she can illuminate their inner lives through music.

“I don’t think about the audience when I’m writing,” she says. “But I want my music to really stand on its own. If I hear it without the film, I want it to have a shape, to be something you want to hear again. I do feel a responsibility to the characters. It’s like a communion, and tapping into their essential story. I’m thinking about what’s at stake, what’s unspoken, what new layer can I bring to the storytelling, where’s the potential vulnerabilities, to help the audience. That’s where my allegiances lie.”

It happened when John met Paul. It happened when Bryan Adams met Jim Vallance, and when Drake met 40. It happened when someone’s chocolate fell into someone else’s peanut butter. It’s the classic story of the sum being more than the individual parts.

And it happened when SOCAN members Breagh Mackinnon, Carleton Stone and Dylan Guthro ­– three Nova Scotia-based, solo singer-songwriters – got together at a SOCAN-sponsored Gordie Sampson Song Camp in the summer of 2011 in Cape Breton.

“That was the first time that we had all played music together and collaborated,” says Mackinnon. “Carleton and I are both from Sydney, so we kind of knew of each other before and had played some shows, but that was the first time that we all came together creatively.”

Between them, Mackinnon, Stone and Guthro (son of musician and SOCAN member Bruce Guthro) have made six solo albums and worked with some of the brightest lights in Canadian music, including JUNO Award-winning duo Classified and David Myles, producers such as Howie Beck (Feist, Hayden), Hawksley Workman (Serena Ryder, Tegan and Sara) and Broken Social Scenester Jason Collett.

“We were making music together so much, we decided to make it official and just start one band.” — Breagh Mackinnon of Port Cities

But when the three combined their musical and songwriting talents at the song camp, it was the start of something bigger – although at first they didn’t know it. For the next three or four years, they continued writing songs together, contributing to each other’s albums, sharing bills and playing in each other’s bands.

“And then, just a couple of years ago, we were making music together so much, we decided to make it official and just start one band,” Mackinnon says. That musical penny dropped in 2015 when they officially formed Port Cities. They were soon signed to Warner Music Canada, and in early 2017 they released their eponymous debut album, which they recorded in Nashville.

To produce the album, they prevailed upon the good graces of their Song Camp host once again. Fellow Nova Scotian Gordie Sampson has carved out a space for himself in Nashville as one of Music City’s most sought-out songwriters and producers, having worked with the likes of Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, Miranda Lambert, Florida Georgia Line and many others.

“We’d been there a number of times to write songs,” says Guthro, “but to go down and work on our own music was really cool. We were very lucky that Gordie is so well-connected down there, and he has his go-to guys; he knows all of the players, the musicians and engineers, and whoever we needed. We were constantly blown away by how fast and how incredible they were. One chord chart, listen through the song once, make a note or two, and go in and, first or second take, just kill it.”

While in Nashville, they also made sure to take advantage of the wealth of songwriting talent there. In fact, a few of the songs on the album were written in Nashville with songwriters they’d met through Sampson.

“Every trip that we go down there, we try to do some sessions with the writers there,” says Mackinnon, “because, obviously, some of the world’s best songwriters live in Nashville. We would always be writing on our own, but we wouldn’t want to pass up the opportunity to write with some of those incredible writers down there as well.”

But when the trio started to choose which songs they were going to record as Port Cities, they initially dug into their respective individual back catalogues for songs that hadn’t yet found a home.

“So we kind of started from there,” Stone says, “but then as we were finishing the album, we figured out a really good work flow, just between our three creative minds. So I think that’s become more the reality as of late.”

The collaborative writing process they hit upon capitalizes on their different musical strengths and diverse musical backgrounds.

“I feel like I can be more of the lyric-title-concept guy, and one of my weaknesses would be melodies,” Stone says, “where Dylan is amazing at melodies, and Breagh’s a jazz prodigy, so she has all these musical tools in her toolbox, that I have no idea [how to use]. I think that’s why the collaboration works really well. Our skills complement each other when we’re in the co-writing situation, which is one of the reasons why we kept working together after we met. And that’s only gotten stronger as we’ve evolved as writers and friends, really.”

So far, the fruits of their collaboration appear to be catching on with listeners. Their song “Back to The Bottom” topped Spotify’s Viral Hits Chart, attracting more than 340,000 streams to date.

After having recently toured as an opening act for fellow East Coaster Rose Cousins, the trio is revving up for some album release shows on their home turf. Then Port Cities will set out for a U.K. tour in May, before returning to Canada for the summer festival season. By the fall, they’re back in Europe for more shows, finally returning home for more dates in Canada.

The flow they’ve found by combining their unique voices and talents has begun to carry them far from their home ports, but you won’t hear a sour note from Port Cities.

“We’re pretty much booked till Christmas, it seems like,” Stone says, “so we’re not complaining.”