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Ashlee Standish breathes music; recognizes the soul in her craft

By Brittany Carter

It wouldn’t be enough to say music is simply a part of Ashlee Standish’s life, more accurately, this local musician says her connection runs much deeper.

“It’s just always been there, you know? So, to not have music, my life would feel like, I want to say like a limb is missing, or maybe even more, maybe more like my soul.”

Ashlee Standish shines bright. Photo by Ami Leigh Holmes

Standish is a classically trained pianist with a hand in so many local projects, community events and volunteer opportunities it can be hard to pin her down completely. But one thing is certain; she is as devoted to sharing her love of music with the community as she is to focusing on her own personal growth through her craft.

“Piano has always been something to me that I just always did, no different than brushing your teeth, or anything else that you do in your day to day. It felt like an old friend … I think the more important part to me is not so much about how much I study or this or that. It's more about the feeling,” Standish says. “Music is like therapy.”

She began teaching piano more than 15 years ago and says she loves watching her students grow. What began as a small thing she was doing on the side to make some money through university became a big part of her life’s path.

Through teaching, she says she became more open and started meeting new people. From there, the road sort of “snowballed.” After meeting more musicians who were writing their own music, she was encouraged to branch out and write music herself.

“That really helped kind of crack that open. When you spend 20 years playing classical music, it's very difficult to literally break away from that and create something on your own.”

Music has been a personal friend to her through childhood and was the conduit through which lasting relationships with many of her closest friends were formed. And it has proven time and again to help her through whatever life’s thrown her way.

“It was definitely a coping mechanism for me as well. And so, having that, it was kind of like a best friend through my life, having music there. As I grew older, I met my first husband through music.”

It’s important to push yourself, breaking barriers you build in your mind and knocking obstacles down. She’s rediscovered an inner confidence that she says may have been picked away through the challenges she’s faced. Those roadblocks, such as the depression she’s battled through many stages of her life, can “bear a weight on us.”

“Your inner child can get stuck, and you can’t get out.”

“When I reflect back to being six or seven, singing and playing without care, then all of a sudden, you know, being afraid with anxiety and all of these things. I feel like I kind of came back to my inner child, just by pushing boundaries.”

With the mindset of “It’s better to fail than never try at all,” Standish continued standing up and pushing through an encroaching fear of performing.

“I had a lot of stage fright. Like I had a tremendous anxiety, with performing … Even though I felt nauseous and I would have memory blanks and all kinds of horrible things, I would still somehow do it.”

“I feel like just forcing myself through it made me heal and get past it.”

Now, on top of being a notable local solo pianist also contributing to many bands and projects, she is the lead of a rocking trio of women in her latest endeavour. The band Whatzername, named after a song from favourite band Green Day, has given her the chance to explore another side of herself.

“I started playing and just kind of like trying something new and playing guitar on stage. I love it because when you're playing keys, you're kind of stuck behind a keyboard. I want more flow and more fun, so it was kind of like a different side of me opening up. This band to me is a different expression of myself.”

Whatever the form, expression or outlet for music, Standish says it’s always been like coming home for her; it’s her way to find stillness in the moment.

“So, some people do yoga and they do therapy and they have different methods to help them still their minds. And I think for myself I have a few things I do that helped me become more present.”

Music is obviously a big one, but also being in nature and having time to just be with her son.

“I do really love nature and I'm grateful to live in Niagara. I visit the Niagara River and a lot of the trails often. And I find just being in nature is a way for me to practice stillness.”

For Standish, mindfulness is about being present, but also really appreciating and being grateful for the moment that you have.

“I’m grateful for every day that I get to spend quality time with my son. I'm a single mother who works and has hobbies. (Quarantine) has been very eye opening, just in these soft moments of just sitting and hugging him and touching his hair and telling silly stories. Those are moments to me that are practicing being present and not worrying about what I'm doing next week or what’s happening with COVID or when my job is coming back.”

Right now, with lockdown, mindfulness and being present is something she says we're all kind of being forced to do. For many of us with busy lives, to having things kind of stop is a perfect opportunity to practice being present.

Standish is continuing her exploration into music, both with her band and collaborative projects as well as on her own. Check her out on social media to keep an eye out for more of her upcoming work.

Ashlee Standish Spotify + Instagram

Whatzername Spotify + Instagram

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