John David Martin-Konopacki was born in Toronto September 8, 1987 and exhibited a great attraction to playing guitar from a very young age. His father was John Martin, the creator of Canada's music station – MuchMusic and David was fascinated with all creative things, but his great love was composing his own music. Due to difficulties in staying in school with his ADHD, he was home schooled for much of his life in Toronto and travelled around the world with his mother, always bringing his guitar and singing his own songs. His mental health issues became serious around age 15 and he entered many recovery centers after that in the US.
There were good years and great years and then months of voluntary psychiatric treatments where his bipolar disorder coupled with self-medicating with street drugs left him feeling like an outcast, misunderstood and lonely. Because he had a very high IQ it was hard for him not to compare himself to others who were healthy and living satisfying lives while he was experiencing stigma, trauma and frustration. Music was what sustained him for a long time but on September 24, 2017, he’d had enough and gave it all away.
David was kind, exceptionally generous, selfless and gifted in song writing and performance. He believed in helping others often as a detriment to himself ; he had a heart of solid gold. Birdsong New Music Foundation was born to help others like David and he has become a catalyst for change and healing. Birdsong New Music Foundation is about creating a kinder safer world for all people through the healing power of music.
David wrote about his music in 2017: “Recorded in my bedroom with the onboard mics of a Zoom R16, I write simple songs about awakening loving awareness through higher levels of consciousness. Using earthly themes, I like to paint subtle soundscapes that invoke the beauty of an ever-evolving universe. The sound of the water, the call of the ocean, live in the waking dream – it's a musical journey through the waves of existence. David’s songwriting spans two decades. After his death his computer and hard drives were taken to Vancouver to be re-recorded and mastered for release by Nygel Asselin of NYG Productions.
Maggie's Song – The deep love for his mother Margaret Konopacki – is a short and heartfelt song that will break your heart because every mother knows how deep the love flows for a son. David was Maggie's only child, and the bond resonates so deeply that their combined love for each other gave birth to this important charity. This was his last Christmas gift to Mom. “It's the most powerful memory I have of my son – I feel the love across the great divide, and I believe he is steering this charity to help people heal,” she says.
Additional Songs by David on First Flight 101
Floating on the Water: Takes you into the power of surfing on the sea. You feel it, float on it and feel the higher power connection of things you can't control. “Never knew from living, there's another way to pray, watching the daybreak” – are some of the poignant lyrics. David wrote the song years after spending a year at House of Hope in Ensenada Mexico, in a 12-step recovery program and he surfed every morning as the sun came up.
So Good Looking Man: David loved film noire and all the black and white movies that created feelings of romance. He was also a “so good looking man” and prided himself in looking great and dressing up as often as he could. He had his own classy fashion. In this song he is somewhere in Europe – walking out on a cobblestone terrace to have his final smoke before he boarded his final train ride.
Pray For Your Peace: Perhaps the most moving and spiritual song written by David after being in recovery for many years. In this song all he cares about is love. He looks to the stars for meaning. It is not about religion, but any form of prayer or action that can help overcome anxiety, depression, substance use disorder or any behavior that takes away your peace. He is the performer in the shadows waiting for the show to begin.
Robin Benedict is a full-time musician based in Hamilton, Ontario. Robin openly shares her story about her battle with addiction and depression. She uses music and song writing as her outlet for healing and evolution. Robin is a strong believer that creativity is the best tool to release trauma and raise our vibration.
In the face of it all, she’s been playing solo to pay the bills, while gaining experience and exposure working for companies like Classic Albums Live, based out of Toronto. She is best known for her Janis Joplin covers and has performed as part of the Classic Albums Live series in California and Florida. Recently, Robin has developed a Janis Joplin Tribute Show stacked with some of Ontario's most renowned players.
Robin Benedict prides herself on her ability to share a positive attitude on life through her original songs, which speak of soul-searching and new beginnings. Music is the air Robin breathes. Her voice can both jolt, like a firecracker, and lull a baby to sleep. It’s that versatility that allows her to move listeners while singing any genre. When she opens her mouth to sing, she means it every time. Robin continues to write and is currently in the studio finishing up her upcoming singles, Freedom and Baby Bye Bye.
Songs by Robin on First Flight 101
Thank You: This song is about gratitude and for noticing the positive and beautiful world we live in. From Robin – “Even when everything is bleak I thank my higher power for all that is given to me and am forever grateful. Thank you is a song to express this feeling.”
Amanda: Robin has dedicated this song to Carol Todd and her family. Amanda’s suicide due to cyber bullying needs to be told to save lives. From Robin – “It is my hope that by continuing to tell Amanda’s tragic story, we will raise awareness and stop cyber bullying and inspire any children who are suffering in silence to think twice before making a decision they can never take back.” (amandatoddlegacy.org)
Jhmal King was born in Toronto in the 70’s to mix-race parents. His father was from Barbados, his mother from Irish-American heritage. His dad was the lead singer for a Toronto band called The Lincolns (not to be confused with The Lincolns from the 80’s). Around age 17, Jhmal began to show a more serious interest in music and started singing. He soon realized that he had “this incredible, big, expressive voice.” He took to studying the great rock singers of the time and began developing his own style.
At 21, Jhmal moved to Vancouver to attend the University of British Columbia, where he began his studies in Anthropology. Unfortunately, during his first year, symptoms of schizophrenia began, making it difficult to focus. Shortly after, Jhmal quit school. While in Vancouver, Jhmal began working in a few local bands, and experiencing the city’s vibrant music scene. He came to realize he had a knack for writing strong melodic and lyrical hooks and catch phrases. Eventually, Jhmal moved back to Toronto to pursue music more seriously.
Jhmal is open about his diagnosis of schizophrenia, which he’s had for 20 years, but he doesn’t like to be singled out. “Being a person of color, and a person who deals with mental health issues,” he says. “one day you are feeling normal and the next day you have bipolar or schizophrenia – are you ready for that? Will you still stick around with me? Sometimes I don’t feel good, and I don’t want to go outside or be around people or even to talk to people. Sometimes I feel I’m being threatened – and sometimes that’s the way it is with schizophrenia. I have felt stigma and discrimination in my life for my illness and the color of my skin. The only hope for our world is to educate people around these situations. If more people understand what others are really dealing with their fear subsides.”
Songs by Jhmal on First Flight 101
Never Settle: Never settle, never give up is what the song is about no matter what. Know that life changes and better things will come your way. Never settle for second best.
Everybody Has Got Somebody: No matter how lonely and sad you can get remember that things can and will change. There is someone for everyone and so never give up. Know that you are not alone – everybody has got somebody.
“Music to me is like a diary – it is my life,” says Jordan Gow. “I can look at the words to a song I wrote and know exactly what I was feeling at that time. It helps to ground me – give me purpose. It is the most integral thing in my life that allows me to escape and persevere through very difficult challenges.”
Born in Kanata, Ontario in the 80s, Jordan entered this world as an identical twin. The two brothers were so similar in many ways, both embracing music at a tender age. For Jordan, that love of creating his own sound and writing lyrics would shadow him throughout his life. “My bro and I are close, but we are different. Diagnosed with severe ADHD and substance use disorder, my life became a journey in and out of psychiatric hospitals and treatment centres. I was broken and hopeless. The truth is that I wanted desperately to stop my behavior, but today I know it’s an illness and sometimes it comes back.
It’s been a long road, but today I have hope and I’m in a program that works for me with other people like me. I could never do this alone – and music is my chosen form of self-realizing what I was put on this earth to do; help others and create music and art.”
Jordan is completing his first album in 2023 and hopes to go on tour with Birdsong New Music Foundation by the end of the year. “They ignited in me a new sense of purpose,” he says. “I believe that David Martin and I would have been great friends. We were in the same psychiatric facility, we both played in the stairwell at the same facility, but he died a few weeks before I ended up on the same ward. Things happen for a reason. I will sing one of his songs (Pray For Your Peace) on my premier album, dedicating it to those of us who deal with mental illness. It’s the doorway for change.”
Today, Jordan is one of the Birdsong ambassadors for substance use disorder and concurrent disorders, and is completing his third year in Therapeutic Recreation at Concordia University, focusing his studies on TR for youth/young adults at risk and people with cognitive disabilities/substance use and concurrent disorders.
Songs by Jordan on First Flight 101
Caged Bird's Song: This is about the struggle that becomes inherent when you love someone who does not know how to love themselves. Despite this challenge, the song is about acceptance and forgiveness within yourself despite this drama.
Hell or Highwater: What is holding you back? This song is about the spiritual empowerment of letting go of what is holding you back from who you really want to be and learning to move on as your true self.
Ashley Bell, from Hagersville, Ontario, has become a voice for change for people who live with mental illness – her journey is inspirational. In 2012 she had a serious vehicle accident that changed her life – a brain injury, broken neck and back, and a new anxiety disorder, coupled with the inability to use her right arm, all the while raising two kids as a single mom. The stress was too much. She tried to make up for lost time, but discouragement and anxiety took over. It was during the difficult time that Ashley believes she lost touch with her higher power - something she relied on to get her through difficult times prior to the accident.
In 2019 she writes that she wanted to give up on music because she felt music was the enemy. “Most of all, I couldn’t help but think that my dreams, and all the music in my life, was over. That’s when my friend suggested that I get in touch with BIRDSONG New Music Foundation. And so I did and offered up my songwriting skills. They sent me some of David’s music to inspire me. I took my dog for a walk while the sun was setting and listened to it. It was beautiful and it moved me! In some way he reminded me that I had lots of songs to share and that, to be a good role model for my boys, I needed to chase my dreams so they could chase their own. I got home that night and recorded the three songs I had in my head and put it all in Gods hands.
“When we began recording in the studio, my entire body was flooded with overwhelming, and all too familiar anxiety. It was telling me to be afraid, and to quit. However, everyone involved at the studio, was so supportive. I’m so grateful for everyone I’ve met along this journey. BIRDSONG Foundation has given me all the hope and motivation I needed to make it happen! Love always wins – always – I believe that!”
Song by Ashley on First Flight 101
Home: This song was inspired by songwriter Ashley’s best friends from a youth church group in high school. After many hardships and then a long worldwide lock-down they finally set a date and celebrated being together again. The strength of friendship and the power of loyalty through thick and thin is the theme of this upbeat and positive song. It’s a loving anthem for friendship that can carry you through the best and worst of times.
Best Advice is a fun and playful reminder that life is full of twists and turns, and we are all going through positives and negatives. We all need some good advice. From Ashley “my hope is that this collection of helpful truth will remind people that we can all get through it together.”
Like many Canadians born in small towns like Pembroke, Ontario, Allan Kinney felt he didn’t really belong. Allan’s Dutch oldest two brothers and mother had immigrated to Canada from Belgium less than nine years before Allan was born, and some of Allan’s best early memories are of those brothers’ was listening to Paul McCartney, The Beatles, and Rolling Stones vinyl. At age three, his first home-away-from-home was in Mme. Sylvestre’s Franco-Ontarian garderie (nursery school), an experience that has made the French language dear to his heart.
The reception among Pembroke peers for Allan’s success in and preference for reading and music was mixed, and sadly included about six years of homophobic and biphobic taunting, although he was in other ways truly appreciated at the same time – nicknamed “Einstein” in Grade 7, and praised even by his most scathing classmates when he would play the piano, clarinet, or saxophone for them, as well as in later years when he would sing, dance, or act in dramatic and musical productions.
The experience of elementary and high school in Pembroke impressed upon Allan the importance of the environment, social justice, and international peace, and in line of seeking to further these aims someday.
But the much loved and respected Ottawa keyboardist/songwriter has had to overcome both the ravages of clinical schizophrenia and the innate discrimination of institutions and individuals who do not live with, nor understand mental health issues. It is not lost on Kinney that were it not for music and treatment and medication, he would not have persevered through three degrees, a 10 year career as a college professor, four albums two Ottawa Bluesfest gigs, an appearance with Pellegrini Opera on keyboards in their production of Tosca, 60 plus shows with Ras Lee and the Vibes Band – and started his own band, Bens Motel and the Guru Rebels, which plays all his original songs.
Songs by Allan on First Flight 101
Spiritual Drink Machines: This song was inspired by the sub-prime mortgage crisis of 2007 and the financial crisis of 2008 but continues to be relevant today. In the song “Heaven” and “the angels on High” are roughly a metaphor for political, economic and spiritual authority and the effort to make real a vision of something better in our lives together.
The focus is on the questionable political alliance since 1980 between economically neoliberal/neoconservative politicians, religious fundamentalists.
Little Boy: A song whose lyrics are narrated by the inner voice of a woman who either at the end of a nighttime party, finds herself alone in a room with a man in whom she is not interested but who is interested in her. She finds herself in the awkward position of having to give him a polite but firm brush off. It’s about pervasive sexism and patriarchy which forces many women to navigate all situations on a sort of constant alert in order to avoid danger from men. The song was written to create a respect for boundaries and to stop violence or harassment towards women.
Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Dustin Rene Harder (Prairie Soul) is proud of his Metis roots. His dad and grandfather were both musicians and so he was exposed to music and musical instruments at a young age. At the age of 19 with 20 dollars in his pocket and a guitar on his back, Dustin hitchhiked from Winnipeg, Manitoba, and busked his way to Dawson City Yukon to pursue his grandfather's dream of panning for gold.
He supported himself along the way, through busking and as a hired live performer and he began to pursue his dream of becoming a recording artist. Struggling with substance use disorder and buried trauma from his childhood he hit bottom but used his personal strength to emerge with his debut album entitled Searchin’ For A River. That album earned him a 2009 Aboriginal People’s Choice Music Award (APCMA) with the (now defunct) Dusty Roads Band.
A self-titled album was released in 2016, a compilation of original songs that were recorded in various studios in Winnipeg, reflecting Dustin’s prairie roots and his travels throughout northern and western Canada. His Hitting the Road Harder Tour, a 43-date tour of western and northern Canada, took place in the fall/winter 2017.
Dustin heard about The Birdsong New Music Foundation from social media, applied, was accepted into the program and was flown in to record two songs for the album. “Songs write you not the other way around. He speaks openly about his depression, Bipolar and undiagnosed trauma and substance use disorder. “It makes the roller coaster of life that much more of a wilder inconsistent ride with longer highs and lows and its music that has kept me hanging on. Music is everything; I would be dead without it.” My next project is based on the subject matter of facing your demons and self sabotage. It’s called Brighter Days And Better Ways." I am hoping that the words that have come to me will continue to help me and those who hear them with their own struggles. I am going to share a bit in hopes that it finds you well on your good fight towards actual brighter days and better ways.”
Songs by Dustin on First Flight 101
Voices Travel the Wind (Hey Na Na Na Nay) was written to commemorate the individual spirits of the murdered indigenous children in the Catholic run residential schools in western Canada. Unmarked graves are still being found and thousands of children died at the schools but the true number may never be known. Metis songwriter, Dustin Harder, uses a harp outdoors to harness a strong wind to capture the sound of the children's "voices” – Hey Na Na Na Nay. (Never Again) The sound is haunting and necessary for truth and justice to prevail.
Every Day I: Is a positive and happy song to remind us all to not let negativity hold us back. Keep focusing in on the positive attitude of gratitude.
Originally from Sydney, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Thomas Messenger was raised around music, and has been performing from an early age. He has appeared on stage as a solo artist as well as with band mates, performing for local communities (he now resides in Barrie, Ontario). Today, Thomas is a mental health activist who speaks openly about living with TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) from a work-related scaffolding collapse, PTSD, chronic depression and anxiety, and hopes to help others through his music.
“I could write a book about the challenges I experience every day, but I wrote a few songs instead,” he says. An almost fatal fall off scaffolding in Nova Scotia in 1997 exacerbated his already existing conditions, and he began to use medical marijuana (cannabis) to help with pain management. This transgression landed him, unfairly, at Penetanguishene Correctional Center. Thomas both experienced and witnessed how people with mental illness are incarcerated instead of “getting the help. They need.” His song, entitled Jeffrey's Truck, is poignant and heartbreaking lyrical tale dedicated to Jeffrey Thomas Elliot who died there, August 29, 2003, at age 19.
“He had the mental development of a child,” says Thomas. “I witnessed the drama personally as I shared a cell with him inside prison. An inquest was held after his death, and the results state that his death was caused by failure to get adequate medical attention after being attacked and beaten by another inmate. I want to help get stories like Jeffrey's out to educate the general public. Lyrics and music can paint the real story often far better than anything else. Jeffrey gave me a drawing in prison of a truck his father gave him.
It was his pride and joy and he was counting the days till he got out so he could start work on it. It was his big dream, and I am honoring his memory in this creative way. He deserved better – the times they need a’ changing.”
Songs by Thomas appearing on First Flight 101
Jeffrey’s Truck: Moving and poignant song about Jeffrey’s Truck his friend who died in prison. The song is out to educate the world and about this tragedy and to change the world for people who live with mental health issues.
“Being a part of Birdsong New Music Foundation has given me an umbrella of support through the
darkest of times and has become a part of my own musical movement of ending the segregation amongst rock and hip-hop (mom's side, dad's side) that's deep seeded in the music industry and our everyday lives as African and/or Native descent – as well as support for invisible illnesses like Leukaemia and Sickle Cell Anemia.”
So says Statia Anne Victoria Wallace, a multi-talented Canadian dancer who started at the Quinte Ballet School of Canada in Belleville in her youth but who, instead, ended up totally lost in the world due to the systematic racism she experienced. She now stands against the racism and sexism for independent women, transexuals and girls. But she does not do it just by protesting. “I do this by choosing to exist and to sing my songs and by being myself, unapologetically. “
“As we work together, we break generational curses and hope to see us all shine bright like a diamond in the upcoming New Year!” she says. “If you discover the highs and lows of a tricolor g.o.a.t like myself alarming, please just use my life stories and music to better your own lives, and if not better, then I hope my words make you strong. Jah bless the Universe!”
Songs by Statia on First Flight 101
Marmalade Skies: This song is a collection of thoughts reminiscent of a time in Statia's life when things were much less complicated; simpler, easier peaceful times. Statia has dedicated Marmalade Skies to her uncle Kerry and his garage where she first discovered her love for music and performance, and to her grandma’s cooking and family she left behind in Belleville, Ontario.
Earl Johnson was born and raised in a rough, working-class, tough area of Hamilton, Ontario. Alchohol was prevalant amongst the men of that time - mostly working hard job at the steel mill of construction. Only recently, Earl found out about his birth parents and realized that his father was full blooded-Mohawk.
Music was a career choice early in Earl’s life and his love of guitar playing was evident. In the 70s his career was booming as the lead guitarist in the popular rock/metal band Moxy (Toronto, 1974). Later, as a member of King Biscuit Boy, much of the song writing was done by Johnson.
Johnson's music style has evolved over the years and turned more to classic R&B with his new Hamilton-based band, Long Black Cadillacs. During many of these years, Earl's bass player, Deb Sutton played at his side and became the love of his life. The couple were together for 20 years, but Sutton died in 2019 from long term alcohol use which severely damaged her liver.
Earl talks about how “it was our mental illness and her passing that created an insurmountable hole in my heart and soul. I was also struggling with substance use and felt guilty that she was gone, not me. But, quite literally, music saved my life – because if it was not for music and some of my closest friends, I would not have made it. Today, I want to make a difference while touring and playing music, and spread the news that you are not alone out there. Bad things happen – we are in this together and we are resilient – and the stigma must stop. I connected with BIRDSONG New Music Foundation and wrote the song, Forever Mine, as a tribute to Deb. We need to take the stigma away from this illness, we need better treatment and more understanding. Let your love shine on me Deb – Forever Mine.”
Songs by Earl on First Flight 101
Forever Mine: Earl Johnson’s love song for Debbie his partner and bass player strikes a cord. “It keeps her memory alive in my heart” says the songwriter and guitarist. “It’s a tribute song and we need to take the stigma away from the illness of “substance use disorder.” This song will resonate with people who have lost someone they love so very very much. Let your love shine on me Deb – Forever Mine.”