Local musician advocates for mental health with Birdsong foundation

Ashley Bell

By Mike Renzella

The Haldimand Press

HAGERSVILLE—Ashley Bell has loved music her whole life. Born and raised in Springvale, Bell first got a taste for performing at the Springvale BIC Church, where she would take the stage to sing with her two siblings as early as the third grade.

“My mom is a skilled multi-instrumentalist and music teacher, and my dad is the type of music lover that will take the longer way home so a song can finish. Every time and loudly. With roots like that, I was bound to need music in my life,” said Bell.

Bell says she loves all types of music but is especially drawn toward songs from “storytellers and truth seekers.” She listed iconic Canadians Alanis Morissette, Jann Arden, and Shania Twain, among others, as influences on her own songwriting: “Those Canadian artists stole my writer’s heart when I was teenager, and have helped me in my adult life more than they know.”

While music has been a constant companion, Bell has struggled with mental health, making her a perfect artist for the new Canadian national charity, Birdsong – The David Martin New Music Foundation. Named after a 30-year-old Canadian artist who lost his life due to complications with an untreated mental illness in 2017, the charity, run by David’s mother Margaret Konopacki, seeks to give artists who are also struggling with mental health a platform to share their art. 

Artists who meet the criteria are invited to apply through the foundation. If chosen, they will receive a grant and professional help recording their music. Artists will appear on compilation albums released by the charity, with their songs available to purchase for $2 online at birdsongfoundation.com/pages/our-music.

Artists retain 100% ownership of their music and of all proceeds from song sales. Some artists choose to share a portion of their earnings with the charity, but that is at the artist’s discretion.

Bell explained how just before the start of the pandemic she was diagnosed with a loss of function due to unmanaged stress following “months of pain” in her right arm. Although she couldn’t physically play, Bell wrote many songs during this period. It was around this time she first heard of Birdsong.

Bell, who now resides in Hagersville, is one of three artists chosen to have their song from Birdsong’s upcoming debut album shared free ahead of the album’s release next May. 

“‘Home’ is about my friends that were in my life as a teenager in North Bay. They were, and still are the most family-oriented, dynamic, selfless, and successful people I know. But, when life gets hard, or when things get confusing, we have been faithful for meeting back up when we can. We sort things out, eat a lot of great food, and we dance,” said Bell. “I’m sure anyone can remember the childhood years, when your heart easily finds ways to connect with others before life choices and extra kilometres make everything different!” 

She continued, “Then when you get together you reminisce, collaborate, and learn from each other, and things don’t even feel that different at all! ‘Your hearts still have the same home,’ as the song says.”

Bell is proud to be involved with Birdsong: “The whole experience was pretty spiritual and life-changing, and I just knew something good was going to happen out of all the mess that was consuming my life at the time. I feel like this foundation is a powerful movement in the right direction as our communities deal with the ever-growing problems with addiction and mental health crisis.” 

Bell said, thanks to the foundation’s help, she has two songs completed at B. Music Productions in Toronto and has plans for 10 more songs. Her album will be called ‘Love Always Wins’. She is hoping to release her album shortly after a planned tour next spring, where she will perform with other featured artists from the debut compilation.

She said having her music chosen has been a life-affirming experience: “When I got an email with a subject that said, “Ashley Bell, we believe in you!”, it was life changing. Now I don’t work at the factory but live a chaotic but fulfilling home life.”

Anyone who wants to learn more about this promising local talent can visit her webpage at ashleybellmusic.wordpress.com or check her out on Instagram at @ashbell_therapeuticmusic, or on Facebook at Ashley Bell Music. To hear the song ‘Home’, visit Birdsong’s YouTube channel.

She concluded, “I believe that this is just the beginning of something really good.”