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A Man of Soul and Reflection

Performing artist Gregory Charles talks family, loving through illness, and giving back

By Casandra de Masi

A sense of tranquility blankets the city in the early morning of a holiday Monday. But the tone changes once one sets foot into Gregory Charles' office – the Groupe Musique Greg team is alive and bustling with creativity and passion.

As a musician, pianist, radio presenter, television show personality and creator, and actor, there is very little in the world of entertainment that Charles hasn’t championed and made his own. But still, he remains humble and reflective.

Paying it forward with music

"My mother always said when God gives you a talent it comes with responsibility," says Charles. "Being a public personality, particularly in show business, it's similar to the responsibilities given to the superheroes in the comics – the traditional Spiderman ‘with great power comes great responsibility.'"

Charles doesn’t take his platform for granted. He has always been very involved in the community as a volunteer, following in the footsteps of his altruistic parents. Over the years, this idea of “giving back” or “paying it forward” has been an unfaltering pillar in both his career and personal life.

About five years ago, following the birth of his daughter Julia, and as he cared for his ailing mother, his world view shifted. The changes happening in his life put things into a different focus.

“I started thinking that it's a fine career I have right now, but what will be left [when I’m gone]? From that point on I decided to invest in a different way. That's why we bought some radio stations and some theatres. The television programs that we produce are oriented towards kids, and the radio station that we own is dedicated to the survival of classical music and classical musicians,” he explains.

Inspired by his late mother who was his own musical mentor, Charles’ vision includes establishing a platform of communication, teaching, and collaboration with the community. It’s about fostering and nourishing musical talent in youth, and even in adults who haven’t had the chance to explore this avenue before. This interaction with the arts, he believes, has a far greater impact on our society than one would imagine.

“I found in recent years that people move when their emotions are moved. Emotions are what drive people to change or to actually do something. It's true in music, it's true in education, and it’s true in absolutely everything. If you can connect emotionally with people, then you can rule the world. But more importantly, you can get people to rule their own lives and change the world.”

Loving through illness

The loss of his mother in January, after a 15-year battle with Alzheimer's, was difficult for Charles and his family. She was an anchor in his life; a mother, a teacher, a mentor, and a friend.

Through this journey, Charles learned a lot about the power of compassion on the human condition. He speaks of our tendency to fight battles that cannot be won, a trap he himself fell into when first learning of his mother’s diagnosis. But as humans, we are freed when we learn to embrace reality, and move forward while housing that acceptance deep in our soul.

“I'd play for my mother two-three times a week. I'd think ‘I don't know if it's getting through to her.’ I got my answer just a few days before she passed. It had been years since she had been able to express herself so she wasn't using words. I got up and I was ready to leave and I sat down and I thought ‘ok, there's this one piece she loves that I didn't play’ and I started playing… and my mom started singing.”

Charles credits his parents for allowing him to pave the path he walks today, providing him with the love, support, and foundation to expand his horizons. He considers being able to care for them a privilege.

“It's not fun to see someone you love declining, but again it is also a magnificent opportunity to witness devotion and dedication,” he says.

It’s the devotion his father had towards his ailing wife and the dedication he felt and feels from his own partner in life, Nicole Collet, who adopted her mother-in-law with open arms during a very difficult time. Navigating illness within the family also provides an opportunity to learn from the purity and naiveté of children, and to use this natural part of life as a teaching moment.

“I remember looking at my mom and thinking ‘my God,’ she was diminished by this illness and I thought she used to be such a beautiful woman, and at that very moment my daughter was right beside me and she said, ‘she's pretty, huh?’ and I thought ‘Yup, well you see stuff that I don't see anymore, and that I should see.’ I think it is a privilege for kids to be aware of illness, of what happens to their parents, grandparents; it gives life value.”

Quick fire questions with Gregory Charles

First concert you ever attended: I have a musical family so I attended a lot. But first professional concert would be Chris de Burgh, the Beyond These Castle Walls album.

First musical memory: One of the first songs I can remember is “Mamy Blue.” My first musical memory is my mother singing; my mother always sang. My grandmother always sang. As far back as I can remember I was surrounded by people who sang.

Song/Jam of the 1990s: “No Diggitty” by Blackstreet, without a doubt that was my thing in the 90’s.

A song from the last 100 years you wish you’d written: How many hours do you have?... But I’d say a Leon Russell song, called “A Song for You.” It says everything I want to say. I remember thinking of my mom with that song, and eventually with my wife, and now my daughter. I think a good song is like a good prayer, if you could substitute words in a prayer, to God, or to your loved one, or to the world as a whole, I think it works. So a good song speaks to everyone, like a prayer that speaks to everyone.

A word of advice for your younger self? Why so serious? Who knew I'd quote the joker!

Charles’ father was recently diagnosed with the same disease, and it’s been a rapid decline for him. As Charles explains, it’s not easy when you become the main caretaker for your parent, even living in the same home. But having support, and being vocal about needing it, is the key to staying afloat.

“I was lucky when it came time to find a partner in love, so I say the secret to managing kids, a professional life, a personal life, and aging parents who are ill is having a fantastic partner. My partner is the best I could ever hope for,” he says.

“In a way illness is terrible, but it is also an incredible opportunity to show what humankind is capable of; extreme compassion, understanding, sensitivity, and love. We believe in love. And those abilities, those values, those virtues, they're always there.”

Singing for Lachine Hospital Foundation

In November, Charles will be taking to the stage at L'Entrepôt concert hall in Lachine to raise funds for the Lachine Hospital Foundation. A true showman, he says he's not really one to plan a full program in advance, and prefers to interact with the crowd organically. Spectators can definitely expect a few surprises!

For Charles, it’s all about making the audience feel what they want to feel, whether it’s peace, happiness, reflection, or escape. Music is a personal experience for each individual.

“Music is the best way we have found of expressing our true nature, and our true nature is actually pretty cool. We can be very peaceful, and we can be very understanding. I hope everyone comes to the show, and I hope everyone leaves with a sense of community and sense of togetherness.”

 

Join us at L’Entrepôt – Lachine’s state-of-the-art concert hall for an evening of unforgettable music.

Gregory Charles in concert at L’Entrepôt

2901 Saint-Joseph Boulevard
Lachine, QC H8S 2P4
Wednesday, November 1st
8pm
Tickets: $95
Tickets not available at the door. Limited seating.

Call the Foundation at 514-637-2351 ext. 77333 to reserve your tickets today.

 

Fall 2017, Vol 9 N°4

Current Issue

Family Issue

Fall 2017
Vol 9 N°4

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