The music Victoria Tilling is singing these days doesn’t sound like they were written by a newcomer to songwriting.
“Mature and sophisticated” is the way her mentor, Mark Koenig, describes songs on Tilling’s first demo. Koenig should know, being a Juno-nominated performer and having played in Ian Tyson’s band for years.
“I just sat down and started to write last October,” she said. While she has been playing violin since she was four, Tilling is relatively new to the piano, on which she composes music for her lyrics.
Victoria Tilling was on a decidedly non-musical path until last year. After topping her BCIT accounting class for three years she headed to Sweden to complete her degree, with an offer for “my dream job” at PricewaterhouseCoopers, the global financial firm, in her back pocket.
In Sweden, where her dad’s ancestry lies, Tilling found herself bored with the “easy” courses and embarked on writing a novel. She churned out 450 pages in her spare time.
“I have no idea where that (the novel) is going to go,” she laughs.
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing for the young academic star. She was involved in two car crashes within three years, and while neither resulted in serious or obvious injuries, they took a toll. She felt tired and depressed, her concentration was affected and she simply couldn’t put a finger on what she was experiencing physiologically, but it was apparent to her that taking the accounting job was out of the question last fall.
Instead, she returned to her parents’ home in Erickson. Earlier, she had composed a song on her computer using the Garage Band program and a small keyboard, singing the lyrics into her Apple headset. Her parents were enthusiastic with what they heard (Mark Koenig heard it and “he was intrigued”), and that was incentive to pick up songwriting more seriously.
“I got an early birthday present—an electronic keyboard—and just immersed myself,” she says. “I write the lyrics first, then sit at the piano and work out the melody.”
The Tilling family is a musical one. Victoria’s three sisters all play instruments and sing, and they have performed at Creston New Life Church over the years. In the 11th grade, Victoria tired of playing from sheet music — “classical music can cage you in”– and went to her friend, Carl Sommerfeld.
“Can you teach me to be a fiddler?” she asked. “He helped me learn to improvise.”
The experience of branching out from classical music has helped her in composing songs.
“Last October I just sat down and started expressing the things I was going through. Writing seemed so easy, and I just haven’t stopped since. It just came naturally. I can sit down and write a song in an evening. And it is therapeutic—I’ll just write until the ideas stop coming.”
There is a theme to her work.
“I just write what’s in my heart, things like truth and friendship. It’s all about the words for me. The music is a way to communicate the ideas.”
By February she had written enough songs to make a demo. She recorded with Koenig and friends (Adam and Jenn Koenig and Robert Dumas), and Jason Deatherage produced the result in his Fort Cosmos Studio.
“It was a lot of fun to see my songs come to life,” she smiles.
And smiling is something Victoria is doing a lot of these days. The demo has made its way into the hands of a producer, and she has started to perform her songs in public. Last month family and friends packed the Baillie-Grohman Estate Winery patio for a private concert and the following week she performed four of her songs—getting a huge audience response—at a musical fundraiser in Prince Charles Auditorium that featured Koenig, Amanda Anderson and Sommerfeld.
“The music is just tumbling out. It’s important to me that I don’t shy away from the painful parts of my life.”
Where does she see music taking her in the next few years?
“I don’t even think about it,” she says with a dismissive shrug. “It’s what I need right now, and I am enjoying every minute of it.”