Selkirk College Contemporary Music & Technology Program alumna Kiesza made good on a promise to return her roots and left a lasting impact on those she touched during a six-day visit to Nelson.
Propelled to the top of the international charts with her mega-hit “Hideaway” in 2014, the pop star has emerged as one of Canada’s shining stars winning three Juno Awards and continuing to produce music that appeals to a vast audience. In late-November, Kiesza touched down in Nelson to reconnect with the community that helped provide the tools for success.
While in Nelson, Kiesza performed at the Selkirk College Gala 2015 where she shared the Mary Hall stage with current Contemporary Music & Technology Program students.
“I really believe in giving,” Kiesza said about her main motivation on returning to the classrooms at the Tenth Street Campus. “When you have success, you should use it for positive influence. My path to success was definitely a rocky road, so I’m coming from a place where I can talk about my experience and help educate current students. When I was in school, if I had somebody in my position coming back I would have been very grateful for that. You should use what you have for positive and always give back.”
Key to Success is Hard Work
Kiesza grew up in Calgary and arrived to Selkirk College straight out of high school. She graduated from the music program in 2009 and then made the transition to the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. While at Berklee, Kiesza began to make a push in the New York City music scene where she wrote music on a daily basis, collaborated constantly, continually knocked on doors of industry leaders and didn’t take no for an answer.
Early in her global success, Kiesza made a promise to return to Selkirk College to talk with students. While in Nelson, she held a workshop for students to talk about her experience after graduating from post-secondary.
During her visit, Kiesza held one formal clinic and during rehearsal for Gala 2015 spent time passing on tips for putting on an electrifying performance.
“I think I’m naturally fearless,” she said. “I never believe I can’t do something. I’m not sure if I was born with it or it was my upbringing, but I never believe I can’t do anything so I just kind of do it. I also know that you have to work, there’s no way around the work. If you want to achieve a goal, there is no shortcut. If you take a shortcut then something about it will be wrong, something about it will cave in.”
Kiesza told students that before just before “Hideaway” made her a star—first in the United Kingdom and then across the globe—she saw failure dangling before her eyes. Having made solid inroads in New York, she had yet to break through and was running out of financial resources. With her work visa about to expire and a major setback looming, she didn’t give up. It was during that highly stressful time that she wrote the song that rocketed her to success.
“This is an industry where the odds are against you, even when you have success the odds are still against you,” she said. “You can’t expect yourself to win every time. If you go in knowing that probably you won’t get something, you’re going to walk out having lost nothing. You will get up the next day just as happy and try again. Failure gives you more drive because if you are so determined, every time you fail you have a little more drive to succeed.”
Building on a Career at a Tireless Pace
The success of “Hideaway” (with almost 290 million YouTube views to date), provided Kiesza the opportunity to build on her career and produce the music she had been writing. She released Sound of a Woman in October, 2014 which spawned the hits “Giant in My Heart” and “No Enemiesz.” At the 2015 Juno Awards, Kiesza was awarded trophies for Video of the Year, Breakthrough Artist of the Year and Dance Recording of the Year.
Over the last year, Kiesza has toured extensively with acts like Drake, played before festival crowds of more than 50,000 and collaborated with artists such as Jennifer Lopez. In September she took part in the David Foster Foundation Miracle Gala & Concert where she took the same stage as Stevie Wonder.
One of the most impressive traits Kiesza has is an ability to connect with people. During the "Hanging Out With Kiesza" community event, the pop star talked with every fan who approached her, signed every autograph and posed for every picture.
Kiesza is currently putting together her next album and told students that she writes a song a day.
“It’s rare that I don’t have a melody in my head, I’ve written over 60 songs since the end of August,” she said. “The work doesn’t end, it’s a 24-hour job. Your sleep is work. If you are not a workaholic I wouldn’t suggest this job to anyone. I love to work, when I’m not working I’m freaking out.”
Selkirk College Provided the Right Start
Looking back on building the foundation for her career, Kiesza credits the Selkirk College Contemporary Music & Technology Program as a key component.
“You get close with all the students in school, you get close to your teachers,” she said about her two years in Nelson. “There is a little bit more trust between everybody and I think you care for each other a little bit more because you are closer.”
At the heart of her enthusiasm towards her alma mater is veteran instructor Gilles Parenteau.
“Teachers have a big influence on you as a student and for me Gilles was a huge influence,” she said. “He was one of the earliest people to believe in my potential that I don’t even think I knew I had at the time. He encouraged me to go on and having that push was really important.”
Kiesza considers music program instructor Gilles Parenteau (right) one of her most important mentors.
As part of giving back, Kiesza performed at the sold-out Selkirk College Gala 2015 where money was raised for student scholarships and bursaries. She took the stage with current students in a seven-song set that brought the crowd of more than 280 to their feet at Mary Hall on the Tenth Street Campus.
The day after Gala she participated in the “Hanging Out With Kiesza” family-friendly event that raised money for a scholarship to be established in her name. More than 300 people came out to meet the pop star who signed hundreds of autographs, posed for pictures, chatted with fans and performed her hits.
After it was all over, Kiesza said she was happy to return to a community she calls “magical” and will always hold a special place in her heart.
“Selkirk College is in the middle of one of the most beautiful places in the world… just being in Nelson is amazing,” she said. “To be able to wake up every day in a gorgeous and beautiful place that you are in awe of every day is quite a wonderful thing. I talk about Nelson around the world wherever I go. When people ask about my experience as a student or my story of getting to where I am today, I always talk about Nelson and always throw in: you have to go there one day before you die because it’s one of those magical places still left in the world.”