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Toronto-Jewish and Grammy-winning Haydn discusses music composition as a spiritual practice: “It’s the way I express my devotion”

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Haydn performing in 2009 | Photo: Mykal Burns

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Lili Haydn keeps on scoring. This is true in more ways than one, as last year, the Toronto-born rock violinist’s band Opium Moon took home a Grammy Award. Haydn continues to thrive by composing scores for film and television.

Haydn, who now lives in Los Angeles, recently wrapped up the score for the first season of Ginny & Georgia, a new Netflix original series about a teen and her mother trying to escape their past in a new town. Filmed in Toronto, the finished production features not only Haydn’s compositions, but also her performances of them.

She’s currently working on the music for an as-of-yet untitled docuseries for Netflix.

In some ways, this has all come full circle for Haydn, a former child actress whose credits include a starring role in the 1979, spinoff, crime-drama series Mrs. Columbo, plus Rodney Dangerfield’s Easy Money.

“Scoring to me has been a natural evolution,” Haydn says. “Not just an evolution of my musical voice, but… as an actor, I related to people emotionally in a scene. I’m doing the same thing musically within that same emotional landscape, so it’s kind of a perfect lens of the musical inspiration and the dramatic inspiration. That’s something that I bring that’s a little bit different than a normal film composer.”

For Haydn, working on a score means working in isolation day and night, getting only three to four hours of sleep. Ironically, this hunkering down prepared her for — and in some ways insulated her from — the coronavirus pandemic.

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“I was basically trapped in my studio and was kind of on lockdown for work, regardless of the global lockdown, so it really didn’t make that much difference,” she told TheJ.ca. “I felt a bit guilty. But the nature of the compositional process is quite solitary.”

She predicts a lot of beautiful music will come out of the pandemic, noting “art is one of the silver linings of suffering.”

While Haydn may be accustomed to working in solitude, she also knows the opposite, having just performed before audiences of thousands; she was most recently in a show with Opium Moon at TEDxGateway in Mumbai, India. The Feb. 23 show was one of the world’s last before lockdown.

“Performing and scoring are different, but they come from the same place,” Haydn says.

Haydn performing in 2014 | Photo: Justin Higuchi

“It’s not that it’s not bold, it’s just where it’s bold and when it has to be subordinate. It is different to be at the centre of a 40-foot stage in front of 20,000 people when you are the centre of attention and you can throw all caution to the wind to entertain a giant crowd. That’s different than trying not to disturb or overshadow the emotional complexities of some dialogue.”

“But, after that dialogue is done, we get to be the voice of that person’s crying soul. And in a way, it’s just morphing emotion — which is really all we’re ever doing — and the energy doesn’t go away, but just transforms. The concept is that it’s just different manifestations of the same muse.”

This philosophical approach to music is one rooted in Haydn’s Jewish identity. Haydn says her mother, the late comedienne Lotus Weinstock, began taking Torah classes around the time Haydn was to become a bat mitzvah.

Though Weinstock was a “pantheist,” she rose to her “motherly Jewish duties,” Haydn says.

And something clicked. 

Haydn found meaning in the struggle of humans with God.

“The grappling is part of the mitzvah,” she says. “I love that Israel really, literally means, ‘God wrangler,’ That’s the name that was given after [Jacob’s] dream of fighting with God or the angels. The grappling is, itself, in a way, the substance — of the religion and the message.”

Lili Haydn performing with Opium Moon at TEDxGateway in Mumbai on February 23, 2020

Haydn makes a point of reciting the Shema each day, a prayer she says “unifies all the strands of the illusion of paradox”, and helps her find God within the “world in all its chaos.”

In God Said, a song on Haydn’s 2014 album Lililand, the lyrics include the Shema.

The music helps her maintain her religious philosophy.

“The music is my prayer — it’s both the gift and the path,” she says. “The practice of it for me is my meditation. It really becomes a medication on love… It’s my religion, really. It’s the way I express my devotion.”

Opium Moon is releasing new singles each month with an album slated for release this year. Haydn is also releasing an EP of her solo material in the fall, to coincide with the premiere of Ginny & Georgia.

Andrew Lawton is a journalist, columnist, and broadcaster. He hosts The Andrew Lawton Show, a national public affairs podcast, and has contributed to a number of publications around Canada and the world, including the National Post, Washington Post, Sun newspaper chain, and FoxNews.com.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

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