There are eleven female singer-songwriters who recorded Joni Mitchell’s Blue: 40th Anniversary Celebration. All eleven of these women are extraordinary in their own right—many of them pursue music as a full-time profession; some have moved on to other careers. One of the most special Chicks has to be Victoria Lavington. Read below about her life as a musician, her work with Prince Charles (yes, THAT Prince Charles!) in Buckingham Palace, her transition to full-time graduate student and eventual work as a speech pathologist, her challenges with a very ill baby and her own battle with cancer. Victoria’s road to healing has included being part of this special Chicks with Dip group—singing the songs of Joni Mitchell as well as her own.
Listen to some of Victoria’s songs here.
Check out this video of Victoria singing “California.”
Tell us how you got involved with the Chicks with Dip.
I knew Karen Keavey, a singer-songwriter who was one of the founding members of the chicks. However, she no longer performs and doesn’t attend chick meetings anymore. She and I knew each other from playing around town back in 2000. She invited me to the second “chicks with dip” meeting and I have been attending ever since.
When you think about Joni Mitchell, what comes to mind? Has Joni influenced your music at all?
Honesty, sophistication, vulnerability, strength, beauty…so many words come to mind when I think of Joni. I went to a summer-camp from the age of 9 and one of the songs that we sang there was camp lyrics written to the tune of “Circle Game.” I was re-introduced to Joni Mitchell when I was 15 years old. My best friend from high school was the youngest of six children, so she grew up on Joni because her older siblings were fans of hers. She played the albums for me and I just soaked them in like a sponge. It was a couple of years later, when I was 18 years old that I wrote the song “Made for Roses.” I think that the structure of that song came directly from “Circle Game,” so Joni was a huge influence on my early songwriting.
My parents used to play Simon & Garfunkel, The Beatles, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan albums whenever we went on road trips, so they influenced my writing greatly as well.
Your recording, Made for Roses, is described as “sophisticated melodic tales of modern urban life filtered through traditional folk and haunting Elizabeth balladry.” I know that you were born in England—so is that where the Elizabethan motif comes into play? Please explain how your music is reminiscent of Elizabethan times.
When I was in high school, I sang in an a cappella madrigal singing group. We sang Elizabethan madrigal tunes which certainly influenced my writing. I think the song of mine that can most be described as Elizabethan in nature is “Birdsong” because of its imagery of the prince locked in the tower. I lived in England as a young child and then moved back to England when I was 19 and stayed there for 10 years. Interestingly enough, several years after I wrote “Birdsong,” “Arrabella York” and “Made for Roses,” I ended up getting a job working for Prince Charles at Saint James’ Palace. I was a secretary in his office. My first day on the job, I was taught how to curtsy and how to address Prince Charles. You must call him your Royal Highness, when you first greet him in the morning and then after that, you can address him as Sir. I was instructed that I must curtsy to him, every time I saw him. I worked for him in 1997, which was quite an interesting time to be there because it was the year that the Brit’s 99 year long lease of Hong Kong expired and so it was given back to the Chinese. Sadly, it was also the year that Princess Diana died. The palace received 10,000 letters of condolence a day. We set up banquet tables in the Ballroom of the palace and opened and responded to every letter. The young Princes even came to help us on a few occasions and little Prince Harry walked around and offered us biscuits. It was so touching and so sweet of them, considering they had just lost their mother.
You have had to shift priorities in your life due to career, health and family matters. You have been able to channel your energy into your music with a great deal of grace and resilience. Has music helped soothe your soul even when you haven’t had the opportunity to focus on it as a full-time day-in-and-day-out kind of thing?
The songs on Made for Roses were actually written in the late 80s and early 90s, with the exception of “Following,” which was written in 2000. In 2001, I decided to go back to school and earn a bachelor’s and then a Master’s in Speech-Language Pathology, so this took me away from songwriting. For part of that time, I performed in a Folk Duo called Molly Pitcher, where we performed many of the songs that I had written from 1988-2000. When we disbanded, I was very busy with my work as a Speech-Language Pathologist. I worked during the day in the NYC public school system and at night at a private practice. I then got married and gave birth to my daughter, Sylvia. She was born with a massive tumor on her spine, which had to be removed, four days after her birth. She has made a full recovery, but it was a very stressful time. Then, shortly before her first birthday, I was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer. It was the most aggressive form of breast cancer and had already spread to my lymph nodes, my neck and a spot on my lungs. Since I thought there was a chance that I might not survive, I decided that I must put together some recordings that I had never released of my old songs, so that my daughter would have something to remember me by. The album was released at my benefit concert in February of 2010. I had just had a chemo treatment that day but found the strength to attend the concert and even perform a song. On the back cover of the album is a picture of me holding Sylvia in my arms. I did that so that she would remember her mother as happy, smiling and singing.
I pursued both traditional cancer treatment: bilateral mastectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation as well as alternative treatments. Many of the women that I encountered during my chemo treatments were only a few years older than me. They had initially had stage II cancer and then just two years after their treatment were back again because their cancer had spread to their liver or brain. That made them stage IV and terminal. I decided to pursue alternative treatments at that time. My health insurance did not cover any of these treatments and so the chicks came together and threw the benefit concert for me. This covered my alternative medical treatments. I am now two and a half years post-treatment and three and a half years post diagnosis and feeling better and better each day….I thank the chicks for this and the support of my husband, colleagues, friends and family.
Just over a year ago, Carolann Solebello asked if I could take part in a benefit concert at The Christopher Street Coffee House. The chicks had come up with the idea of covering Joni Mitchell’s Blue album for the concert. I wasn’t sure that I was up for the task, as I hadn’t performed in so long and still didn’t have my energy back from the chemo, but I agreed. The show was then booked at several other venues and I am still singing away! This has greatly boosted my spirits and healed my soul. What could be better than good friends and great music to bring one back to health!
You are a speech-language pathologist. Can you tell us a little bit about what that entails?
I currently work at a public elementary school in Brooklyn. I treat children who stutter, have articulation problems, or learning disabilities. I also see adult clients in the evening for voice disorders, accent reduction or stuttering. I find this job to be incredibly rewarding. It is not just my work but more so my calling. There is such joy to be found in helping others to express themselves to their best ability. The school where I work is so dear to my heart, as they donated sick days to me during my treatment, came to visit me and took care of my daughter, when I was in the hospital or at treatments. I simply cannot understand why there is so much negative press given to teachers. I cannot name harder working, more caring, or finer people than those that I have had the privilege to work with at P.S. 130.
Are you planning any more recording projects?
I currently do not have any recording projects planned. My busy schedule simply doesn’t afford it but I am sure that this will happen at some point in the future. Speech-Pathology was my second calling, songwriting and performing was my first. I do still very much feel that it is what I am meant to do. I have faith that a time and space in my life to let the songs flow again is destined to arrive.
Victoria Lavington will be performing with the entire Chicks with Dip group in celebration of Joni MItchell’s Blue album at the me&thee in Marblehead, MA on March 8.