While giving a songwriting lesson last week, Anne Schaefer got a text message: She'd earned a nomination for album of the year.
The recognition by the Vancouver Island Music Awards was gratifying for the Victoria vocalist.
It could only have been better had the record been nominated in 2008 – when she first stepped into the recording studio.
The past four years have been an odyssey of penny-pinching and money-raising for Ms. Schaefer.
"I was stalled," she said. "I ran out of money."
She held a fundraising concert. A good time was had by all. But she still didn't have enough.
So, she held a second performance.
And then a third show.
Friends organized a silent auction in which one of the lots offered a private home concert by Ms. Schaefer. Other lots included donations by local businesses: a shiatsu message, a collection of vegan cookbooks, a weekend retreat on Hornby Island, gift certificates from a tea shop and a tattoo-parlour, four quarts of organic granola – you get the idea.
The most expensive item was an oil painting donated by the celebrated Victoria painter James Gordaneer valued at $2,500.
The artist had played an unwitting role in inspiring the singer's recording project.
He had loaned her a painting depicting two women atop stools, seen from the rear. She hung it in the room in which her pupils waited their turn for music lessons.
She contemplated the painting. Who were these women? What were they waiting for? She developed a concept for her album, which she dubbed The Waiting Room. The songs she wrote told the stories of daydreaming characters whose trajectories brought them to a temporary shared limbo.
"Waiting rooms are such strange places," she said. "Waiting rooms bring together people of all descriptions – any age, any cultural background, any smattering of people. Different people collect in these places, yet in the end, everybody's suffering from the same stuff. It's human condition. It's the same across the board."
Her debut album, Twelve Easy Pieces, released in 2005, had earned rave reviews. "The best singer/songwriter you've never heard of," pronounced Monday Magazine. "A great musician with a clear love for jazz and world music," trilled Radio Canada. "She breathes talent, rigour and taste," trumpeted Montreal's La Presse. The Toronto Star hailed an "exceptional voice, a poet's eye, a courageous heart, and a damn fine set of guitar-picking fingers."
Reviewers compared her to Sade, Laura Nyro, Rickie Lee Jones, and even Van Morrison.
Not surprisingly, she was eager to follow up such a critical success.
A high-quality album costs about $40,000 to produce.
"That's like a down payment on a house," the singer said. "Imagine making a down payment on a house every two years just to stay current in your profession."
She got a "substantial" grant from the Canada Council, gratefully receiving a cheque for $13,000 in her right hand before passing it off to the recording studio with her left hand.
The basic tracks of The Waiting Room were laid down over a fortnight at Baker Studios in Victoria four years ago. But she didn't have the money to complete the final mix and edit, so after spending two decades earning her keep as a musician, she took her first 9-to-5 gig.
She became director of the Larsen School of Music.
Much of her workday was spent behind a desk.
In a waiting room.
"That was ironic," she said. "I met all sorts of interesting characters."
Born into a family of classical musicians from Saskatchewan, the Weyburn-born, Humboldt-raised Schaefer studied music at McGill University in Montreal. She arrived in Victoria a decade ago after spending four years in Argentina. She performed, taught privately, and offered instruction at what were billed as Rocker Girl Camps (think School of Rock minus the obnoxiousness of Jack Black). Then, she got the music-school directorship.
Not so long ago, she returned to the studio for five intensive days of mixing.
"I finally saved enough to get it done," she said, a donation from her boss helping put her over the top.
The CD will be released at a concert at Alix Goolden Hall in Victoria on March 1.
The choice for album art was easy. It's the painting that helped inspire her concept.