Local singer Hayley Gene shares music for a good cause

Hayley Gene will sing for her supper and the suppers of others in the Choose Your Charity concert series. Supplied

Hayley Gene was born to perform.

Since her first musical theatre performances at the ripe ol’ age of five, she has been putting her talents on display for the world to see.

Now at 26, Gene still loves performing and is convinced that she was made for the stage.

“I guess it comes from being in a very artistic family. My father (Fred Penner) is a musician and my mother (Odette Heyn-Penner) is a dancer and choreographer,” she says. “I wasn’t forced into it or anything, but I was increasingly drawn to anything that was theatrical or performance based.”

At 19 she moved to Toronto to study journalism at Ryerson University.

Living in both Winnipeg and Toronto for some time, she contemplates how the two music scenes compare.

“Mine might be a skewed version because I was only 19 when I moved to Toronto. I only started going out then,” she says. “I am very fortunate to come from Winnipeg’s very strong music community where everyone supports each other.”

After meeting James McLeod at the Eggplant Collective in Toronto, the two formed the electronic pop duo TUZO.

In 2011 they shared their sugar-coated sound at the famous NXNE festival which is held yearly in Toronto.

“The music is different but it’s interesting,” says Gene. “It’s very Top-40esque.”

Gene’s musical output is beginning to change drastically from electronic to acoustic.

Having never released an album with TUZO or under her own name, Gene is glad she has waited this long before seriously planning a record.

“There will definitely be a record released within the year,” she says. “I’ve become much stronger as a songwriter because I’ve waited so long to release an album. I made an EP at 15 but it’s weird thinking about it now because I was so young.”

Local musician James Struthers met Gene over Christmas and the two have been writing songs together ever since.

It was Struthers who conceived the idea of a music showcase that would give back to the community.

The Choose Your Own Charity concert series comprises eight local artists who give concert proceeds to a charity of their choice.

“It serves to promote and grow the local music scene but also to encourage each and every one of us to use our talents and abilities to help others,” Struthers said in a CBC interview.

Gene’s charity of choice is W.I.S.H Inc., a not-for-profit organization that creates safe on-site housing for women who have been affected by domestic violence.

Local musicians Flo, Don Amero and Keri Latimer are other artists who are connected with the concert series.

The inclusion of Gene in the series is a testament to her immense talent, but also of her music’s human aspect.

“It comes from staying open and ready to receive other people’s experiences,” she says. “Just like writing songs, whenever people bring different ideas into the room it is easy to grow as a musician and as a person.”

Published in Volume 66, Number 23 of The Uniter (March 14, 2012)

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