Studio Sessions: How Roxanne Goodman found her voice

Roxanne Goodman has heard this line before: ‘I can’t join a choir, I can’t sing.’

She knows it’s not always true because she used to say it herself.

Believe it or not the 54 year old singer and choir director of Ottawa’s popular soul and gospel ensemble the Big Soul Project was once so shy she could barely talk to anyone.

“I didn’t feel I could really sing either. Everybody else was telling me I could sing except for me.”

No longer. On Saturday, Goodman will be the first performer in a new intimate concert series launched by Ottawa’s John Kofi Dapaah called Studio Sessions in the studio of Ottawa Pianos and Keyboards at 1412 Bank St. For information on tickets, please see

As a kid, Roxanne was so tongue-tied it was painful.

“I have just finished a month-long workshop for the Ottawa Public Libraries. Its theme was ‘Let’s sing together and all I did was talk about my story. I talked about how shy I was. Why I felt shy and why I kept everything inside of me.” She was afraid, plain and simple.

Roxanne Goodman

Goodman was born in Montreal’s South to parents who had moved to Canada from Trinidad. The family home was full of music. Her father was a serious, if part-time jazz musician who had studied at the Berklee College of Music. He also founded the very first steel drum ensemble in Canada.

She was always shy, but in Grade 4 something happened that she says catapulted into a dark cave of silence. She calls it her Mary Had A Little Lamb incident.

In Grade 4, her teacher asked the children to sing the song out loud together. She was the only one singing harmony when a little boy leaned over to her and told her to sing the song the right way.

Goodman said her young self decided at that point that, “‘I am never going to sing again’. All I did was play the piano through my school years. I wouldn’t sing.”

She was even nervous playing the piano. She could speak in class and even reading out loud was tough.

“It’s almost like I went dark.”

Finally in high school she realized she couldn’t go on like this.

“I couldn’t even tell people how I felt.”

She started to open up by taking an improvisational theatre class. That pulled her out of herself and things started slowly to change.

“I started to realize that maybe I could sing for real.”

That feeling was accelerated one day in church.

“I was singing a solo and someone came up said ‘You have a beautiful voice’.” She shrugged the compliment off. But he said, in response to that “‘Am I the only person who has ever said this to you?'” She said “No.” He replied: ‘”Do you think we are all lying to you?'”

It changed her life. That stranger made Goodman question herself and gave her the impetus to use her voice. She returned to school and by the end of her 20s she had completed most of a degree in music.

Life intervened as it does. She married and raised a daughter and a step-son. Eventually her husband moved to Ottawa where he and his sister started a church. After awhile, at her husband’s urging, Roxanne went back to school at Carleton University and in 2009 finished that degree.

Along the way, people heard her sing and started asking her to teach them. And she first met John Dapaah, who was a young pianist.

She has been with the Big Soul Project for 11 years.

A member of the choir had approached after hearing her at an event Goodman was leading and basically “said their choir director was leaving and they needed a director. She asked me if I would I consider auditioning.” She said, like it was nothing at all: “Sure.” The rest is musical history.

“I’m still there and enjoying myself. BSP is a well-oiled machine so I just have to show up and do my thing.”

The show on Saturday will be a rare opportunity to hear Goodman sing a solo with piano.

“I used to sing more on my own but the more time passed, I realized I wanted to do other things.” One of those things is called Confidence Booster. It’s a motivational appearance business that she really enjoys. Another is teaching voice at Carleton’s music school where she tells her students to “understand that it is a service that they are giving. When people come to a show, they don’t come to see you. They really come to ‘feel’ you.

“In order for them to feel you, the singer has to let go. A lot of singers know their words, but they are like a robot. That’s one of the most important things to learn.

“If you make the audience feel they will love you.”

Every now and then, after teaching and motivating, Goodman needs to sing for herself.

“I have to perform every now and then because as my husband would say: ‘You need it so go out there and do it’.”

She used to be afraid “of being pushed down. I would not put myself in a position where I could be criticized. Now I’m giving back.”

Saturday night Goodman will be singing a variety of songs including Natural Woman in honour of Aretha Franklin and Georgia.

Studio Sessions features concerts by several Ottawa area musicians. All concerts are at Ottawa Pianos and Keyboards at 1412 Bank St. at 7:30 p.m. Here is the rest of the lineup:

Session 2: NACO violinist Clarissa Klopoushak performs Ravel, John Adams & Beethoven on Nov. 10.

Session 3: Cellist Raphel Weinroth-Browne performs Rachmaninoff, Schuman and one of his own compositions Jan. 29, 2019.

Session 4: Soprano Erinne-Colleen Laurin offers some Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and Strauss on March 23.

Session 5: The John Dapaah Trio with Dapaah on piano, JP Lapensee on bass and Jamie Holmes on drums on May 25.

For information on the series please see

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.