Q&A with Musician & SOI expeditioner Ian Tamblyn

Ian entertains students during the Arctic 2009 expedition. Photo (c) Lee Narraway

Ian entertains students in Ottawa before the Arctic 2009 expedition kicks off. Photo (c) Lee Narraway

Ian Tamblyn is a Juno award-winning folk singer and songwriter, polar explorer and dedicated SOI educator who has helped shape lives through his popular music workshops on SOI expeditions for years. In addition to his musical talents, Ian has a remarkable way of breaking down barriers and engaging normally shy students to open up through music and a listening ear. We asked Ian a few questions to learn more about his experiences…

How did you get involved with SOI and what was your first expedition like?

I first got involved with SOI on a trip to Antarctica. I live near Geoff Green and he was aware of my expeditionary work with other companies as well as a few CDs and radio shows I had done about Antarctica. I remember leaving Elephant Island, the site where Shackleton’s men were left for several months in 1916 while he and five others sailed to South Georgia for help.  It was a very inhospitable place, with some nasty currents and some particularly nasty leopard seals. We left the island in a fog when suddenly we were presented with some humpbacks off the bow off the ship. All the students raced to the bow and as we watched them the clouds and fog lifted and there before us was a gigantic iceberg – probably 12km long. Welcome to Antarctica boys and girls!


Ian plays for students during a workshop in Auyuittuq National Park. Photo (c) Lee Narraway

Ian plays for students during a workshop in Auyuittuq National Park during the Arctic 2013 expedition. Photo (c) Lee Narraway

How does your background tie into the SOI education program and what do you hope students will learn from you?

I have been a musician for a long time  and expedition guide since 1987. I have released a lot of albums, many of them focusing on wild places. I have also given many creative writing and songwriting courses over the years, teaching at the Haliburton School for the Arts for fours years and this year I am writer in residence at Carleton University, where I will be teaching a fourth year songwriting class next year. I have also conducted songwriting courses at the Arctic College in Rankin Inlet, a continuing music camp in Rankin Inlet and at the Inuit College in Ottawa.

“I don’t know what students will learn from me; I am more interested in what students will learn from themselves. I’m just there to help the flow.”


Why is the Arctic important to you and how has it changed in the time you’ve been visiting?

The Arctic is a very powerful place. It is elemental: Rocks, bones, ice, snow, ocean – huge spaces – that bring you back to yourself. The Inuit and their predecessors found a way to live in it and with it, and there is a huge lesson there.

Since I first traveled in the Arctic there has been profound change. Many of the last elders have passed on, and the glaciers and ice have been melting at an alarming rate.

The Arctic is such a profound place and it has been bent so much by climate change and now that the Harper government calls climate change an “economic opportunity,” it brings me to tears. Despite all the warnings we continue to demand “dominion.” Such a beautiful and fragile place.

Joseph, after Ian played his song. Photo (c) Martin Lipman

Joseph, after Ian played his song. Photo (c) Martin Lipman

What is your favourite SOI memory?

My favourite SOI memory: I was on the ship one evening, I sang a song , the lyrics by Joseph Kirkoot of Gjoa Haven. He was sitting behind the piano, a big shy man. He hardly spoke during the trip, and at times he went to dark places, but he assured me he was working through it and he was determined to see light rather than darkness. After singing the song Picture is Perfect, the students stood up and gave a standing ovation. After a few moments the very reserved Joesph Kirkoot, stood up from his shy place with the biggest grin on his face. For all the things I have seen in the Arctic I will never forget his face and the light in it.

Any advice to budding musicians?

Keep it simple, serve the song, serve the story. Serve the story.


Follow the 2014 Arctic Expedition!

The 14th Annual Students on Ice Arctic Expedition will take place July 9-24, 2014. To learn more and follow the expedition through photos, videos and student journals visit the expedition website and follow journey updates on Facebook and Twitter.

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