Jillian Horton

Jillian Horton


Described as one of Canada's best "secret songwriters", Jillian Horton's folk-pop sound has a particular appeal to the so-called "Norah Jones" demographic.


More than fifteen years ago, when Jillian Horton was a teenager studying at a small piano school in Vermont, she told her teacher, American pianist Alvin Chow, that she didn't know what she was going to do with her life.

"He told me if music was in my heart and I ran from it that I would spend my whole life running," she recalls.

It was the better part of a decade before Jillian Horton confronted that prophecy; her life, like her music, always seems to return to a handful of particular themes: fate, faith, compassion, home.

Jillian was born in Brandon, Manitoba. The youngest of four children, she spent the first seventeen years of her life in the small community about 50 miles north of the US border. Her relationship with the city remains emotionally complex.

"It's home," she says, of Brandon, "and it was a city that supported me in so many of my activities when I was young. But it's also a city that shunned my sister and failed to provide the most basic supports for my sister and my family, and we all suffered for it. All of those things are tied up in my thoughts and feelings for the place."

While Jillian was a talented musician and student, her sister, twelve years her senior, suffered a brain tumor at the age of six, and was left with devastating and profound diasbilities.

"This was thirty years ago, back when people just shoved the disabled into institutions and denied them any part in communal life. My family refused to do that with my sister, and back then there were no supports for that. My sister was treated like garbage. In general, so were my parents."

Music emerged early on as a way that Jillian would seek solace from this family tragedy. "Around the age of ten or eleven, the piano just kind of became this magnet, pulling me towards it. I started to practice two or three hours a day. It became something I could count on to provide refuge, mentally and physically. It was like there was a bubble around me and the piano whenever I played...nothing could get in."

It was clear to those around her that there was something special about her relationship to music. "One of my junior high music teachers overheard me playing something I had written myself on the guitar. She asked me if I had written it. Up until that point, for some reason, I had kept the fact that I wrote music to myself, so I was almost too embarrassed to admit it was my own writing. But she was so enthusiastic...she told me I had to keep writing music, that I had to promise her I would. She moved away at the end of that school year, but the fact that she had given me that bit of positive feedback kept me writing from then on."

It would have been easy for writing to fall by the wayside. By the time she was in her early teens, Jillian was an accomplished performing pianist, in love with classical music, and hoped to pursue classical performing as a career. This was how she found herself at the prestigious Adamant School in Adamant, Vermont, studying with Alvin Chow, somewhere around 1990.

But there were problems. "I had practiced so much over such a short period of time that I developed tendinitis," she remembers. "It came up very quickly, it was really painful if I played or practiced a lot, and at first, I couldn't accept the idea that maybe this wasn't going to be a career I could pursue. I was also a tall, awkward kid, and I had had a couple of falls with mild injuries to the soft tissue in my hands, which I never let heal because I was always practicing."

Hence, the heart-to-heart with Chow one night on the front porch, at Adamant.

"I never forgot his words," she says. "Even when my life took a completely different path, I think I hung on to them because I knew they were true for me, that he was right."

It was shortly after that that Jillian ended up travelling to the Clinic for the Performing Arts at McMaster University in Hamilton, seeking treatment for her tendinitis.

"I couldn't accept that there wasn't an immediate fix for this, a pill, a surgery, something. I went to that clinic thinking there was an answer, and of course, I never found one. On that level, it was a waste of time."

On another level, that trip would lead to a series of events more than a decade later that would launch her recording career, but she couldn't have known that then.

Not long after, she recalls, "I basically gave up on music. I accepted a full scholarship to the University of Western Ontario, and I moved there with the idea that I was going to start over and leave music behind."

At Western, Jillian studied English and Drama. She turned to acting and then writing, churning out a number of manuscripts, short stories, poems and plays. She barely touched a piano for nearly two years.

Then, one night, she was out with a group of actor friends at a pub.

"There was a piano there, and someone asked me to play. I started and I couldn't stop. It was like a floodgate opening. I started to sing, and I was pl


Rusty Brown

Written By: Jillian Horton 2006

Maybe you were always lost
From the time when you were young
Fleeting as a bird or airplane
Or a snowflake on your tongue
Or maybe you were always found
Like a mitten in the snow
Somewhere out there is a partner
A life you’ll never know

Whether it’s a paint-by-numbers
Or a glossy magazine
Pencils and construction paper
Or leaves you could have sworn were green

They’ve all gone Rusty Brown
Life is only going up and down
Why have you been on the outside just looking in?

As we grew up and old
We left a few behind
The ones who disappeared or died
Of unsound heart or mind
But you cannot create a scene
Where there was not a crime
Where friends are frozen and preserved, and cannot say a single word
In their own defense against the ravages of time

And all the childhood mementos
That you’ve packed away with care
When taken out they tarnish
Like your finest silverware

For they have gone, Rusty Brown…

Oh the chain link fence, and the circus tents
And the valentines and the big designs
Of your comic books and your dirty looks
And your favorite show on the radio
And the friends you say who are MIA
And the names in chalk on your front sidewalk
And that birthday cake and the first snowflake
And that mitten in the snow
It’s all gone Rusty Brown.

This Open Road

Written By: Jillian Horton

There should have been cake and some bright balloons,

There should have been sound in this empty room

There should have been weddings,
Not this forgetting,
Not this goodbye that goes on and on

You go through the stages and calendar pages
And falling asleep with the TV on

There should have been birthdays and nephews and nieces
Instead of these shards of our life torn to pieces, but

Life doesn't owe you anything
Life never owed me anything
Life never owes us anything

You come to think that you were spared
And you might be chosen
But God it's hard to look away
When all that you love has been

It's not your fault, I dare to say
I'm hardly a pillar of salt
but I'll level with you
'Cause I said I'd always level with you

It hurts like the devil

But whether you holler or wail or sing
Life doesn't owe you anything

There should have been babies and hands to hold
There should have been sun on this open road


Copyright Jillian horton 2006


Written By: Jillian Horton

He said he didn't want to go to Winnipeg
That he couldn't chase a girl to Winnipeg
And he said that if I went
That I'd go alone

And he said he couldn't trade his friends and great career
For a place you only see the sun once a year
And he said he never would have come to care for me

If he'd only known

He said that I must understand his point of view
Surely you do
And he said that I was asking him to
Do something he just couldn't do
And more importantly that he shouldn't have to do

So at first I said I wouldn't go to Winnipeg
Said I'd stay and we could work it out, I'd get by somehow
And he laughed and said "Who wants to go, anyway,
Where it's so damn cold?"

When he came to take my arm I turned away
He said, "Babe you know, we really ought to celebrate.
You're a lucky girl, 'cause I can buy you anything,"
He was so damn cold.

Here is the thing that I understand,
Love isn't love from the back of your hand
You may be captain of this ship
But it's going down without me
And you never knew the first thing about me

So I finally booked the plane to Winnipeg
Packed my books and my guitar, I sold everything
Kept a tiny little bag for travelling
Just my dress and comb

And I cried half the way
Til the sun came out and we touched down on the ground
Called my sister on the phone, she said

"Welcome home."

C Jillian Horton 2003



"Jillian Horton" (Marquis Classics 2004)
Distributed by EMI

"Dinosaur Park" (Independent Release, 2003)

RADIO AIRPLAY -- CBC (Radio One and Two, including Sounds Like Canada, Disc Drive, Vinyl Cafe, Fresh Air, As It Happens, and several regional programs)

Canadian College Radio

The four most played tracks:


"All The Pretty Horses"

"Good Strong Coffee"

"Song for an Evening in June"

Set List

A typical 50 minute set would consist of 8 original tunes and 2-3 covers.

A sample set list from a recent show:

1) Walk on the Water (J. Horton)
2) Less of Me (J. Horton)
3) Mean Disease (J. Horton)
4) Good Strong Coffee (J. Horton)
5) Letter to a Friend (J. Horton)
6) Song of Bernadette (L. Cohen)
7) Both Sides Now (J. Mitchell)
8) Rusty Brown (J. Horton)
9) Snowbird (G. Maclelland)
10) Song for an Evening in June (J. Horton)

Drawing on a songbase of at least 50 original tunes, the pace and content of the live show ranges from folk-inspired to pop-infused music that lends itself to collaboration with double bass, cello, viola, guitar and other vocalists, or a more intimate show consisting of Jillian at the grand piano.

Personal stories often set the stage for the songs, but the focus is always on powerful vocals, intelligent lyrics, and intense performance.