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Flautist finds her train legs

Artists on Rails dreamer-upper Marianne Garrah, much like one of the Pied Piper’s legendary followers (although there’s nothing rodent-like about her), was drawn to Amity Mitchell’s melodies while the flautist played at a downtown coffee joint.

The first Artist on Rails to pull into Jasper, Mitchell will be hosted at the Legion with the Ladies Auxiliary Dinner as well as at the Sawridge Inn June 7- 9. Artists on Rails, initiated in 2005, came to be as a way to honour Alberta’s creative talent and better showcase it to the public. Artists entertain passengers travelling to the Rockies by VIA Rail, and then share their talent during their stay in Jasper.

Mitchell laughs at the concept, only because she got her professional musical start on a train in Stettler, Alberta in the early 1990s playing flute for passengers on a tourist steam train. With Artists on  Rails, Mitchell feels as though she’s returning back to where she came from.

“I’ve already got my train legs,” she said.

The Edmonton born and raised Mitchell went through a normal band program in school, choosing the flute for what she can only consider subconscious reasons.

“I don’t know why I chose it,” Mitchell puzzled. “I just wanted it. I probably thought it sounded pretty.”

Practice seemed to make perfect. Mitchell went on to earn a degree in flute performance at the University of Alberta and part of her masters at Georgia State University in the States. 

When she was 20 years old, Mitchell found an unlikely musical job with the Canadian Forces reserve, spending her first few years of service playing in the band of the ceremonial guard in front of the Governor General’s residence.

The unlikely setting of the Canadian Forces for a musician has drawn some mild teasing, which she humours by bringing out her combat flute, an inexpensive flute she purchased and painted in camouflage green. Music in an army setting, she explains, is to encourage morale and provide a beat to march to.

It’s only been in the past few years that the classically-trained Mitchell ventured out into Edmonton’s music scene, teaming up with harpists, guitarists and vocalists to play the city’s cafes and bars. Mitchell has taken a special liking to both the mournful and lively melodies of Celtic music.

When she’s not cheering up the military or jamming in downtown Edmonton, Mitchell teaches flute lessons to young learners.

Mitchell, like many musicians, pondered the life of a hobby musician versus professional, enough to have carved out a perfect niche for her as a career flautist.

“I could, and have, worked a nine to five job, but I’d find myself getting frustrated,” she said. “I always fall back to music. It’s my passion.”

See Amity Mitchell perform at the Legion’s Ladies Auxiliary Dinner June 7 at 6 p.m. 

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