MCH Employee Marika Anthony-Shaw Wins Big at Grammys and BRIT Awards

By Pamela Toman

Although many dream about it, only a handful of prominent artists and groups have the chance to savor a moment in the spotlight at the annual Grammy awards ceremony each year, while even fewer can say they’ve received an accolade from the same event.

On February 13th, 2011, the MCH’s own Marika Anthony-Shaw had the opportunity to cross both feats off her bucket list when her band, Arcade Fire won the award for Album of the Year. Just two days later, at the 2011 BRIT Awards, the group won Best International Album, and the Award for Best International Group, stirring up excitement and pride across the city of Montreal and throughout Canada.
Despite her busy schedule, Marika recently took some time to speak to us about working at The Children’s, her commitment to healthcare and research and what it felt like to win the biggest prize in the business.
Q: At what age did you first start playing viola and the violin? Do you play any other instruments?

I started playing violin at age 4. My family was really musical, my sister is a professional musician too, she plays the cello, and I was always envious of that deep rich sound. So, as soon as I was big enough to reach the notes, I started playing viola. It had a mellower sound, closer to that of the cello. Growing up, I also played piano sang a lot in choirs, but I studied classical viola in university, so it is the instrument I am most formally trained on.

Q: Tell me about your time at the MCH. How did you end up working here and what did you do? Who did you work most closely with?
I first started working at The Children’s as the emergency department research coordinator in 2008. I was involved in coordinating all the research projects going on in the department from large cross-Canadian multi-center studies through the PERC (Pediatric Emergency Research Canada) network to smaller local research projects and fellows projects, as well as hiring and training new research assistants. The Children’s has one of the busiest emergency rooms in North America, and that can pose challenges to doing research; everyone is SO busy all the time. But, on the flipside, it also allows incredible opportunities for research because there are so many patients coming through. I tried to expand on these opportunities and get nurses, faculty and department employees more involved.I got to work primarily with Dr. Maala Bhatt and Dr. David McGillivray and they were both incredible mentors, I learned so much from them and their passion for strong evidence-based care. But, the role itself really involved working with almost everybody in the department. As for projects, in my first year we worked on a diagnostics of bacterial pneumonia study, a gastro study, an asthma care study, a urine catheter study… really so many varied projects. Dr. Bhatt is the principle investigator of a very involved multi-center study on safety surveillance of adverse events in emergency department sedations and after a year of coordinating for the entire department, I focused mainly on that one.
It was great to be involved in research that will have an impact on the future and can actually improve care, and I found it fascinating to be involved from the beginning of a project when an idea was on paper, through to the implementation phase.

Now, I am still able to remain involved in certain capacities with Dr. Bhatt’s research and I still stay in contact with the research team.

Q: What did you like about working at the MCH?
I have a lot of incredible feelings about the hospital, the emergency department especially, and feel really fortunate to have worked with the people there. It taught me so much, everyone really comes together as a team and I love that. And I feel quite proud of the research that is going on there; it is really important.

Q: I also read that you taught music at Lindsay Place High School. That’s quite different to working in a hospital!
Yes, it was shortly after I finished my undergrad. The orchestra program at Lindsay Place needed a director, and I had done a lot of teaching at McGill and loved it, so jumped at the opportunity to teach in a high school. It was amazing, a huge challenge, but really fulfilling in many ways. But I was still performing lots, and when touring took over, I couldn’t do both. I had been doing my med school pre-requisites at McGill when I started teaching: I was always really interested in health and medicine. So when I came back from touring on the Neon Bible tour with Arcade Fire in 2008, I took a bit of time off and decided that I wanted to commit to working in healthcare and the MCH offered a great opportunity for me to learn about research, medicine, and the healthcare system as a whole. I had a lot of transferrable skills having done research before.

Q: How did you first get involved with Arcade Fire?
I got involved with the group during the recording of Neon Bible (Arcade Fire’s second album, released in 2007), but they had been friends of mine for a long time, so I’d been peripherally involved before. Since then, I have recorded and toured with them.
Q: You also have another band, Silver Starling. How do you juggle both commitments?
My husband is also a part of Silver Starling so maybe that’s how I find balance! I am very proud of the band (which also includes band members Peter X and Gab Lambert). When I was home for 2 years in between Arcade Fire albums, Marcus, my husband, and I were able to focus on Silver Starling a little bit more, and we have a studio in our house so we were able to record a lot. But Marcus really is the heart and soul of that band. I am really just the cherry on top!
Balancing the two is a challenge but I try to work on multitasking, and technology has helped. Our computers allow us to record from afar, or send ideas back and forth. Timing is also a big part of it. On the whole, it balances out quite well and hopefully things can continue this way.

Q: Tell me about the Grammys. I believe this was your first time at the event. How did it feel to be there? What was the atmosphere like?
The band had been to the Grammys before, but this was my first time. The experience definitely surpassed any expectations I had! It was a fun show and great to be there. For me, it was so surreal to be performing on stage and know that my lifelong idols like Bob Dylan and Neil Young were in the audience. That was very cool.

Q: What was the best part of that night for you?
For me, it’s always all about the music. To play and be part of something purposeful was amazing. We were totally not expecting to win the award. After our performance, we couldn’t go back to our seats just yet and we were huddled underneath the stage. When Barbara Streisand announced that we won, you could tell she had no idea who we were! It was so funny! Being a part of that moment and then getting to play again was a great part of the night for me. I also got fist-pumped by the karate kid himself (Jaden Smith) backstage after we played… does that count?
Q: Two days later, you went to the Brit Awards in London. How was that experience?
The day after the Grammys, we went straight to Heathrow airport and from there right to the Brit Awards in London. We were pretty tired, but there were a bunch of other bands and artists who were doing both awards shows who were there too. The format of the Brit Awards is a bit different, you sit down at tables and you have dinner, so there’s more of a social aspect to the night, which is great. It didn’t even cross my mind that we had won a Grammy so when we ended up winning 2 other awards, it was shocking, it was so surreal.

Q: Has your success changed anything?
I don’t think it changes anything internally for the band. Decisions won’t be made any differently; it’s just a wonderful, exciting thing.

Q: Does your success mean that you can now focus 100% of your energy on your music?
I do music because I love it, and it’s a part of me. But, I also feel really positive senses of fulfillment from working directly with people, my work at MCH, and also with the non-profit organization, Partners in Health. I try to give my best to every project I’m involved with, and feel really fortunate to have all these diverse opportunities.

Q: How often do you plan on being in Montreal?
Montreal is home. We’ll see what happens with touring in the future, but I like to take the opportunity between tours to use my free time to get involved with our city again.

Q: What’s in store for you in the future?
I work moment to moment, so for now, I plan on touring with Arcade Fire after a little break and continuing to work on my music with Silver Starling. I’m working with Partners in Health too and eventually hoping to go back to school at some point.

Q: If the excitement of the music scene ever wears off will you come back to work at the MCH?!
I hope so, if they’ll have me back (laughs).
To many of us at The Children’s, Marika’s accomplishments conjure up a sense of pride and joy for a colleague who never forgets the importance of giving back. On behalf of all of us at The Montreal Children’s Hospital, congratulations, Marika and Arcade Fire!
Photo Credit: David Lichterman