Short version of In the Key of Claire on CBC

This story appeared originally on the CBC web site on August 1,2014. We reprint it here with thanks.

A social worker at the MUHC HIV Clinic learns to sing despite the onset of deafness and cancer, and brings together survivors of the Rwandan genocide to collaborate in a powerful performance. © 2014 Arcady Films

A social worker at the MUHC HIV Clinic learns to sing despite the onset of deafness and cancer, and brings together survivors of the Rwandan genocide to collaborate in a powerful performance. © 2014 Arcady Films

Healing power of music Documentary airs as part of Absolutely Quebec series

By Carrie Haber, CBC News Posted: Aug 01, 2014 6:17 AM ET Last Updated: Aug 01, 2014 6:17 AM ET

When filmmaker Anne Henderson decided to make a documentary about Claire Duchesneau, a hearing-impaired social worker who strives to rediscover her singing voice, she was not prepared for events to unfold for the worse.

The production took an unpleasant turn early in the schedule when Duchesneau was diagnosed with cancer. Henderson decided to continue shooting, and spent four years documenting Duchesneau’s complex struggle with illness and encroaching deafness as her protagonist persevered to record an album and perform live.

Claire Duchesneau in In the Key of Claire: ‘I would survive through music. That if I could just sing, I would feel whole again.’ The film is an intimate telling of what it means to negotiate with one’s own far-reaching, uncertain goals. Along her difficult journey, Duchesneau carves space for humour, writing her own cancer jokes to alleviate her suffering.

Claire and Erin departing for Rwanda

Claire and Erin departing for Rwanda

She confronts hearing loss by learning to read vibrations for intonation, and restores her strength through continuous singing practice. Recognizing that her HIV-positive clients at the MUHC’s Montreal Chest Institute might also benefit from this outlet, she invites the asylum-seekers from Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda — including several survivors of the 1994 Rwandan genocide — to record with her. The result brings the notion of resilience into sharp focus for Duchesneau.

Through its frank treatment of one woman’s four-year struggle, In The Key of Claire explores how music nurtures the healing process, and how a well-timed “butt joke” can do wonders to lift the darkness during troubled times.

The documentary airs Saturday, Aug. 2 at 7 p.m. as part of the Absolutely Quebec series.

Global interview – How music can heal

Claire was interviewed this morning on Montreal Global.

In the Key of Claire is a documentary that tells the story of Claire Duchesneau, a social worker at the HIV clinic of the McGill University Health Centre. Claire is a talented amateur musician who uses music to transcend both her own challenges and those of her patients, HIV-positive refugees from African… Watch the video>>

Montreal Gazette – A lyrical documentary on music and healing

The Montreal Gazette published an article about In the Key of Claire on July 28th. The article by Susan Schwartz is reprinted here with thanks.

MONTREAL — In the Key of Claire, a lyrical documentary on music and healing, will have its world première Tuesday, July 29 at the Rialto Theatre.

The film tells the story of Montreal social worker Claire Duchesneau, a talented amateur musician who uses music to transcend challenges facing her and facing her patients, all of whom are HIV-positive and most of whom came to Canada from African war zones including Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo as asylum seekers.

Montreal director Anne Henderson has created a moving film that, among other things, gives voice to two groups not often represented in movies: older women and female refugees.

Duchesneau, 62, had gradually lost her hearing until she became profoundly deaf and needed hearing aids. But music has been a part of her life for as long as she can remember, and “to put down my music is to put down a part of who I am,” as she says at one point in the 52-minute documentary.

She reached out to Barbara Lewis, a voice coach and a hugely talented singer in her own right, to ask if she would teach someone who wore hearing aids. Lewis said she would.

Lewis and Henderson met in 2009, at a Christmas party at the home of a mutual friend. When Henderson said she was looking for a film project, Lewis told her about Duchesneau, “an older voice student with hearing aids.” The following year, back at the same party, Henderson asked about Duchesneau. “Next thing I knew, Anne was sitting in my office at the hospital,” recalled Duchesneau, who works at the Montreal Chest Institute of the McGill University Health Centre.

Music would help her through a cancer diagnosis in 2010 and through a gruelling course of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Fearing that the chemo would worsen her hearing further, she recorded an album before starting the treatment.

Once she recovered and felt well enough, she gave a concert in late 2011 to celebrate her 60th birthday. She performed to a full house at the Montreal jazz bar Upstairs, together with Lewis.

Music “is a thread in my life that helps me deal with the sad stories I hear day in and day out,” Duchesneau said in an interview in an MUHC newsletter this year.

“You can be terribly vulnerable and still strong as hell … and I think I learned that from my patients,” as Duchesneau, who has been in remission for four years from cancer of the anal canal, observes in the film.

She credits those patients with helping her to find her voice. “I don’t think it’s just a solo journey,” she says in the film. “My African women make me taller. … These women can find their voices. We hear their voices, their courage.”

Duchesneau helped a group of African women followed at her clinic to record an album of their own in 2013. Then in April, she travelled to Rwanda to participate in the national commemoration of the 1994 genocide.

Most Montrealers know nothing about asylum seekers who have been victims of war crimes and whose status in Canada remains uncertain, said Henderson. Duchesneau and some of her colleagues observe in the film that the government has, to some degree, demonized refugees as “queue jumpers, liars and cheaters.”

In the Key of Claire is co-produced by Henderson and Robbie Hart, who produced the multiple Gemini award-winning documentary I Am Not a Rock Star.

For three and a half of the four years it took to make In the Key of Claire, it had no funding. Ultimately, the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec provided a $20,000 grant and the CBC and Toronto-based IChannel bought broadcast licences, but the film is still not fully financed.

Part of the challenge, Henderson explained, lay in convincing broadcasters that a story about an older woman — a social worker who wears hearing aids — could interest an audience. “Most commissioning editors shied away from the subject matter,” she said.

“I feel that older women are virtually absent from the mainstream media, except for quirky character roles or dysfunctional mothers-in-law. But I am surrounded by older women who live rich and fascinating lives, who are repositories of stories that need to be told.”

In the Key of Claire is screened Tuesday, July 29 at 7 p.m. at the Rialto Theatre, 5723 Parc Ave. A Q&A with director Anne Henderson and some of the film’s subjects will follow. Tickets cost $10, and are available at the door or via CBC will air the film Saturday, Aug. 2 at 7 p.m.; to accommodate commercials, only 45 minutes of the film’s 52 minutes will be shown.

Interview – Health care and refugees

Sue Smith from CBC Radio One dropped by the Montreal Chest Institute after a ruling  by Justice Anne Mactavish of the Federal Court in Ottawa, struck down Conservative government’s two-year-old policy of denying health care to certain classes of failed refugee claimants. Claire walked the journalist through the impact of the government’s decision to withdraw health care provisions to these people. Listen to the interview here.

CBC Radio One's Home Run in Montreal

CBC Radio One’s Home Run in Montreal



  • Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda — When Roméo Dallaire was called on to serve as force commander of the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda, he believed that his assignment was to help two warring parties achieve the peace they both wanted. Instead, he was exposed to the most barbarous and chaotic display of civil war and genocide in recent memory. | Amazon | Chapters-Indigo
  • The Antelope Strategy — One hot May morning in 2003, a crowd of Hutus who had participated in the genocidal killings of April 1994 in Rwanda filed out of prison and into the sunshine, singing hallelujahs, their freedom granted by presidential pardon. As they returned to their old villages, Tutsi survivors watched as the people who had killed their neighbors and families returned to the homes around them. In The Antelope’s Strategy, Jean Hatzfeld returns to Rwanda to talk with both Hutus and Tutsis struggling to live side by side. | Amazon | Chapters-Indigo
  • Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak — During the spring of 1994, in a tiny country called Rwanda, some 800,000 people were hacked to death, one by one, by their neighbors in a gruesome civil war. Several years later, journalist Jean Hatzfeld traveled to Rwanda to interview ten participants in the killings, eliciting extraordinary testimony from these men about the genocide they perpetrated. As Susan Sontag wrote in the preface, Machete Season is a document that “everyone should read . . . [because making] the effort to understand what happened in Rwanda . . . is part of being a moral adult.”  | AmazonChapters-Indigo


International Affairs 

  • The International Arms Trade — The multi-billion dollar business of the international conventional arms trade involves virtually every country in the world. Around the globe, people’s lives are being irrevocably changed by the effects of guns, tanks, and missiles. These weapons have the potential to cause a deadly and current threat – one responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths a year. This succinct and accessible new book explores the complexities and realities of the global conventional weapons trade.  | AmazonChapters-Indigo
  • Making and Marketing Arms: The French Experience and Its Implications for the International System – France ranks as the world’s third largest arms exporter and supplies arms and military technology to over a hundred countries. This book exposes the compelling aims and interests–national independence, security, economic welfare, foreign influence, grandeur–that explain the nation’s successes in arms production and transfers. Originally published in 1987.| Amazon | Chapters-Indigo


Hearing Impairment

  •  The Canadian Hearing Society – The barriers faced by people with hearing loss take a devastating toll on spirit, determination, and mental health. Your donation eliminates those barriers. Learn more.


Anal Canal Cancer

  • The Canadian Cancer Society — The Canadian Cancer Society is a national, community-based organization of volunteers whose mission is the eradication of cancer and the enhancement of the quality of life of people living with cancer. Learn More.



  • Kinyarwanda — A young Tutsi woman and a young Hutu man fall in love amidst chaos.
  • Shake Hands with the Devil — Based upon General Romeo Dallaire’s account of the his command of the UN mission in Rwanda of the time of the massacre.
  • Shooting Dogs — John Hurt stars in this fictionalized account of the priests working at a school compound at the eve of the massacre.
  • Hotel Rwanda Trailer — Based upon actual events, Don Cheadle portrays a hotelier who tries protecting his fellow citizens during the 100-day slaughter.