When asked for his musical influences, Jeff Poolton, an Elmira native and singer, laughed. “Everything under the sun.”
Fair enough. But as Poolton chronicles his own growing up with cerebral palsy in his new album Welcome to My World, perhaps there has been a similar evolution in his artistic life? After all, Poolton discovered his abilities by chance at age seven, when he gave vocal accompaniment to his mother’s piano. In the 25 years since then, he trained in classical music (and was certified by the Royal Conservatory of Music) while also pursuing an interest in pop styles.
“I like to listen to a lot of music with world influences,” said Poolton on Tuesday night, before opening for Justin Hines at a fundraiser for KidsAbility in Kitchener. “I love different rhythms, different sounds. So I tried on this album to say, ‘I’d like maybe a Caribbean feeling on this song, this song will have a Middle Eastern influence.’ I love playing with those different sounds and trying to get them into the album so I don’t have clones of one song.”
The dozen songs on Welcome to My World offer a self-portrait, chronicling Poolton’s life with cerebral palsy from his birth to his school years at EDSS to his marriage. The song titles – ‘Learning How to Fly,’ ‘Rise Above it All,’ ‘Soldier On,’ and ‘Miracle of Love’ among them – suggest the upbeat nature of the music, extending even to a last-minute tribute to the children in the Sandy Hook shooting.
“I heard that story and was so moved by it and so affected by it that I had to write something as a tribute to those people. It ends the album saying, Yes, there are horrible things that happen in the world, but there’s still hope.”
While Poolton has performed for years, Welcome to My World marks his first completed and released pop album.
“I started albums before, and bits and pieces of them were good, but it didn’t feel like I’d found my place as a pop musician. But with this album, everything just fell together,” he said.
“I do music because I love it, flat-out,” he added.
Poolton said that one of his goals with the album was to thank those who helped him along the way. Among those is KidsAbility, the Waterloo Region organization that brings rehabilitation services to children with developmental disabilities, medical syndromes and disorders, and communication difficulties.
“When I went through a number of surgeries in my life, they were there to help with physiotherapy afterwards,” said Poolton.
Every year in November or December, Poolton organizes and performs at his annual Songs of the Season Christmas concert, which raised $3,000 for KidsAbility over its last two years. In addition to performing at KidsAbility’s Justin Hines concert at the Waterloo Region Museum, one dollar of every album sale of Welcome to My World will go to the organization.
“As a result of Jeff receiving the help when he needed it, he has been able to transition into the next stage of his life, which is as a successful adult member of our community, who is now giving back to other communities,” said Dayna Giorgio, communications officer for KidsAbility.
“Over the years, Jeff has really transitioned from receiving our services to someone who has become a volunteer, and a very strong advocate for children who are just beginning their journey,” she added.
“KidsAbility offers a sense of confidence and hope that says, ‘You know what? No matter how difficult the time you’re going through is, there’s a way through this, and you will carry on and succeed,’” said Poolton. “Your family and friends complete that circle of hope.”
Welcome to My World is available on iTunes.