May 15, 2024

How Medicine, Music and Community Service Can Power an Incandescent Life

UCalgary alum Dr. Paula Fayerman was a shining example of dedicating your life to others while doing what you love
Paula News Banner
Ruth Grenville

The sounds we leave behind us — the echo of ourselves — resound in those who knew us and loved us, and they tell others our story, so we are heard even after each of us passes into the deepest silence. 

Dr. Paula Fayerman, BSc’85, MD’89, who jolted campus radio with her award-winning CJSW Radio show NOISE for more than 30 years, volunteering faithfully in many roles while working as a physician, died in February after being diagnosed with cancer.  

An uplifting and instructive CJSW tribute show to Dr. Fayerman celebrates her life. The voices and music of friends and colleagues recount her impact on themselves, campus radio, and her contributions to the music and medical and public health communities in Calgary.  

“She had a profound influence on the sound of CJSW, likely training more CJSW programmers than just about anyone else in the station’s history,” says station manager Adam Kamis, BA’05. “Her kindness, enthusiasm and passion were qualities she readily shared with many different generations of CJSW volunteers, staff and listeners.”   

The best of us wants to do for others as we do for ourselves. It’s a filament that helps us burn brighter. Dr. Fayerman was that kind of person. We all know someone like her. They are beacons, fixed in our personal landscapes, mercifully there to guide and inspire.   

She lived a remarkable life that we may consider as exemplary. She thrived where most of us reside, not on the world stage, but locally, in our communities and work and within our circles of family and friends.  

Dr. Fayerman – physician, musician, campus radio den mother, mentor to many and innovative, mix-it-up conjurer of entrancing musical experiments – loved music, medicine and enlivening the community through volunteering.  

She established the Calgary Folk Music Festival’s medical tent in the late 1990s and ran it for more than 25 years, co-ordinating other doctors and nurses and annually serving a daily audience of 13,000 over four days. When she wasn’t at the tent, she was helping others discover new bands, always finding some time to flat-out dance, too. 

“We can all learn from Paula’s well-roundedness, which was so important to her as a devoted volunteer, talented healer, music lover, traveller, innovator, and lifelong learner,” says Festival artistic director Kerry Clarke, a close friend for more than 30 years. “The Folk Festival medical tent was a marriage of her three loves — medicine, music and community.”   

Radio Paula

Melody Jacobson

Learn the art of listening 

In the early 1990s, Dr. Fayerman played bass in a band with Clarke called GASP. What’s not to love? These kinds of forays informed her inventive, sometimes cheeky, always wide-ranging radio show, where any astonishing sound could wend its way into the ears of avid listeners. 

The clink of a spoon on a tin mug, the whorl of wind that whips a branch that bangs against a gate at night, the ragged breaths of 10 ballet dancers in a cramped room, the clatter of pots and pans gleefully thrown down hardwood stairs; all could be grist for Dr. Fayerman’s psychoacoustics mill, as she was faithfully grinding out innovative celebrations of NOISE every Thursday at 8:30 p.m. like a hurdy-gurdy magician. 

“She taught us the art of listening,” says Chad Saunders, BA’96, former CJSW station manager and Student Radio Society program director, who is now director of operations and special projects with the National Music Centre. “When Paula did her show, there really was no genre. She showcased and championed the small, but mighty local music scene. She had the most inclusive way to share new sounds and musical selections with listeners that bounced you around the world seamlessly while introducing our ears to a broad range of audio experiences.”   

Protector of the underdog and sleuth of the underground music scene, wading in and grabbing it by its scruffy lapels to yank it out of the shadows on her show, trauma healer and teacher, confidant to budding radio show hosts and friends and women seeking shelter from hard lives, “Dr. Paula” — as she was known at the Alberta Health Services (AHS) Sexual & Reproductive Health Clinic in Calgary and The Alex, which addresses the health and social needs of low-income Calgarians — was a great listener. 

For so many people, so many times, in so many different places, she pushed back her famous mane of white hair, leaned forward, listened, and delicately took the time to care.  

“Paula was such a caring person that I believe anyone she came in touch with, and who got to talk with her for any length of time, she would change their life in some way — she was that attentive and giving and generous,” says friend Jeanette Burman, BA’10, MEDes’18. “Even more remarkable, it seems everyone she knew from all the different parts of her life say the same thing. She had so much love. We would break the world if we all loved as much as Paula did.”   

Paula Friends

Caitlind Brown

How to find rewards beyond awards 

Dr. Fayerman passed amid an Arch Awards nomination, which is the highest honour awarded by the UCalgary Alumni Association. Her honours include an award in 2019 by the National Campus-Community Radio Association for Best Classical Music Program. Yet, her accomplishments represent only a glimmer of what she gave to others in her 59 years. 

We all experience the thrill of acknowledgement, though it flares and fades, and we eventually discover that how we empower and help others is recognition that radiantly endures. 

Dr. Maggie Naylor, BSc’92, MSc’99, MD’04, a physician who worked with Dr. Fayerman at both The Alex Youth Clinic and at Sexual and Reproductive Health, and who volunteered with her at the Folk Fest medical tent, shared their love of working with youth and their focus in the areas of mental health, addictions, and trauma. Dr. Fayerman introduced her to many modalities to enhance mental and physical well-being, including mindfulness, Feldenkrais, and somatics, to name a few. 

“Paula was a healer in the truest sense of the word,” says Dr. Naylor. “I saw her in action and learned much about how to be with patients and the importance of their wellness and wholeness. She was the embodiment of trauma-informed care, the guiding principles of which are safety, choice, collaboration, trustworthiness and empowerment. Anyone who met her could feel these qualities.”   

At the Sexual and Reproductive Health Clinic, Dr. Fayerman had a huge impact on the lives of her patients and colleagues with her grace, wisdom and soft approach. “She was a fierce advocate for patients and for human rights,” says Joy Abdool, BN’96. 

Arlene Martens, BN’01, a Registered Nurse at the clinic, once watched Dr. Fayerman calm a distraught client by guiding her through a meditation, allowing the procedure to move ahead while giving the young woman a practical, lifetime tool for taming anxiety and fear. “The transformation was incredible,” says Martens.   

“Her approach was forward-looking for her time,” says Donald McSwiney, BA’87, director of communications with UCalgary’s Faculty of Social Work. “She took a compassionate and holistic approach and every day she fought for change. I know everyone’s anecdotes are just the tip of the iceberg for someone who spent her life in service as a physician, artist, broadcaster and community builder.” 

Paula Gong

Chris Dadge

Work, play, transform, repeat 

Dr. Fayerman, who was so often a transformative force for others, could eagerly morph herself from healer to an in-the-moment musician when opportunities arose. She had the verve to do more than welcome and support a good gong show. She’d jump right into it.  

Last October, on a day of sloppy rain and wet snow, the Nakatani Gong Orchestra + SHHH! Ensemble show at the Grotto in Calgary welcomed Dr. Fayerman and others to strike 16 gongs and create an immersive sound bath for the audience. 

“Paula was right in there, smiling brightly and just working away on making music,” says Chris Dadge, a Calgary musician, producer, engineer and creator of Bug Incision, an inventive, vanguard phenomenon that may be the epitome of the at-the-edges music scene Dr. Fayerman fervently promoted. 

“My hands were destroyed, but Paula was giving it her all on the gongs without complaint,” says Dadge, who had invited her to participate in the show. “She insisted on helping to clean up afterwards, even after I told her that wasn’t her job. It was all just peak Paula.” 

A certified yoga teacher and yoga therapist, she highlighted the importance of yoga and our understanding of trauma, as well as body-centred psychotherapeutic approaches to health and healing. 

Dr. Fayerman was a writer, too, chronicling the Calgary and area music scene when she wrote for plucky VOX Magazine and upstart alternative Fast Forward Weekly (FFWD) in the ‘90s, both edited by Ian Chiclo, BA’91, who also had a radio show at CJSW.   

“The last time I saw her was probably at the Folk Fest,” says Chiclo. “I hadn’t done the radio show in quite some time. She told me that she really missed my voice and the show.” 

As does everyone who knew Dr. Fayerman, or even knew of her. We really miss her voice. And her show. And the brilliant NOISE of her.