Before you go any further, please take a half minute to watch the Fun Fun Funicular video. If you’ve already seen the video, we dare you to watch it again and not smile. We’ll get to the role of the Big Red Couch in a second.
Songwriting credits: Soap Box Duo ( wife and husband Jenesa, she’s on the shaker, and Alexander MacMullin, he’s on the guitar) and good friend Luke Ehrenholz (he’s in the middle and delivers the diagonal elevator line with style).
Video credit: Brett Mikaluk
Furniture credit: The Big Red Couch in Alexander and Jenesa’s place.
“It’s a feature piece in our home,” says Alexander. “And it is big! It’s where most of our songwriting happens. Since it was first put there there’s been a wall built and I honestly don’t think we could get it out!”
Couches don’t get thanked enough for their support. So, thank you Big Red Couch, thank you for making feel comfortable three remarkable and socially minded artists who have pulled off no small feat: they’ve gotten people to smile about a piece of infrastructure.
Not just any piece of infrastructure, mind you. The funicular, which opened in December, takes passengers from 100 Street by the Hotel Macdonald to the area around the Low Level Bridge—and back. Beside the actual funicular, the project features a pedestrian bridge, a unique urban staircase, an elevator and several seating areas and lookout points along the way.
Along with increasing connectivity in the river valley, the project helps address some challenges people may face in accessing the river valley from downtown Edmonton.
The funicular opened on time and on budget. The $24-million price tag attracted some criticism during and after construction. Google Reviews tell a more positive story, albeit based on a limited sample. At last check, 16 reviewers have given the funicular 4.5 stars out of 5.
For their part, Jenesa, Alexander and Luke see the funicular as a vehicle for some positive feeling about the future.
“Knowing that the funicular is a new exciting thing we wanted to be pioneers of early culture of that new thing,” says Luke. “We thought it’d be cool to create something that would be a part of the new excitement.”
Cue the Big Red Couch, where the trio wrote the lyrics on December 14, found a way to rhyme funicular with diagonal elevator, arranged the harmonies, and made a plan to record it that weekend in the actual funicular while it was pulling the musicians up the riverbank. And then to post the video to Facebook.
The trio knew what they were doing. At last count, there were over 19,000 views.
And even one tribute video.
They know what they’re doing with music, too. Janesa and Alexander are graduates of MacEwan University’s celebrated music program. They have taught music. Luke is a singer-songwriter who can handle piano, guitar and drums.
Soap Box Duo is now the couple’s full time gig. It’s a creative collaboration that uses music to raise awareness about justice and development. Recently, the pair wrote and shot a documentary that updates the audience’s view about life in Haiti.
That constitutional concern for others is evident in a line from the Fun Fun Funicular that celebrates the funicular’s accessibility:
The group confesses they were a bit anxious about the wheelchairs line. How can you sing about wheelchairs while not in a wheelchair? But they kept it in to educate others.
“I actually have extended family and a close family friend who are in wheelchairs and I think it’s an excellent opportunity to have that access in a big city,” Jenesa says. “They have had problems with accessibility while traveling in the past.”
With the song and video and themes planned out that day back in December, all that was left was delivering it all live—in the funicular—as unsuspecting people listened and smiled and let themselves be charmed by three young residents.
“We took lots of takes and people from the public were coming and going up with us as we did it,” Luke says.
Jenesa adds: “I think people enjoyed it. They laughed, then went on their way.”
Janesa doesn’t laugh off the laughter. She doesn’t make light of the happy reaction to the funicular song and video. She says she gets the artistic “irony” of it: Soap Box Duo and Luke Ehrenholz are no strangers to heavy topics in their musical outreach, but they write a short song about a mechanical conveyance contraption and that piece of DIY gets instant attention.
“What do people want in a city?” Jenesa asks, adding accessibility is one of those things. “They want to have fun, too. They want to be able to laugh a bit and smile, no matter what their position in life is. That’s why they’ve reacted to the song, I think.”
You can find out more Janesa and Alexander at https://www.soapboxduo.com
More on Luke here: http://www.lukeehrenholz.com
More on the funicular here: https://www.edmonton.ca/funicular