done repair and rebuilding work on acoustic instruments:
pianos, guitars, mandolins, and violins.
My taste in musical activities
evolved as I got older. I made a living at it in
my twenties but then went off to travel the world and
when I returned I opened a teaching studio and was
self-employed until I accepted into the Faculty of
Ed. In Toronto there were (and are) many eager
young musicians, DJ's, and too much free music on the
internet to make an easy living by playing. Bar owners
fill their stages with "Open Mic" participants who are
not vetted for talent or reputation, and who are willing
to play for free for "exposure". Every stage they
crowd removes a venue for paid musicians with better
chops and more polished performances. It erodes
their livelihood. No longer are young people in
every town excited to hit the bar or dance hall because
a new touring band has come to town, or eager to come
out and support their homegrown bands...those were the
days. I toured at the tail end of that era.
Very competent musicians that I played with then now
make their living by teaching, selling in music stores,
or both; others are employed outside of music. I
was lucky enough to complete university and take a sharp
left turn into public school teaching in my early
thirties, so now I have a pension and will never have to
rely on music for a pay cheque.
That's a darn good thing, because I no longer enjoy late nights and commuting, and lugging equipment to gigs. I began going out to play nearby open mics with a younger friend but quickly realized that I was providing a free service for bar owners who pay all their other employees but not the musicians. They don't offer a free drink, a meal, or even their parking costs, and they don't have decent instruments set up for musicians. One legendary downtown dive had an out of tune piano with five broken keys, even though perfectly good pianos are free for the asking every week in this city, like white elephants. We played in rooms full of shouting bar patrons who force you to crank up your volume and sing through a p.a. to be heard, in a room with a packed-in capacity crowd of less than a hundred people. At my community "play along" I can sing while a dozen musicians are playing, and I can be heard without a p.a. At the open mics, I dragged my thousand dollar keyboard to each venue and set it up to do just a handful of songs for them, but the open mic organizer cajoled me to leave it set up for other players to use, possibly knock over, or spill their beer on. At one venue, a girl leapt on stage and thrust her tiny phone into my face to chord for her from a very bad arrangement that didn't match what she wanted to sing, in the wrong key, so that she could experience the thrill of singing to a live audience, karaoke-style. This drunken party behaviour was considered normal and acceptable by the open mic organizer. What a horror show. I felt exploited. Like many older musicians, my drinking days are behind me, especially while performing; but bar owners expect open mic musicians to draw in their friends to buy drinks, and to create a party atmosphere that will encourage other customers to stay and buy more drinks. Open mic musicians are, in effect, "animators" like the ones employed at resorts and on cruise ships; but they are expected to perform that function for free. To me that's completely bonkers, and profoundly dissatisfying.
Fortunately there's another model. When I was young I assumed that the only real outlet for a musican was to get paid in a bar, lounge, coffeeshop or performing at a concert. I'd never encountered a community centre music outlet. Casting about for a more satisfying musical outlet, I brought musicians together to rehearse and play down at our yacht club. I initiated a ukulele group that ran for a few years in a private home, and a guitar group that we ran at the yacht club which migrated a year later to someone else's home. Finally I stumbled upon the fact that some community centre managers are eager to find people who can organize community programming. The facilities provide free space, and sometimes free equipment for our use. Birchmount Community Centre provides us with a really good keyboard and a projector. Grateful lonely musicians responded to my invitation,. We are our own mutually appreciative audience, and we get home to bed at a reasonable hour. For all of this, Deborah and I happily organize and play for free. I play for free in parks, for charity or school fundraisers, and for nursing home and hospital audiences. Those venues make me feel appreciated. They are grateful that we bring our music to them.