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Here’s the short story. In my late teens and early twenties, I practised guitar a lot. I got a music degree. Why? Because it was fun. When I finished my music degree, I started to search for something deeper. Surely music was more than just “fun”. I wanted something meaningful, something that makes the world better. With different motivation came different music, and different contexts for the music. Now, I prefer music to be a participatory thing. I’d rather not sit quietly in the audience. It’s more fun, meaningful, and powerful to sing along.


The Long Story

Actually, the long story is too long to tell here. Maybe I’ll write a memoir one day. Think of this as the medium story. 

Being Good At Things

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with being good at things. I don’t know where this obsession came from, but as a child I was determined to be good at everything. If I wasn’t good at something, frustration drove me to practice it until I was good enough at it. “Good enough” meant better than my peers. 


This is the mindset I brought to learning guitar. My earliest memory of playing guitar is of copying my parents playing a “D” chord. I believe I figured out how to play it by watching, not by being taught. I remember being proud of myself when my dad confirmed that I got it right. My second memory of the guitar is when my dad tried to show me how to play a “C” chord, and I couldn’t do it. I got so frustrated that I cried, then ran to my room to practice. 


As I learned more and more, I started to copy the best guitar players I could find. I learned that Jazz is one of the most sophisticated and challenging genres of music, so if I wanted to be good at guitar, I had to learn Jazz. Guitar became the thing that I was best at, even though I was good at almost everything. So when I graduated from high school, music school was the obvious next step. I went to music school and improved even more. I graduated from Humber College with the highest marks in my class.


Sounding Good

Let’s go back in time a bit. I skipped an important part of the story. When I was in high school, a classmate started making electronic hip-hop beats. He gained some success, even selling some of his beats to rappers. I did not like this. Music was my thing, and I was better than everyone I knew, yet I was not making any money at all. I resented this other kid for having more success than me, even though I was technically better than him. I remember commenting on his music “Anyone with a pulse could do that.”

My response was to make my own hip-hop beats. I thought it was going to be easy, but I discovered something interesting. Even though everything about my beats was technically “correct”, there was something missing. They didn’t sound as good as beats by professional beat makers, but I didn’t know why. I started to ask, “What makes recorded music sound good?” 

This led me to try making music that sounded good, rather than trying to play music that was hard to play.


Finding Meaning

The next thing that shook my musical world was noticing that most music I enjoyed had lyrics. I was not the type of person who paid much attention to lyrics. When I listened to a song, I noticed the melody and how it related to the instruments in the background. I enjoyed music based on the notes, rhythms, and textures. I didn’t care what the singer was singing about.


In the quest to become famous (I failed this quest, and have better goals now), I accepted the fact that people like lyrics. People just weren’t listening to my instrumental music, so I began writing words. I discovered that writing lyrics is hard. And not in the same way that playing guitar is hard. When you can’t play something on guitar, you slow it down and practice it over and over again until you can play it. You can’t practice writing lyrics in the same way. The process of getting good at writing lyrics is more mysterious.


Just like my experience trying to make hip-hop beats, I became interested in what makes a good lyric. I tried to pay attention to the words when I listened to music. I discovered that I did not know the meaning of my favourite songs. Listening to lyrics opened up a new realm of meaning in the music I listened to.


Finding Community

My musical world exploded when I joined Sing For Joy. I walked into my first Sing For Joy session to see chairs arranged in a circle, and all kinds of people milling about, chatting, and finding their seats. While conversations were still going, the two leaders of the choir stood up and started to sing a simple melody. Slowly, everyone ended their conversations and joined in on the melody. The people in the choir were not musicians, and they weren’t trained singers. I have since learned that many of them think they aren’t good at singing, but you could see on their faces that they were having fun. Once everyone learned the melody, the leaders stopped and taught us another melody, and then a third one, and then we split the choir into three sections and sang all three melodies at once. Then we learned the next part of the song, which had lyrics: “Water heal my body, water heal my soul. When I go down down to the water, by the water I feel whole” ("The River" by Coco Love Alcorn). We sang together. 


Everyone learned this song in a matter of minutes. It was easy and fun. In that moment, I think it was the most joyful room I’ve ever been in. There is something magical about singing together. I’ve known this for a while, because I’ve been in choirs before and had profound experiences singing with people, but never have I seen so much joy created in so little time. In normal choirs, a group of trained singers require many rehearsals to create a musical experience that may or may not bring joy. I’ve been in a choir full of talented singers. Each member of the choir spent years training their musical skills before joining the choir. We rehearsed weekly for months. It was hard work, and the payoff was uncertain. All we had to do was choose a piece of music that was a little too hard for us to sing, and when we made mistakes during the concert, the potential joy was diminished.


At Sing For Joy, we skipped all of this hard work and went straight to the joyful singing. No prior music experience was necessary. No spending hours trying to get it right. Within minutes, a group of untrained singers were singing, dancing, having fun, and sounding good. I’d almost forgotten that music could be so much fun. 



That brings me to today. My goal is to bring everyone, regardless of ability, into the meaningful realm of music, as effortlessly as possible. Turns out the musical skills I have are helpful for this. I can worry about the technical side of things while others simply sing. 

So, I'm focussed on leading all-inclusive choirs.

And, I offer Music Mentoring, so others can become musical leaders in their community.

If this story resonated with you, feel free to send me a message.

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