I'm busy – we're all busy…
I'm an active touring singer-songwriter-pianist in Canada. I'm lucky to be really busy performing my music and I do about 100 shows a year. I find working in the arts incredibly fulfilling but my schedule and being self-employed doesn't offer up very much down time so that time is really precious; what I do with it is chosen wisely! I've found one of the best things I can do with part of my little free time, is GIVE IT AWAY to people who can really benefit from it. Over the past few years, in Regina Saskatchewan, I've worked with a piano program called 'Heart of the City'. It's an incredible concept that offers piano lessons to youth who couldn't otherwise afford them. It was started in Saskatchewan and has spread across Canada – simply because it really just makes sense.
I recognized a need, partly with my heart
In the small high school I attended when growing up, there was no music program. If you wanted music training you had to go to private lessons. Luckily my parents were able to pay for them. However not everyone's parent can afford private lessons and many schools still don't have music programs. This means there are a lot of musically inclined youth who don't get a chance to give music a try. I pursued my classical piano studies to a professional level earning my licentiate diploma in piano performance from Trinity College London (England) when I was 19. Piano lessons and training were such a huge love for me as a kid that to know there are other kids out there who want to give music a try but just can't afford it, is pretty heart-wrenching.
Giving of yourself = immediate results in others
I found Heart of the City just as they found me – it was a little star-charged how it happened – and it was 'love at first try'. In my work with them I've met with groups of their students, and have done workshops with them on several occasions. We've talked about playing piano, practicing, and have worked on some ear training. We've worked on rhythms, melody and harmony and I've also talked to them a little about the idea of songwriting. No matter what the topic, I swear I've never seen such motivated minds and hands before. These kids soak it all up and it's amazing to see. It's tricky to work with them on the one hand because the playing levels really range in the group, but on the other hand, I just want to help them and try to motivate them so it's really worth the time. And as they're soaking this all up, they LIGHT up. It's incredible, really. It's a delight for me to do -it's possibly the most rewarding feeling seeing that positive reaction in these kids so fast while they're sitting at a piano.
Giving of yourself is a bit addictive
At a recent concert I performed I figured I'd go the extra mile with the students so I had a large group of them come up, and perform a tune with me. We had 4 pianos on the stage and 3 students per piano. They were spectacular! It was a first time in front of an audience for most of them and they were pretty proud when it was all done. They got a huge applause from the audience and the glow in the room was pretty intense – rightfully so. Giving a little felt good for me. Giving more felt better!
Change the world, little by little
Even if the students don't retain 'everything' we cover in a workshop, one of the main things I think that sticks with them is that they met this guy who makes his living writing and playing music and it all started with piano lessons and via their teachers it's been funneled back to me that that really motivates them to want to keep on. I kind of see it as a paying it forward type of thing that musicians should do to help make sure the next crop of musicians is getting ready to take us by storm. I guess in that way, I see that it's possible for one individual to make a change in the world. Just by giving a bit of my time to some young people who can benefit from it, the reward seen in them has been so huge.
Singer-songwriter-pianist Jeffery Michael Straker performs over 100 shows per year across Canada. He recently recorded for CBC radio’s ‘Canada Live’, had a music video chart in the top 10 on Much More Music Canada and in 2012 toured in Africa. Tour stops range from intimate house concerts to club & theatre shows and include a recent sold-out concert (capacity 2000) with the full Regina Symphony Orchestra. Visit Jeffery Straker for more info + tour dates.