How literature got me into music

As we look back on our lives we can all identify those pivotal moments – decisions or events – that led us in a completely new and often unexpected direction, and essentially changed our lives. For me, one of those moments is crystal clear, and occurred during my last year of high school. I had recently completed a project for an English course – a written report on a short story by the Canadian writer Silver Donald Cameron. Coincidentally, Cameron was a writer-in-residence at the University of Prince Edward Island that year (1985-86). When he was to give a public lecture at UPEI – a reading from one of his new works – my English teacher, Jean Ginn, suggested that I attend. The timing was good – I was free, and my younger brother Barrie was heading into town anyway because he had a rehearsal with the UPEI Jazz Band that night (he was only in grade 9 at the time!). After Cameron’s lecture I made my way to the Music Dept. to wait for Barrie. As I sat and listened to the end of his rehearsal, I was completely blown away by how good the band sounded. My exposure to good live music was pretty minimal at this point, so hearing something of this calibre was eye-opening and pretty darn exciting! I expressed as much afterwards to Barrie’s saxophone teacher, Rowan Fitzgerald, who also played in the band, and he took the opportunity to introduce me to the band leader, UPEI brass prof Jim Montgomery, and also to some of the trombone players (including one Bob Nicholson). As luck would have it, the band was short a trombone player, so Jim asked if I would be interested in joining. I thought that sounded awesome, so Jim suggested I sit in with the wind ensemble that week, which would give him a chance to hear me play. As a result of that ‘audition’, I became a member of the UPEI Jazz Band, and started taking private trombone lessons with Jim. It was the beginning of a new chapter in my life – one that steered me into music as a career, and to studying at UPEI. Incidentally, that trombone player Bob Nicholson, after introducing me to his sister Sandy, is now my brother-in-law!

According to my own memory, plus some journal entries among the few high school scribblers I’ve kept, I had been leaning towards a career as a Phys.Ed. teacher (following in my older brother Kerry’s footsteps), or possibly architecture. Music was perhaps my third choice. Looking back, that one night waiting for Barrie at UPEI changed everything, and I know that if I hadn’t come into town for Silver Donald Cameron’s lecture that my life may have turned out quite differently. I may not have gone into music, or even gone to UPEI; I would not have met Sandy…

I owe it all to Silver Donald Cameron!

31 years later I had another opportunity to meet Silver Don – and to finally thank him. He was in town on October 2nd for a screening of his documentary film Green Rights: The Human Right to a Healthy World. When I heard about the event I thought, “well, he changed my life once before – I can’t miss this!” Indeed, his work in the environmental rights movement continues to change lives, whether through his writing, his films, or his 100+ online interviews of environment leaders. A humble man, Cameron would downplay the significance of all the things he does, but just like he had no idea of the role he played in changing the direction of my life, he is probably unaware of how much of an impact his work has had on so many others. From all of us, Don, keep up the good work!

Dale and Silver Don

A photo of me with Silver Don, shortly after thanking him for the seemingly insignificant chance encounter that, 31 years previously, had such a significant effect on my life.

UPDATE: Silver Donald Cameron died on Monday, June 1, 2020 after a short battle with lung cancer. He was 82. (See CBC article).

This entry was posted in Crazy Coincidences, Game Changers, Life. Bookmark the permalink.

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