The Orchestra

There is something you should know about me. I’m self-taught on every instrument I play. Don’t think I’m bragging. I’m not – it’s more like self-defense. These are the very specific instruments that I try to play.



I don’t own a nice guitar. I have guitars that I love. I have guitars that I haven’t played in years. I have guitars that don’t belong to me.

My pride and joy is a Swedish-made classical with the very Swedish name Goya. I paid $35 for it. It was some of the best money I ever spent.


I played the clarinet in grade 5 band. Then we parted ways. About five years ago my younger brother asked for one for his birthday. I got one for him. Shortly afterwards, I got one for myself. The clarinet is a cruel task master and I made a lot of bad mistakes when I re-taught myself how to play. I learned half the instrument in Bb and half the instrument in Concert C. I didn’t do it on purpose. Now I don’t always know what note I’m playing – but as any amateur multi-instrumentalist will tell you, that’s why they invented fingering charts.

Later I traded my busted-up soprano sax for an alto clarinet. I didn’t even know they existed. I thought I was buying a bass clarinet. Nope. Alto clarinets exist and Eric Dolphy never played one. It is even harder than the real clarinet. And bigger. But not as big as a bass clarinet.


I bet you didn’t know that accordions come in different sizes: child, female, male. They get bigger as you progress from child through woman to man. The first one I owned was given to me by my boss. It was a man’s. It probably doesn’t speak well for me that I gave it away and got myself a woman’s and a child’s.


This beauty was a gift from Linda Allen and Russ Candler. It’s called Tri-Star India. It was made in India and the shipping cost as much as the instrument. I thought I was doing fine on it before I saw this kid. Wow.


Some people recoil with laughter when the sound of a recorder magically transports them back to the renaissance; not me. I love the sound.

Unfortunately there is no 12-step program to kick an ethnic flute addiction. Good news though, I’ve bought almost one of every variety I can find in Toronto.


Abraham Lincoln played one in John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln. The jaw-harp or jew’s-harp is pocket-sized fun guaranteed to annoy almost everyone.


American Music has always been a reference for me. String band music, from Gid Tanner to John Fahey, has informed much of my musical thought. The banjo was a gift from my parents. The violin is through the patronage of Paula McManus.


Jazz music is one of the greatest forces in my life. I like it all from Armostrong through Braxton. There has never been an instrument used in jazz I’ve heard and didn’t want to play. The trumpet was an ebay purchase and one of the hardest instruments I’ve ever played. On a good day I can almost play an octave – on a bad day I’m lucky if I can make a sound. The washboard is easy though.


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