- Created on Wednesday, 12 February 2014 19:38
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By RENAT ABSALYAMOV
Searchlights went out. Microphones fell silent, and the stages of local bars and cafes emptied. Concerts came to an end, and along with the concerts, came the end of just another working day.
The life of Niagara region musicians does not look similar to the lives of musicians embellishing the covers of glossy magazines. Their songs neither head up Billboard charts nor does it bring to stadiums thousands people. They do not earn millions of dollars, and it seems as though envelopes containing the names of winners of the annual Grammy Awards simply do not know about their existence. However, it does not stop them from continuously waking up, going to their day job and playing on the weekends and in their free time.
“I love to play music,” says Aaron Berger, of Niagara Falls, an actor and singer, adding, “I love to play because it is fun and makes me feel connected myself to other people.”
“I enjoy it,” adds Jacobus Deurloo, a singer, songwriter and guitarist. “Music is a medicine to me. There is nothing more useful that we can do than to share that — to enhance the life we share. The music is a beautiful way of doing that.”
It’s Dec. 20, five days before Christmas. Berger and Deurloo are sitting on a sofa and in a chair respectively and discussing music, money and fame. Their friend, Nathanial Goold, a singer and guitarist in the Black Flies, has not arrived so, without waiting for him, they launch into conversation.
“I started singing when I was a child in a church choir with my sister,” says Berger. “I loved doing that; it was a lot of fun, and then I started writing songs when I was about 16. My dad also bought me my first guitar when I had expressed interest in learning.”
Berger’s passion for music did not end with buying the guitar. Having spent one year learning and rehearsing, he gave a concert in Victoria House, Niagara Falls, and thus, nervously, in front of an audience, began his professional musical career.
At first glance, his path to the place and time where he is now looks pretty simple. During the next 13 years, he had time not only to rehearse and perform on stages of various local bars and cafes, but also to release two albums: Ghosts Behind Me and Colour & Light, with the Blue Stars — and win the Niagara Music Awards as Male Vocalist of the Year in 2012 and Songwriter of the Year in 2013.
“It is an honour to win any awards, but if I have to chose, the songwriting award is more special to me,” continues Berger, who looks as thoughtful and guarded as his songs sound. “There are so many amazing songwriters here, in the Niagara region. So, to be recognized in that way is very special for me.”
On the other hand, nobody knows better than he does that these songs, albums, nominations, awards, words, and interviews —might have not been if four and half years ago his mother had not saved his life.
It was a raining night in July 2009, when Berger decided to throw himself into the Horseshoe Falls. Sue Berger “drove to Table Rock … [and] called out to a [Niagara] Parks employee, who tackled him and held him to the ground until police arrived,” writes John Law, a Niagara Falls Review reporter, in his article Back from the brink: Singer Aaron Berger puts his ghosts behind him.
“She 100 per cent saved my life,” says Berger in an interview with The St. Catharines Standard. “[That night] was like being in a lucid dream. I felt very much completely out of mind.”
In comparison to Berger, Deurloo’s life does not seem to be that dramatic. He did not make an attempt to commit suicide nor did he win the Niagara Music Awards.
“I have no awards,” says Deurloo. “For me, I am not that interested necessarily in that. I love a big audience, but I came home one night from a show — I was doing the show on Queen’s Street in an art gallery — and it was just one of those nights where we had only 15 to 20 people through the evening, but people were actually been healed. It just amazed me.”
Born in the Netherlands, he landed in Halifax, when he was two, and gradually, but not without difficulty, became a part of Canadian community. Recalling this time, particularly, his adjustment to a new country, culture and people, he says he did not have a chance to avoid playing music.
“I was an immigrant,” explains Deurloo. “I came in, and I did not like being a second-class citizen, and it made me angry, and I knew I could hurt people. I just made a choice. I do not want to hurt people. I rather wanted to do something different. The music ended up being the way I could express myself without doing harm. It gave me the way of using my anger productively. It is medicine.”
So, in 1967, when, his dad bought him a classical guitar with steel strings in a Russian pavilion at Expo, 12-year-old Deurloo learned chords and started playing on the guitar.
Every year, more and more young Niagara regional musicians follow the lead of such artists as Berger, Deurloo and Goold. They take in their hand a guitar and start learning how to play on it without knowing that the tours and Niagara Music Awards are most likely all that they can expect to achieve.
Most of them will hardly ever have a chance to become worldwide famous, says Jay Baty, 25, a musician, graphic designer, producer and engineer at Tangerine Recording Studio in Niagara Falls.
“It is like winning a lottery,” says Baty, 25, of Niagara Falls, adding, “You just are in a right place in a right time. Somebody hears your song, and they really like it and move things forward.”
The president of the Niagara Region Musicians’ Association Local 298 in St. Catharines, Ryszard Rybak agrees with Baty, saying that it does not only depend on how gifted an artist is.
“It is difficult. You have to have a lot of things happening in your career. You have to be extremely talented; you have to have dedication and you have to have a bit of luck on your side too or somebody who can get you on the next level.
“You have to remember it is a business,” continues Rybak, 50, of St. Catharines. “It is a music business. It is not, ‘I play music.’ You are in a business. You might be on stage for a couple hours a day: two hours, three hours. You have practice time. You have making the phone calls, the contacts, doing like any small business does. That is the tough part. It is not easy at all.”
According to Rybak, Niagara region scene has not experienced the best period in its history. Lots of people leave the industry. Bands split up. Musicians focus on a day job. Even Niagara Music Awards winners have difficulties mainly thinking not how to become world famous, but how to feed themselves and their families.
“Everybody has a day job,” says Baty about musicians he knows. “Even if you do try living that life, it is tough. You only make a few hundred bucks a show unless you are doing these cover gigs, but if you doing those cover gigs, you are getting more now, but you do not enjoy that much.”
“In today’s society people actually do not want to be enriched by music,” says Deurloo. “They want to be made numb by it. They do not want not to think about anything.
“For me, I want to think about things,” Deurloo pauses, adding, “There are some drinks to remember and some drinks to forget. If we have a glass of wine together, and we are satisfied, and we are appreciating each other’s company, and it is enriching us, satisfying us or if we drink a bottle of wine before we get there and somebody asks to hold it up to go to the toilet. I prefer the first option.”
The trio says there are not many places where you can play your own music and be paid very well.
“It is a tough market,” explains Rob Paccero, 40, a bar manager of the Merchant Ale House, St. Catharines, one of a few places where regional residents can listen to original music.
“People want to hear the stuff which is familiar. If they do not know your music, they are not going to listen it. People are fickle. Nobody wants to hear the original music.”
“It is funny how the music was created as a vessel to say something or to express the feeling,” says Goold, adding, “And now it is totally being abused that the new generation sees it is.”
Berger, Deurloo and Goold, among many other regional musicians, are unknown by the international public. They do not head up various Billboard charts and don’t earn millions. What is more, they have difficulties providing for themselves and, as a result, work at day jobs.
However, it does not prevent them from enjoying the music because the music for them is not the charts and money. It is the way they express their feelings. The way they express life. It is something they were not able to obtain before they were born, and something they will never lose until they die.
“It is a lifestyle for me,” says Goold. “Even if I do not get famous, I enjoy what I am doing. I feel this is what I am supposed to do.”
Like Goold, Berger says he will keep playing music because music for him is “a way of life.”
“I play music because I love to play music,” says Berger, adding, “It allows me to connect myself to other people, share what is in my heart. If I knew that I would not be famous or recognized by other people, it would still help me to recognize myself with other people,” he says.
“When we did the tour, [another musician] said to me, ‘What? You got your 15 minutes of fame?’” says Deurloo. “I said to him, ‘Man, we have been all across this country. We were probably singing for at least 20,000 people.’ I said, ‘If I was only in it for 15 minutes of fame, you would not find me here. We touched a lot of people. We changed their lives. That is I am here for.’”