Saturday, July 5, 2008

Play On, Oliver


On Thursday, we lost one of the bright lights in the Canadian music firmament, Oliver Schroer. Oliver was one of the most creative and innovative musicians I've ever known. He was also the tallest fiddle player ever on the planet.

With just his fiddle and bow, he could evoke whole worlds in a few minutes, as he coaxed beautiful and unearthly sounds seemingly out of nowhere. His tunes were by turns whimsical, nostalgic, funny, fantastical, unbelievably joyful, but sometimes also very dark and brooding. He was not afraid of the uncomfortable, the disturbing, or the dissonant.

When I was around Oliver I always had a sense of a person so infused with life that he couldn't wait for the next adventure-- even the next moment-- to be taken in and experienced (And then sometimes magically turned into a tune!). If you could say someone lived life to the fullest, that was Oliver.

And so it was when he learned that he had cancer. Oliver somehow was able to take in the whole experience full on, and, rather than let it slow him down, he used it as a catalyst to continue composing and recording, right up until the night before he died. And in a remarkable act of love, he brought his whole music community along with him on his journey, participating in several "Olifiddle" tribute concerts, and finally, performing his "last show ever on this earth" before a sold out crowd in Toronto.

Oliver kept a blog of his experiences of the last few months, and in it he reflects on his life and his impending death. There are many, many very wise words in that blog, but I'll just leave you with one of the last things he wrote:

Sometimes I think of dying as taking a trip, a trip far away to a place from which I cannot come back. We all know people who do that...move to Tasmania. (great place, by the way…) The point is, we wish these people well on their journey, but we don’t get all choked up and overwrought about it. We remember them fondly, and they live on in our memories through stories and the legacy they have left. We toast them in absentia, and hope they are doing well in their new digs. Well, my whole journey feels a bit like that. I am going to this place we will all go, and my travel plans are just a bit more immediate than yours. (Though life is strange, and I still might not be the first to go. Just be careful crossing those streets and driving those cars, folks.) I think a lot in terms of metaphors to help me understand things. I have been informed by the stationmaster that my train is coming in immanently, and that I should be ready to get on board when it does. But until that train comes, I am still doing what I am doing fully and completely.
Wherever Oli is now, I'm completely convinced that he is drinking it all in, and composing some fine tunes. Play on Oli, we'll miss you.

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Location: Toronto, ON, Canada

I'm a musician and songwriter based in Toronto.

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