Spotlight on alumni
Musician and teacher. The roles overlap for Barry Canning. These days, the Bishop's Falls native is doing double duty, and despite the demands of pursuing music and a teaching career, he hasn't missed a beat. In May he released his fourth studio album, Light of a Setting Sun and recently played to a full house at the Memorial Affinity Celebration in Toronto. It was there that Barry Canning talked with our contributor David Penney.
DP: Tell me a little bit about yourself?
BC: Well, I'm originally from Bishop's Falls in central Newfoundland. I moved to St. John's after high school and that was my home base for about 20-odd years really, working as a musician and going to school off and on for 15 of those years. Four degrees and a couple of albums later, I'm here in Toronto. I just recently started teaching but I'm still playing and just put out a new album in May.
DP: Light of a Setting Sun is the new album. You must be excited about that?
BC: That's right. Yeah, I'm really pleased with the result. You know it's not easy working full time as a teacher in addition to this, so it's kind of hard to promote the album. But I was in Newfoundland back in May for the release and that was a big event, lots of fun and lots of people came out. I did as much promo as I could for two weeks then I was back here, off the plane and into the classroom. But you know I'd rather be busy and it's exciting, it's been about six years since my last album.
DP: How has the album been received so far?
BC: Really well. The summer has given me a little more time to play and I'll continue to do that wherever I can. The attention has started to build a little more and I'd love for it to get bigger and if I had to take a break from teaching at some point to go on the road I'd do it, but it would have to be at a certain level. My focus now is really on songwriting and I've been submitting stuff for movies and to shows. Alan Hawco is a good friend of mine and he's put a number of my songs in the show – which is great – and he's going to put a few more in this year. Quote me on that. Alan Hawco will put a few of my songs – especially these new ones – in the show. He actually put a new one in this year and I said to him, the next time I get a song in your show you can't speak. Laughs. But he hasn't agreed to that yet.
DP: So where are you teaching in Toronto?
BC: I'm teaching in North York at a school called Dante Alighieri Academy. I've got a master's in religious studies so it's certainly one of my teachables. My background is world religions and that's the Grade 11 subject area so I teach that a lot. I've got an honours degree in English so I teach a few English classes as well. I really enjoy the work and the kids. It's a good fit for me.
DP: Do you bring music into the classroom?
BC: Of course. It's a big part of how I teach. The other thing I try to do is talk to the kids about the music business itself. Every new class I have we talk about the ethics of downloading music and how it impacts the people who make it. I always try to equate it to other professions. If your father owned a bakery and someone decides to steal a loaf of bread then he is negatively affected by that. Making albums is hard work and it's expensive and when we talk about it like that the kids get it, they understand. The baker's bread takes time and work and ingredients. It's the same thing, but when it happens online it's anonymous and it's less tangible for kids and they don't make that connection right away. But the fact is, it's really no different.
DP: You're an experienced student yourself with four degrees under your belt. Tell me about the time you spent at
BC: I loved going to MUN. I met a lot of great people through Memorial, and I really felt like I was part of the culture at that time. At lot of people at events like this I recognize from being at Memorial. There for a while I was selling out the old TSC, you know about 1200 or so people, so there is a great relationship there for me in terms of knowing a lot of people on campus as a musician and at the same time being a student. At one point in time I was working on my education degree and my master's thesis and I was touring at the same time. There was a group of us that called ourselves the dead thesis society. We used to go over to Bitters and meet once a week to commiserate over a few drinks, about eight or nine of us if I remember. But eventually I got down to it and wrote for about three months straight in a hot bedroom over on Kimberley Row. Then I got working on the bachelor of education and I eventually got it all done.
DP: What made you stick with it?
BC: You know, a musician, Nelson Giles, said to me years ago that the best thing you can do with your money is put it in your head. I was just starting in the music business and he was a little older than me. And that always stuck with me. I paid my way through university by playing music and I say to the kids that I teach now – no one is going to take it away from you. You can have a house and a car and a boat and all that other stuff but you can lose it. That opportunity to sit in a classroom and receive knowledge, to gain a better understanding of yourself – that's powerful. I loved it. I wouldn't trade it for anything.
Barry Canning's new album, Light of a Setting Sun, is available on iTunes and at Fred's Records and O'Brien's Music in St. John's. He will be playing at Rootstock 2011 on August 28, the third annual charity event at the Jackson Triggs Amphitheatre in Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON, in support of War Child Canada. Tickets are available at http://www.greatestatesofniagara.com/. His next scheduled show in Newfoundland is on New Year's Eve at the Delta Hotel in St. John's.