When I first moved to Vancouver Island over 10 years ago, I had little idea of the differences between serving clients on the West Coast compared to the Prairies. The weather here on the coast was enough to get excited about. Here the temps rarely drop below freezing and the flowers will bloom as early as January. It has been a refreshing change from the many months of blowing snow with wind chills of -40 degrees and barely a growing season for our vegetable garden.
The Alberta music scene was very professional. A strict Conservatory based piano community along with a grass roots country and folk current made for some truly memorable music performances. Venues like the Jack Singer Concert Hall and the Jubilee Theater along with the Saddledome showcased some of the biggest names in music. Here on the island, artistry, creativity and the wild and free ‘hippie’ character seem to enter into all of the arts. But the founding history of ‘proper’ British influence is still seen in the many unique ensembles of Baroque performers and historical instruments or skilled classical choral groups.
People here love their artists. Music festivals abound. The islands have been the home of people like David Foster, Emily Carr, Randy Bachman and Son, and other famed musicians, artists and actors. Each one seems to find a place of recognition in the local print media, honorary plaques and charitable foundations that serve to inspire and support the next generation of talent. What inspiration can artists draw from here?
Perhaps the West Coast scenery that is truly breathtaking. It honours the Great Artist who gave us the ability to appreciate things like music, sunsets, wildlife and art. Undoubtedly these things are some of the sources of true satisfaction and creativity in life. The adventures here are also unique. Coastal hiking and boating afford people the opportunity to truly connect with nature. Serving clients in remote communities can be a weekend-long sojourn through rainforest covered mountains and ferry rides hopping from island to island. Last weekend, I traveled to Texada Island with my wife, Cheryl. With wait times, it became an 8 hour trip one way. It becomes a working vacation where the reward is not just bringing a rarely visited piano back to life but also a soul-restoring journey.
One of my favourite West Coast work experiences took me to a fishing lodge on the north side of the island. I drove a few hours through tree covered mountains to get to beautiful Telegraph Cove near Port McNeill, BC. Its homes and shops are set on stilts on the water’s edge, painted in beautiful reds, blues and yellows. Restaurants, tour companies and boats of all shapes and sizes, keep this nestled jewel thriving. I waited for about a half hour for my ride to the lodge. The speed boat I boarded along with some guests was only about 15 feet from bow to stern. It was captained by a young man who was confident in his work. After ensuring our life jackets were secured we headed out for a 1 hour trip to the lodge.
The water was relatively calm except for the occasional eddies from other vessels we encountered and some tricky tides that rushed between islands. My tools were secured but I had this nagging worry that something might capsize our small boat and they (and we) might end up in Davey Jones’ locker. Halfway across, in a wider stretch of passage, a cruise ship was coming down the strait towards us. The law of mariners states that the smaller vessel always yields to the larger. However, perhaps because of his youth or maybe a desire to give the passengers a little taste of raucous rebellion, a game of ‘chicken’ ensued. Could we cross the path of the ship before being struck? I thought it would be no problem until the deceptively fast behemoth gave a blast on its horn that shook my brain in its cavity. Now I was certain we would die a horrible death. The young captain let out a “Yehoo HA HA HA!” as we flew full throttle across the sudsy water, bouncing atop each wave. I closed my eyes until breathing a sigh of relief, I realized we had made it, though perhaps no more than a hundred yards had separated us.
A few minutes later ‘Captain Crazy’ pointed out a pod of Humpback whales crossing near us. Three bumpy backed, brownish-grey bodies, decorated with a little dorsal fin slipped upward and downward in a long steady stream that gave me a sense of their enormous size beneath the waves. One of the three was obviously smaller, likely a calf. Though we saw them only briefly, up and down for just 5 or 6 times as they moved steadily away from us, I will never forget the impression they made.
After arriving at the lodge, I was escorted to the lounge area where the piano was. I was told about the disappointing sing-song that was had a week earlier as a result of this neglected instrument. It was very flat, needing a pitch raise and some other work before I could tune it. It was an old Canadian upright that had a “bar room” sound that seemed to fit the atmosphere of the lodge. The manager came to offer that night’s dinner on the house. “Steak or Salmon?” he said. The chef put out quite a spread and I found myself wishing I could have shared the day’s experiences and meal with Cheryl who wasn’t able to accompany me this trip. I was offered free lodging for the night or a ‘last trip’ back to Telegraph Cove. Accepting the latter, I returned alone with the young captain while enjoying the beautiful hues of a sunset over even calmer waters.
Tuning pianos on the West Coast of British Columbia is a unique assignment. Maybe tuning your piano will bring another adventure.