Finding Joy in Giving Away a Bit of Yourself | The BridgeMaker

Finding Joy in Giving Away a Bit of Yourself

By on Oct 02, 2013


Music can change the world because it can change people. – Bono

I’m an active touring singer-songwriter-pianist in Canada. I’m lucky to be really busy (perhaps too busy?!) performing my music and I do about 100 shows a year.

I find working in the arts incredibly fulfilling, but my endless schedule and being self-employed doesn’t offer up very much down time so that time is really precious; what I do with it is chosen wisely.

I’ve found one of the best things I can do with part of the little free time I have, is GIVE IT AWAY to people who can really benefit from it. This might seem a little odd, but I’ve found an incredible joy in it, as well as some bonus stress-relievers.

Over the past few years, in Regina Saskatchewan, I’ve given some of my time to a piano program called ‘Heart of the City’. It’s an incredible concept that offers piano lessons to youth who couldn’t otherwise afford them. It was started in Saskatchewan and has now spread across Canada.

Imagine a World with No Music…

In the small high school I attended when growing up, there was no music program. If you wanted music training you had to go to private lessons.

Luckily my parents were able to pay for them. However not everyone’s parent can afford private lessons and many schools still don’t have music programs. This means there are a lot of musically inclined youth who don’t get a chance to give music a try.

I pursued my classical piano studies to a professional level earning my licentiate diploma in piano performance from Trinity College London (England) when I was 19. Piano training was such a huge love for me as a kid and to know there are other kids who want to give music a try but just can’t afford it, is pretty heart-wrenching.

Imagine if the people with the potential to be the best musicians of the future just weren’t getting musical training? We’d be denying the world of the best music…

You Can’t By a ‘Buzz’ Like This!

The overwhelming joy that the students show is infectious.

In my work with them I’ve done several workshops with groups of students. We’ve talked about playing piano, practicing, and have worked on some ear training. We’ve worked on rhythms, melody and harmony and I’ve also talked to them a little about the idea of songwriting.

No matter what the topic, I swear I’ve never seen such motivated minds and hands before. These kids soak it all up and it’s amazing to see. It’s tricky to work with them on the one hand because the playing levels really range in the group, but on the other hand, I just want to help them and try to motivate them so it’s really worth the time.

They all soak it up at their own pace in a way. And as they’re soaking this all up, they LIGHT up. It’s incredible. It’s a delight for me to see this happen – it’s possibly the most rewarding feeling seeing that positive reaction in these kids so fast while they’re sitting at a piano.

And it’s kind of funny to realize that that rewarding buzzing feeling that I get can only come from giving some of my time to these students. You can almost think of a tiny of bit of your free time as a really powerful currency that can buy you some serious ‘happy’ tokens.

Give a Little, Give A Lot

At a recent concert I performed I figured I’d go the extra mile with the students so I had a large group of them come up, and perform a tune with me.

We had four pianos on the stage and three students per piano. They were spectacular! It was a first time in front of an audience for most of them and they were pretty proud when it was all done. They got a huge applause from the audience and the glow in the room was pretty intense – rightfully so.

Giving a little felt good for me. Giving more felt better!

Change the World, Little by Little and Be

Even if the students don’t retain ‘everything’ we cover in a workshop, one of the main things I see that seems to stick with them is that they met this guy who makes his living writing and playing music and it all started with piano lessons and via their teachers.

It’s been communicated back to me that really motivates them to want to keep on. I kind of see it as a paying it forward type of thing that musicians should do to help make sure the next crop of musicians is getting ready to take us by storm.

I guess in that way, I see that it’s possible for one individual to make a change in the world. Just by giving a bit of my time to some young people who can benefit from it, the reward seen in them has been huge.

And I have to reemphasize that I get something really huge from this too.

The students have brought me a lot of happiness. In the frenetic and sometimes stressful pace of my touring, a little bit of pure & youthful joy is an incredible thing.

Everyone can use a bit of that.

Singer-songwriter-pianist Jeffery Michael Straker performs over 100 shows per year across Canada. He recently recorded for CBC radio’s ‘Canada Live’, had a music video chart in the top 10 on Much More Music Canada and in 2012 toured in Africa. Tour stops range from intimate house concerts to club & theatre shows and include a recent sold-out concert (capacity 2000) with the full Regina Symphony Orchestra. Visit for more info + tour dates.

  • Joe Lee

    Awesome read! If each and everyone can give a little daily, we can really change the world!

  • Lyle Johnson

    Bravo Jeffrey! Awsome to read about your well appreciated gift. Looking forward to your concert with the S’toon Symohony!

    • Jeffery

      Thanks Lyle! I’m looking forward to the symphony show too. Thanks for taking the time to read this. cheers j

  • Steve Blair

    Jeff Straker! It’s been a long time buddy. I have to admit – when you left the P&G mothership to pursue your dreams in music, I was a bit skeptical. Could someone really do that and have the impact they were wanting to have? Well, I’ve quietly followed your music since then, and after reading this post (small world!) it is even more crystal clear that you are absolutely having a huge impact – and leveraging your passion for a much higher purpose. Congratulations! I’m proud to call you an “old” friend!


    • Jeffery

      hey hey – what a pleasant surprise that is! great to see you on here and thx for your kind words. this is a small (and now even smaller) cyber world for sure! you weren’t the only skeptical one. lol my parents, and well…everyone else I knew…was also skeptical. With a heap of work this has been a good choice. thanks for commenting! j

  • Jessica Sweet

    Hi Jeffery. I have to say I REALLY resonate with this post. It’s been a journey for me, with this issue, and where I’ve landed is in being a coach for people who are dissatisfied with their current work, and who want to get in touch with what makes them incredible and do THAT for work.

    For me, it’s been about helping people give what they love to give – whether it’s volunteer time as you describe or if it’s paid work, I don’t think it really matters. It’s in the act of giving what we love to give that the process of changing the world begins.

    I coach on this issue, which is what I love to give, and I routinely give away sessions to people who need them but can’t afford to pay, because it’s what makes the world go round!

    Thank you so much for sharing this here. It’s such an important issue for me, and I love to see others sharing it too.

    Jess Sweet

    • Jeffery

      that’s awesome Jess. I did a big switch from a corporate job to music and it was the best thing I ever did. difficult! but so rewarding. Keep on doing what you’re doing. There is such a need for it!

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