An Interview With 5 Key Hamilton Luminaries
By Jane Allison
Beyond a pleasant audio experience or backdrop to some other activity, music has a profound impact on our lives. In one form or another, these Hamilton luminaries have devoted at least a portion of their lives to music. In one way or another, each embodies the idea that music matters. These folks are helping us understand why music is so universally important to the world and to our community.
Rachael Finnerty is music therapist who consults, teaches and offers music therapy in a number of modes, including Empower (a therapy and workshop provider), as program consultant to Fletcher & Associates Inc. Skills Link Program, and as an educational consultant for An Instrument for Every Child program. In addition, she offers professional development with a music therapy perspective through the Ontario Music Therapy Academy.
Mark Furukawa and his music store, Dr. Disc, have become fairly synonymous with the Hamilton music scene in the 26 years since he founded the downtown business in 1991. One of the hallmarks of Dr. Disc has always been vinyl records. The resurgence in popularity of record albums has been a popular headline recently, but for Mark and Dr. Disc, records have been and will always be a part of the store’s DNA.
Astrid Hepner is the CEO and founder of the Hamilton Music Collective, and the developer, program director and instructor for the An Instrument for Every Child program. AIFEC’s goals are empowerment and accessibility and to enable all children to experience the joy and benefits of playing music, regardless of their socio-economic position. Originally a professional saxophonist and educator from Cologne, Germany, Astrid has performed with Latin music legends Tito Puente and Celia Cruz and regularly performed at New York City clubs. As a record executive she worked with world-class artists including Norah Jones, Sir Simon Rattle, Anita Baker, Keith Jarrett, Wynton Marsalis and Al Green at major record companies in NYC.
Antonella Giancarlo is the Manager of Partnerships & Communication with the Hamilton Public Library, with experience working and volunteering in both the public and private sectors.
Kurt Muller is the Associate Dean of Media and Entertainment at Mohawk College, and has many programs under his supervision, including music. Before assuming his current role, Kurt was the coordinator of Mohawk College’s Journalism program.
Q: What is your connection to music, in life or professionally?
Mark Furukawa: In my life, music has been most of my influence. I was searching for myself – music helped. It was a way to connect socially, and was crucial to identify, belonging, and making friends. I was one of the only four Asian students in my Barrie high school. Music helped me embrace my differences and the music of that time – the 1980s – told me it was okay to be different.
Astrid Hepner: Music has been a constant running thread through my entire life. I was immersed in music; the creation of it, the performing of it and the marketing of it. This diverse career path as a performer, educator and music executive has become the foundation for my most recent venture in Hamilton, the Hamilton Music Collective and its ‘An Instrument for Every Child’ program.
Antonella Giancarlo: Everyone curates their own unique soundtrack to life. My musical tastes are wide ranging and depend on my mood or environment. There’s something truly special about listening to a song that can evoke specific memories or transport you back to a certain time in your life. Part of my role at the library is working as part of a larger team to support our “Music Lives Here” strategy. I’m so proud of all the amazing (and free!) services and programs that we provide to the community.
Q: Why does music matter?
RF: When you are engaged in music, it’s the only thing that engages your whole brain through the limbic system. Movement, unconscious synchronizing breathing and blood pressure, cognition, language if there are lyrics, singing. It motivates. For these reasons in healthcare, it gives us the greatest chance to interface with the healthiest part of the brain.
AG: Music is such a powerful communication tool; it can say so much without saying anything at all. It gives people an outlet to communicate and connect, no matter their social or cultural background. Music is so important for development – songs are a natural way for children (and even adults for that matter) to learn about language.
KM: I think music is part of what it means to be human. Every culture has music, and it allows people to unite, to express themselves, and collaborate in ways that just aren’t possible with any other medium.
Q: In your experience, what impacts have you seen from your exposure to music?
RF: Those people on the autistic spectrum find making live music very helpful. When you are creating music with someone, you have a listen/response dynamic – a conversation through music. This translates into social skills and transcends music.
MF: Everyone who works at Dr. Disc is a music lover and we respect music in all of its forms. I’ve seen the power of the store impact people’s lives. A woman came in looking for the ‘Colonel Bogey March’ from WW1, for her dying father. This was before the Internet. All he wanted was to hear that song again. We imported it from Europe and got it in time for her. We were able to grant his last wish.
AH: An important component of the ‘An Instrument for Every Child’ program is the introduction to a variety of musical instruments before our students get to pick their own instrument. Once our students move beyond the stage of exposure and actually start playing an instrument on their own, the impact that music has on their lives reaches a whole new level. The self-confidence and self-esteem that results from learning to play a musical instrument and being able to perform in front of their peers and families is remarkable and always a very emotional experience for our team of instructors.
AG: Music can break down barriers in a way that nothing else can. Part of the library’s music strategy is to make our music collections, programs and services accessible to everyone. Whether its young children singing and clapping at a story time program, or a group of concertgoers rocking out at one of our live and in-the-round concerts, it’s so rewarding to be part of that shared experience.
KM: The main positive impact I regularly see from music is the satisfaction and joy I see in the students and faculty from being able to follow their passion for creating and performing.
*For those who have music as such a vocation, you’d think that time off would mean peace and quiet. You’d be wrong. It seems that passion for music carries over into all aspects of life. Here are a few desert island discs selected by our panel.
Rachael Finnerty: Total Eclipse of the Heart (Bonnie Tyler); Bette Davis Eyes (Kim Carnes); Confident (Demi Lovato)
Mark Furukawa: Soul Mining (the THE); Unknown Pleasures (Joy Division); London Calling (The Clash)
Astrid Hepner: Nightfly (Donald Fagen); Kind of Blue (Miles Davis); The Adagietto of Mahler’s 5th
Antonella Giancarlo: Little Hell (City and Colour); Daydream (Mariah Carey); Gabriel & Dresden (self-titled)
Kurt Muller: Paul Simon, Rythm of the Saints (Paul Simon); Rubber Soul (The Beatles); Greatest Hits (Bob Marley)