Tunes for Toonies

bill_derksen12Over the gurgle of soft drinks, the sizzle of burgers and the decadent plop of freshly fried doughnuts into cinnamon sugar, the strains of a Bach cantata bounce off the walls. It’s followed by a jig that animates the diners in the food court. And as Bill Derksen, a former Providence College music professor, launches into a foot-tapping reel, it’s evident that this is an informal concert in the making.
Six years ago, Bill retired and, with his wife, Maryrose, moved from the Winnipeg suburbs into a downtown apartment building. His several daily walks invariably took him into the Forks Market, a collection of buildings at the intersection of the Red and Assiniboine rivers, not far from his new home.
Like anyone who has built his life around music, Bill was quickly drawn to the buskers – musicians swapping tunes for toonies.
“I was captured,” says Bill, who is 73. “I paid my fee, passed my audition and became a licenced busker.” Whether or not Bill would actually play for cash was still theoretical up to that point. Maryrose didn’t like the idea but Bill figured that since the process had already cost him $50, he needed to at least make back his investment.
Then came the magical discovery of unscripted music making. “I love it. I love the people, their reactions, their comments, the way they dance and that some are even moved to tears by what I play.”
Much to his surprise, Bill quickly made back his grub stake and regularly found his violin case heavy with coin at the end of a shift. “I didn’t know what to do with it all.” Maryrose suggested that since the cash came from the streets, it should be returned to the streets in some way. Ever since, Bill has channeled most of his earnings to his church – saint benedict’s table. There it has been used for an orphanage in Africa, at Agape Table and in the arts ministry of the Anglican congregation.

– Bramwell Ryan

Tunes for Toonies from Rupert’s Land News on Vimeo.


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