Clark Bryan plays a piano at London International Airport for Susan McElroy, chair of the Aeolian board, Gerry Vanderhoek, manager of commercial service at the airport, as a group of friends look on (photo credit: Clark Bryan).
The rebel heart of Aeolian Hall
Over the past decade, Aeolian Hall has become a movement rather than just a performing arts venue.
The hall’s artistic director Clark Bryan purchased the heritage building on the corner of Dundas and Rectory Streets on July 29, 2004, with a dream of running a music school. What it has become over the last ten years is that – and much more.
“Most of us want to live in a community that’s vibrant, that offers lots of exciting events, with great cafes and food and entertainment, where we know all our neighbours; a place where we can live lives that are rewarding,” Bryan mused.
The Aeolian Hall Music Arts Association and the hundreds of volunteers that have given of their time over the years are a dedicated group who want to transform the social landscape. In 2011, the hall made the transition to a non-profit, charitable governance structure, as was the intention from the start.
“All of the people who have come into these four walls – the Old East Village micro-community and from different places in London – these are the people who have taught me. My original vision was to have a community music school. I have experienced so much more than that, and my vision has grown into a desire to impact arts and inspire cultural change,” Bryan added.
Most people know the Aeolian as a good place to see a concert. Music lovers know about the hall’s excellent acoustics, the magical ambience, and the roster of top-notch performers found on the calendar each season.
But it’s also a creative minds and self-esteem incubator, home to the Aeolian School of Music and the El Sistema program, an inclusive and innovative approach to music education offered at no charge to young people who many not otherwise have a chance to learn an instrument. An El Sistema program for adults was also recently launched.
Furthermore, a conversation between Bryan and Darryl Fabiani a little over a year ago led to the creation of the 88 Keys to Inspiration program, which matches gently-used pianos with people and places that could use them. The Aeolian also regularly hosts its popular Ignite London networking and discussion series, and intends to strengthen the artist-audience connection.
“We are going to continue to present local, regional, national and international artists, of course, and I love meeting these people who play here and especially people like Buffy Sainte Marie and Ashley MacIsaac and Royal Wood who really get and support what we’re doing here.
“Part of the education model is to carry on with the arts presentations, but also with the idea that when these people come, they don’t just come for the stage, but to stay a bit longer to give a talk or a masterclass. It’s not a new concept, but we want to do a lot of it,” Bryan said.
With an eye to the future, the Aeolian has revisited its branding, and is seeking out those with a ‘Rebelheart.’
“We’ve decided to get to the heart of what the Aeolian is now,” Bryan explained, reciting their mission statement.
“A Rebelheart is one who possesses the desire to provide, promote and produce universal access to music, art and culture; a risk-taker, a leader, and a joyful soul,” he said.
“The universal access and risk-taking speaks to me particularly as someone who has walked around the fears in my own personal life. The world is very fear-based right now, but I’m a law of attraction guy. If you put austerity out there, austerity is what you’re going to get. Everything about the Aeolian has been one big risk. We’ve never had money, but if you do something that benefits the many and not just the one and you stick to your vision, you can make it happen,” he added.
In the spirit of community engagement, Bryan is always searching for ways to cast the net wider. How can he reach out beyond the same five to ten percent of the population who come to events?
“You can get a grant to build more venues, but without the sustainability piece in place, it’s going to eventually dry up. You need the values, the relationships. We need to think bigger. Dream up the culture you want and don’t compromise it,” Bryan said.
One way he is accomplishing this is through bringing music to the people by putting pianos in unexpected places. Since July, travellers have been treated to live music played on one of the 88 Keys pianos installed at the London International Airport.
“Everything keeps coming back to that one word: Community – that fundamental human need to feel connected. We are all interdependent; we all rely on each other at some point. It’s not a weakness – it’s actually something we should celebrate,” Bryan said.
Those who believe in what the Aeolian is doing are invited to be part of the Rebelhearts campaign. Donations will help keep the engine running so that the hall can continue to present concerts, events and music education (for more info, check out the Aeolian’s site, click on ‘Support the Aeolian’ and then select ‘Rebelhearts’ on the far left menu).
“If there’s one legacy piece I’d like to leave behind is that the Aeolian could stand as a model,” Bryan added.
“We’re a group of people who decided to take a risk, not having the resources but having a dream, and always willing to find a way to keep going.”