Opinion | Music dream comes true for Hamilton scientist Glenn Barrett

Glenn Barrett, with the help of others, recently finished in Muskoka (at a customized “rock star” getaway) what he, on his own, started long ago in Alaska.

Only a few thousand miles and 30 years in between.

That’s dreams for you. They don’t happen overnight — OK, in a literal sense, dreams do — but they often don’t come “true” until they’ve been oak-aged over decades, balanced against the “day job” and myriad other cares.

That dream, in Glenn’s case, is the long musical odyssey, the sinuous path, to an album of his own music, called “Anew,” released this summer.

Glenn, who works in wildlife toxicology at Canada Centre for Inland Waters in Hamilton, has always been musical, or rather musical-ish.

This quality in him didn’t have a shape at first other than a vague longing — after all, he had never taken a lesson; he did not play an instrument.

Then, in 1993, at 24 years old, the budding scientist was up in Alaska, home of Seward’s Folly (yeah, folly until they found gold), on a research project.

Glenn found gold, not the metal kind that only those of extremely limited imagination are interested in, but the kind that glows through the overlay of everyday life. The making of music.

“The surroundings were so beautiful,” says Glenn. “I wrote a song.” And then another. He’d never even so much as learned the recorder in school but he had melodies and lyrics in his head and they started coming out then, drawn forth by the splendour of the Alaskan wildlife.

Those songs and lyrics have been coming ever since. One of them is “OK, EK,” a tune he wrote for the hundredth anniversary of Earl Kitchener school. His kids were going there at the time.

Some musical parents at EK, including Stephen Pitkin, percussionist with the famous trio Elliott BROOD, decided to record the song for the school’s centenary in 2015.

That was seven years ago. A lot has happened since, including the much celebrated Dundas Music Club, a monthly open mic event, chiefly for songwriters, at the old Odd Fellows hall in Dundas, administered by Danny Medakovic and Jay Burr.

Glenn loved the open mic nights, went frequently, listened to others, learned and eventually got up the courage to perform his songs.

Other things happened. COVID, of course, shut down so much for musicians. But the Dundas Music Club’s open mics continued, online.

And the aforementioned Stephen Pitkin of Elliott BROOD had started something called the CanRock Recording Club. Maybe live music was shut down but there was nothing stopping musicians from getting together safely and recording — in fact, the live music drought freed up more time than ever to concentrate on recording.

The beauty of the CanRock concept is that it happens up at a beautiful cottage up in Muskoka, studio-equipped, and you get to record your music with top notch studio-tested musicians or anyone you choose.

Glenn took the plunge. The concept seemed to answer something pulling at him for a long time. He talked to his wife Kim. He put aside the time and the money.

“It was like a get out free card. We did all the bed tracks there (at the cottage),” says Glenn, “It all came together really fast.

“It was all so natural to them (the professional musicians he worked with). I was blown away by Stephen’s (Pitkin) ability. He’s a wizard.”

Stephen not only played drums, percussion and piano on the tracks, he produced, engineered (with Michael Keire), mixed and mastered the whole album. Other musicians on the albums are Jamie Shea on guitars, slide guitar and harmonicas; Tom Shea (no relation) on bass and guitars, and special contributions by Kevin Woolfe, mandolin; Mark Volkov, sax and fiddle; Norm Ayerst, pedal steel; Mark Sasso, banjitar; Brennagh Burns and Wayne Krawchuk, backing vocals.

The group recorded 10 of Glenn’s songs, ranging from the jilted hurt of “You Thievin’ Cheat” and the political commentary of “In the Wind” to the playful wistfulness of “Name That Colour.”

What happened in Muskoka wasn’t really the “finish” of Glenn’s musical voyage, as suggested at the start. There was a lot of sound added afterward in Hamilton studios and sound rooms before the release of “Anew,” but it was certainly a crucial destination, a completion of an earlier moment, a passage through.

He experienced the feeling of something achieved — not rock star, but the beginnings of being a genuine musician, playing with other musicians. It showed him — it can be done.

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