Muskoka Mosaic: The power of balance
When Ian Crowley moved to Muskoka he brought his passion for music with him.
Photo by Mandi Hargrave
November 14, 2012
MUSKOKA – When Ian Crowley turned 50 he had an epiphany that changed how he viewed life and where his was going.
After spending the first 50 years of his life living in the city and working with major corporations, he needed to find balance. Enter Muskoka.
“If we all want to live to 100, I just lived 50 in the city, and if I’m to get what I’m suppose to get from this world and learn what I’m suppose to learn and meet the people I’m suppose to meet, it’s fair enough that I should spend the last half in the country,” he said.
While Crowley was born in Montreal and has lived in Toronto and Ottawa, Muskoka still feels like home. He’s been cottaging on Lake of Bays with his family since he was 10 years old.
“It’s not where I grew up, but it is,” he said.
With that slight change from being a cottager to a resident, he now views the community differently.
“Coming up here as a weekend citiot warrior, all I tended to see was the traffic on the way up, the trees and the lake, focusing on the boats and in the cottage and food and the traffic on the way back. It was the party and nature. Living here, for the last year, I find my attitude has changed 100 per cent,” he said. “I don’t see the traffic, I see the lakes and the boats more as a chore, and I see the people and the community first … I don’t treat this place like partyland anymore, I treat it like my home.”
As a conductor and composer living on a busy intersection in Toronto with the constant hum of traffic on the Don Valley Parkway, streetcars, and nearby subways it was impossible to record any music. He chose to call Muskoka home for the silence.
“Now I can record at any hour, all I really have to do is unplug the fridge and I get utter quiet except for maybe the odd owl,” said Crowley.
Music has been a part of his life since he was 6.
“I was yanked out of my Grade 2 class by a bunch of priests and dragged down a hall to the gymnasium where the piano was … it was about a six to seven minute examination and then I was invited to write exams in Grade 3 and I was chosen out of 400 kids to make up the next year of 30 choir boys at St Michaels Choir School. So that was my initiation into music,” he said.
He continued with piano lessons throughout his school years and joined the senior band while in high school.
Crowley took a brief detour in university when he decided to study political science thinking he wanted to become a lawyer.
“Hated it, quit, went back (to school), got a degree in music,” he said.
And yet he began working for Proctor and Gamble upon graduation with his passion still waiting on the sideline.
“Even though I was in music they were looking for winners and leaders and in my high school years I had paddled for the Mississauga Canoe Club and I had managed to win some Canadian championships and international medals,” he said. “Once they had learned of this they thought I was a sure winner and one hell of a competitive guy so they hired me right away.”
During his years with the company he learned to sell through a persuasive formula and not take no from anybody.
“From then on I started selling more of my art and my music and my abilities to influence people and win friends to at least organize into choirs,” he said. “I took all my skills together, I’d learned how to sing and I learned how to sell and I thought, I’m happiest teaching other people how to sing.”
Crowley became a choir conductor and founded New Choir, “Toronto’s biggest rock choir.”
He led 10 seasons as the musical director and nine as the conductor.
“It grew exponentially and it was a huge success to the point where we were giving away thousands of dollars a year to community projects,” he said. “Even though I’d lived in Toronto 25 years and had my own network of friends, the friends and people I met through New Choir changed my life. They made me want to be good, they made me want to do more volunteer stuff because they showed me a different type of people I normally wouldn’t have met.”
Having moved to Muskoka with no friends, no one to sing with and no sense of community Crowley thought the best way to gain all these was by starting a choir here.
“The secret to happiness is to keep on meeting people who remind you of yourself in happier times,” said Crowley.
He said it’s up to residents to build community.
“Most people think community building is the government’s job and they sit around until the government offers either swimming lessons or builds a community hall or makes some sort of community outreach action,” said Crowley. “I believe it’s up to the private citizens to build their own communities based around collective interests. Building a community around people with collective interests will build a much tighter knit community, will be self-fulfilling and self-propelling and won’t need government handouts and in my experience raise more money than they possibly need to run their organization and end up giving to the community.”
The Muskoka Rock Choir has about 16 members and Crowley is hoping to build it to 50 members. The current age range is 25 to 80 years of age.
“I hope to create a musical community for people who have never sang before,” he said.
Thanks to Mary Spring for recommending Crowley. If you have someone in the community you would like to recommend for Muskoka Mosaic contact Mandi Hargrave at 705-789-5541 ext. 285 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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