*all photos by Eric Brazier
A few years ago I received an email from a name I didn’t recognize about an event I hadn’t heard of. But when I read through, I realized that this was an event that I needed to attend. The name was Julian Vardy, a local Toronto musician. The event is Ceol Kids, a music fundraiser like no other, right here in Toronto.
Ceol Kids is a one of a kind music fundraiser in support of the Regent Park School of Music. The band, a super group of Toronto indie musicians, are so awesome they can play just about anything. Singers and musicians like Joan Smith, Ian Goodtimes, Ben Birchard, Andrea Caswell, Andrew Exworth will coming together, and what they’ll play is up to, well, us. For the price of a donation, fans can nominate literally any song for their set list. The band doesn’t even have to know the songs. They will learn brand new music to help kids have access to music education. Pretty poetic if you ask me.
There are a couple of exceptions. The band reserves the right to veto songs if they are extremely offensive, or so obscure that they can’t easily find a version to learn. Once a song is nominated, anyone visiting the Ceol Kids website can ‘sponsor’ any of the songs on the list, just by making a donation. Fundraising begins on March 3rd and goes until at 11:59:59pm on Saturday April 28th. Then, 25 songs that raised the most money will become the night’s setlist on Friday June 1st at the Mod Club. The bands only have five weeks to learn, rehearse and perfect their repetoire before the show.
“Some people nominate songs they’ve always wanted to hear a band pull off live, some people put on ridiculous songs to try and embarrass us, and some put on very complicated tunes to test our abilities” said Julian. “It all results in a bizarre and often hilarious setlist that has included such gems as ‘The Muppet Show Theme Song’, ‘Rock Me Amadeus’, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, ‘Paradise By the Dashboard Light’ and many more.”
The potential of such a surprise setlist is worth the price of admission alone. And yes, it all goes to an amazing cause. Over the past 7 events, Ceol Kids has raised over $60,000 for the RPSM, with the hopes to raise much much more. I sat down with Julian to chat more about the event, and how it all came about in the first place.
How did you get involved with the work you currently do?
I wanted to do something unique and fun for my wife on her 30th birthday. I surprised her by gathering all the musician friends I knew and performing 30 of her favourite tunes at a surprise show at the Tranzac Lounge. It was hilarious and awesome because I picked a weird selection of tunes from lots of different genres just to keep it interesting, and had a different line up of musicians and singers on each song, so everyone was popping up and down from the stage all night. I’m sure everyone initially thought I was crazy for attempting to do something so bizarre, but it worked out magically and the band had an incredible time. After it was over, a few of us got together and decided it was so much fun, we just had to do it again, only this time for charity. We picked the Regent Park School of Music as our beneficiary since we wanted to do something local that everyone could get behind and the fact that it was music themed was the ultimate selling point. They are a really amazing organization and I’m so glad we’ve been able to generate donations for them.
What is your WHY?
Music has been a huge part of my life for as long as I can remember. I feel very fortunate to have grown up in a family that was able to support my passion by providing me with music lessons and instruments, as well as being in the school program at a time where music was a much bigger part of the standard curriculum than it seems to be now. Unfortunately, not every kid gets the same chance – but the Regent Park School of Music works hard to try and help as many kids as possible get the lessons, support and even instruments they need to discover and nurture their own musical ability.
What are some of the successes (big or small) you’ve had?
I can’t count them as my own successes, because without the rest of the band, there would be no Ceol Kids at all, but some of the highlights of our past shows would be Joan Smith and Andrew Johnson’s amazing duet on Paradise By The Dashboard Light, last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody (vocal arrangement by Jamie Lamb), AC/DC’s It’s A Long Way To the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll) – complete with bagpipes, and a great version of Panama by Van Halen with Chris Murphy singing. We’ve also raised over $60,000 for the school over seven events, which is far more than I ever imagined we’d get to when we started.
What’s piece of advice would you give to someone trying to do what you do, or trying to follow their own dreams?
You can’t do it alone. So many people have contributed to the success of Ceol Kids, or for that matter, anything I’ve accomplished or been proud of achieving. I have the most incredible band mates, friends, and family – all of whom have helped me take this from a crazy idea I once had to seven incredible concerts and over $60,000 raised for the RPSM. Embrace and recognize the help you receive from your friends and family, and never take it for granted.
If you could pick one charitable organization to ask our readers to donate to or volunteer with, which would it be?
Well, by now it should be obvious that I’d say ‘The Regent Park School of Music’ here – I can’t say enough great things about them. I’ve gone to their end of year recitals and been blown away by the talent of their students. But to go beyond that, I’d say any organization that focuses on helping kids by giving them the tools and opportunities to pursue their dreams – Sistema is another great music school in Toronto, and Right To Play is an amazing one for sports – would be a solid choice. Every child should feel like they have the opportunity in life to do what they truly love, and not feel held back by circumstances beyond their (or their family’s) control.
Julian and company will start off this year’s donation drive with great show at the Garrison featuring yet another line up of awesome local musicians. Check out the line up below, and click the links to donate or get involved! :
Doors at 8pm – show starts at 8:30 sharp!
8:30 – The Noonans
9:15 – Declan Nine
10:00 – The Mandevilles
11:00 – Little Foot Long Foot
12:00 – Christian and the Sinners