Born in the 1950 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Education: Bachelor of arts degree. Addresses: c/o The Post, Oliver Schroer, 589 Markham St., Toronto, Ontario, Canada M6G2L7.

Canadian-born New Age acoustic violinist Oliver Schroer emerged as a significant creative force on the North American music scene during the 1990s, with four self-published albums and legions of professional collaborations to his credit. Yet Schroer, a "baby boomer," was a latecomer to the electronic technology that pervaded the music industry during the late twentieth century. Schroer grew up not only without daily television and radio, but also he was well into high school when he first discovered guitar amplification during his mid-teens. Despite his traditional upbringing, musical classicism left him unmoved; as an eight-year-old he shunned his violin, and later as a teen-ager he left the instrument to collect dust while he practiced the guitar. He took a second look at his old violin only after painting it blue and learning to appreciate the diversity of authentic country music, at which point he capitalized on his early training and developed his natural talent to become a self-made man of music and melody, a musician's musician.

Schroer was born in the mid-1950s in Toronto, Ontario. He grew up approximately 100 miles northwest of the city, in the town of Flesherton. He learned to play the recorder at age six and the violin at age eight. As with young music students everywhere, he failed to appreciate the discipline, the monotony of the scales, and the perceived dullness of the classical repertoire. As a baby boomer in a modest family growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, Schroer remained unaccustomed not only to exotic electronics, but also to simple receivers and apparatuses as well. The family rarely watched television; likewise the wizardry of radio was a rarity in the Schroer household. He was in his mid-teens before he understood the specific role of a guitar amplifier in popular music.

Schroer was around ten years old when his older siblings embraced folk music, and his mother joined them. Not to be left out, Schroer listened too and was taken by the friendlier tunes. "Puff the Magic Dragon" was his self-admitted favorite. In early adolescence he noticed his siblings and friends turning increasingly to popular rock & roll music for entertainment. Some of them preferred country or blues, with Johnny Winter the unanimous favorite; thus Schroer's childhood interest in music developed into a captivating hobby when a friend with a folk guitar showed him how to play that instrument. Schroer virtually abandoned his classical training by age 13, and his violin repertoire dwindled to one single song, called "Orange Blossom Express," that he had gleaned from an old Mason Williams Band recording. Despite a personal preference for German classical music and the jazz of Louis Armstrong, Schroer's father conceded defeat, and presented his son with a new electric guitar on the boy's sixteenth birthday.

Schroer spent the following summer in the French-Canadian province of Quebec, through an exchange student program. A new world opened before him as he learned to speak French and discovered hard rock and other modern musical forms. His roommate at the school was a musical die-hard, with a record player stuck in perpetual motion. Through his new friend, Schroer discovered Frank Zappa and Jethro Tull; James Taylor made a debut into Schroer's life as well.

To a large extent Schroer's interest in music remained confined to playing the guitar for amusement. The notion of music as a profession existed beyond his idea of options. He viewed academic discipline as the solitary career base of life. According to that anticipation, he enrolled in college and studied history and philosophy, but his love for music and a new-found interest in jazz occupied his time. He became an avid follower of Chick Corea and Lenny Breau, and also developed an interest in the styles of guitarist Joe Pass and pianist Bill Evans.

As Schroer's musical taste matured, his violin--which he had by then painted blue--lay idle on the shelf; guitar remained his instrument of choice. He fiddled only sporadically, in jam sessions with friends, and on such rare occasions he plugged the violin into an amplifier (after he developed an understanding of the purpose of the electronic device).

First Gig

During his undergraduate years (and there were ten of them), Schroer joined the Traverston Band along with a friend named Jim Ryan; Schroer played his first professional performance at a New Year celebration in 1982. The thrill of playing appealed to him more than the $30 compensation that he received, and although he was hired to play the guitar, he enhanced the evening with samples of his fiddle playing. Traverston Band stayed busy, and the gigs were diverse. Schroer's repertoire grew quickly. He added more fiddling, square dance tunes, country songs--scores of compositions in all--enough to play all day and all night.

Schroer's next musical colleague was named Chris Sankey. Schroer along with Sankey, an acquaintance from a college philosophy class, favored open-air venues. They played in subways and on street corners, a practice known as "busking." Schroer enjoyed the lifestyle and continued as a solo busker for several years on his own. The art of a busker was demanding, and in time Schroer commanded a substantial repertoire--more than 600 tunes. He played most often in the subways during business commutes, and he enjoyed the unique audience intimacy afforded only by performing on the street. Interestingly, Schroer perceived that he charmed his audience more effectively with his violin than with his guitar.

New Take on His Old Fiddle

When Schroer and a friend enrolled in a square dancing class, Schroer carried his violin to the sessions and spent much of the time jamming with the musicians rather than strutting around the dance floor. The fiddlers shared techniques with Schroer who was eager to learn, and he developed his proficiency in Irish and French fiddle music.

Scandinavian, Balkan, and Asian jazz came next, as Schroer's curiosity for old fiddling styles was insatiable, or so it seemed. In 1987, he established a jazz quartet, called Eye Music. After the ensemble performed at the Montreaux Jazz festival in Switzerland in 1988, Schroer started a second band, called Stewed Tomatoes. He took Stewed Tomatoes around Canada, where they performed frequently at the various local folk festivals. The electrically charged Stewed Tomatoes featured Schroer's amplified violin playing plus horns and a rhythm section. Their galvanizing sound was a sellout at Bathurst Street Theatre in Toronto, and the group did the honors for a time as the house band at Stewart McLean's Vinyl Cafe as well. They appeared at the Northern Encounters Festival in Toronto, at the Canada Day celebration on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, at New York City's Lincoln Center, and with James Keelaghan on tour.

Individually, Schroer accompanied many popular folk singers and sat in with other ensembles as well: Thomas Handy, James Keelaghan, Marc Jordan, George Fox, Stephen Fearing, and Don Ross. Schroer played on recordings with Jimmy Webb, Barry Mann, the country "girl group" Quartette, and alternative rock's Great Big Sea. He was heard on James Keelaghan's Road, and on Arc with Thomas Handy. He contributed to Teresa Doyle's Dance to Your Daddy, which won the East Coast Music Award as best children's album of 1997, and he was heard on her album, If Fish Could Sing. Overall, Schroer contributed sounds or technical assistance to approximately 75 albums.

Big Dog Music

Schroer released albums of his own music in 1993, 1994, 1996, 1998, and 1999 through his Big Dog Music label. He contributed also to Who's Forest, an album from which profits were earmarked for the Partnership for Public Lands. He received a commission for 2000, to collaborate with three others in developing the music for the Canada Day celebration that year that was scheduled in Ontario at Toronto's Harbourfront. Additionally, 1996 saw the publication of Schroer's composition, "Horseshoes and Rainbows," in Fiddler Magazine's Favorites.

Schroer, through his assorted memberships in his own and other bands, including Muddy York and Rare, came to a clear recognition of his musical identity. Over time he unleashed the power of his violin in the process. He consistently proved himself unwilling to isolate music within the framework of one or two genres. He focused instead on optimizing the melody, regardless of musical style. His practice technique evolved effectively into a formula, albeit a creative concoction, whereby he recorded each melody repeatedly in order to preserve every subtle innuendo on tape, along with every flagrant improvisation of the respective play-through. In the seemingly endless repetition of recorded notes Schroer noted each minor discrepancy that distinguished one play-through from another.

Subsequently, he mentally spliced selected interludes, thus weaving a completed selection from the individual parts. In performance and on recordings, he reproduced the mentally spliced melodies for his unsuspecting audience. Schroer's focus on the intricacies of melody brought him from his early country fiddling days, through the folk styles of his numerous contemporaries, to what he called the a cappella violin style that he demonstrated repeatedly on his solo CDs on which he glided adeptly from Bach partitas, through bayou blues and traditional melodies, performing these and his own personal compositions with equal agility.

Schroer lives in Toronto and continues to shun television, videotape, and other complexities of the last century. He makes two concessions to technology in the form of his electrically adapted instruments, and his self-styled Internet site, a "funky web page," at http://www.oliverschroer.com.

by Gloria Cooksey

Oliver Schroer's Career

Performed with country music and other bands including Traverston Band, 1982; performed as a busker, 3-4 years, mid-1980s; established Eye Music (quartet), 1987; established Stewed Tomatoes; numerous collaborations including more than 75 albums; self-published CDs on Big Dog Music label.

Famous Works

Further Reading

Sources

PeriodicalsOnline

Visitor Comments Add a comment…

almost 10 years ago

early a.m. Sunday Jan. 20th, always listen to cbc (even in our 400 pop.tiny village Fitzroy Harbour, very touching interview (my 83 yr.old has a blood disorder (transfusions every 2nd month, myledolysplasia)..being diabetic, etc.but his indominitable spirit (me bein his wife and 81), art teacher 45 yrs.plus can write my poetry, do my art beside him..taking the course years ago to keep my mom in her home called"There's no place like home for health care' we're both trying our 'darndest'..my only son Peter Wintonick won the Gov.Gen.award in Media 2006, a documentarian, and 2007 early in year Premier's award in Tor. proud mom...let's say Doug is 'coping' trying to face one day at a time..to think he skied Kitzbuel and at age 48 won bronze medal giant slalom Mostar Mont-Ste-Marie, etc. my heart goes out to another 'warrior' as I have beside me (you, of course!!) Norma Dixon.

almost 10 years ago

To whom it may concern; We are on a seemingly impossible mission, but are passionate about our goal and confident in the generousity of individuals and businesses throughout the great country of Canada. Our dear friend and mentor, Canadian musician and composer Oliver Schroer, is in his fourth round of Chemotherapy treatment for Leukemia at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto. This great man has been helping others for years, and now we would like to help him. Oliver Schroer has been a huge inspiration to many of Canada's youth over the past several years. He has gone into small communities that normally wouldn't have the opportunity to work with professionals such as himself, and poured out endless love and energy. He has used his talents and resources as a producer, composer, and musician to educate, but more importantly, inspire youth. Because of Oliver, there are countless children, as young as 7 years old, composing pieces of music that are coherent, unique and creative. Through his encouragement, young children have formed their own folk bands, such as the "Klezmer Katz" and the "Truffles Tune Band", which are run completely by these inspired children under the age of 13. Oliver has spent the past four years, among many other things, directing two groups of talented young fiddlers from British Columbia in a project he named “The Twisted String”. The idea was to produce a group of energetic youth to perform Oliver’s new, muti-part compositions that he would normally only be able to perform live by using electronics such as a loop and effects pedal. The group has been very successful, performing at numerous festival and venues around BC and recording a CD, receiving rave reviews wherever they go. Since Oliver relocated to Toronto for treatment in March, two of the older members of the two groups have created yet another generation of Twisted String groups. Many of the members Oliver has yet to meet, yet the group members feel they know him through the music and look forward to meeting him someday. Oliver thrives on giving and building relationships with people. Though these relationships often start as musical ones, Oliver takes the time to pay attention to his students' other interests. Many times he has been seen discreetly giving a child a book by a favourite author, a cd by a mutually favourite musician, or quality art supplies to a budding artist. He has even given away his own favourite high quality bow and lent out 2 of his own professional grade violins to his students in need. Oliver Schroer is not just a world class musician, but a self-less giver, who has spent years encouraging others. Now it is time for us to give to and encourage him. We have just been notified that in February there will be a benefit concert for Oliver in Toronto. It was an immediate dream for the Twisted String members to be in Toronto to perform at the benefit in support of Oliver, and visit Oliver in the hospital, inspiring him to keep on fighting and encourage him with our joy of his music. In total there are 20 fiddlers from the original project, and 15 from the second generation of fiddlers. Some of the older members have jobs and will be able to afford their flight, but most are only in highschool or just starting university and will not be able to make the trip without major financial assistance. Due to the lack of time, it will be impossible to achieve this goal without outside help. There is next to no time for us to put together fundraiser concerts and earn the money ourselves. Oliver has told us how much the Twisted String project means to him. What higher honour could we show him, than to have groups of teens playing and enjoying his music? What more encouragement to keep fighting and survive the battle of cancer than the inspiration of younger generations following in his footsteps? We know that for him to meet the generation of Twisted String and be re-united with the old one will be priceless to him, and inspire him to keep going in the fight for his life. If you can in any way provide assistance to our cause, in the form of ideas and fundraising suggestions, financial support or flight donations, we, along with Oliver Schroer, would be eternally grateful. Thank you for your time and consideration. Sincerely, Chelsea Sleep and Emilyn Stam On behalf of The Twisted String Please contact: emilyn.stam@hotmail.com