Living with Music
by Jane Ledwell
Just a few short years ago, Deryl Gallant had packed away his musical instruments and paused his life as a musician. With a full-time job, a busy young family, and his wife Elizabeth in an accelerated educational program, he chose not to make time for music. This year, after several years, as he says, “inching his way back in” to the music scene with his trademark supporting artistry on the bass, he won the PEI Music Award for Musician of the Year in May. In June, his family welcomed a fifth child. In August he’ll play concerts as the Doug Riley Artist at the TD PEI Jazz and Blues Festival. In September, he’ll join the orchestra for Evengeline on the Confederation Mainstage.
“I’m very proud,” Deryl says of being honoured by his musical peers, “especially with my crazy life and how busy we are. And especially since I was out of the music scene for several years. From 2007 to 2011, I only had a handful of gigs, and I’m sorry to say I just did music if I was paid to do it. Life was so busy…”
He continues, “I didn’t make time for music. I’m a patient guy—I thought, ‘I’ll get back to this later.’ It was a choice. But it was the wrong choice. I realized it was killing me. After my mother passed away during that time, it really clicked that part of my life was missing.” As he started to fill the music-sized hole in his heart, he made other changes that also helped, including a change of workplace and a move to a new house. “It rekindled my love of practising… I felt like a 17-year-old again,” Deryl says.
His “awesome” kids (who a few years back “didn’t know I was a musician”) now know “so many nights I say, ‘Be good for mommy for bedtime, daddy has to go out to play music.’” And despite joking that he has “so many kids, so little space,” when he is home, he is still often busy with music. “I’ve got headphones,” he laughs, “so I’m in the kitchen doing charts. I do things efficiently with what I’ve got.”
Deryl says his wife Elizabeth is incredibly supportive: she knows the difference between Deryl with music and Deryl without. The difference, Deryl says, is “Huge. It brings tears to my eyes, it’s so huge.”
And, after years “often being pegged as ‘that jazz guy’” because of his work with The Jive Kings or the Dennis Lee Project and other jazz-tinged projects, Deryl’s re-entry into the music scene led to many more calls for more styles of music, “mostly for upright (bass), people looking to add a bit of sophistication, or to add a different tone.” He loves supporting artists. “There are definitely some greats in the past who went from bass to stardom—but I’m not one of those guys,” he says.
As the Doug Riley Artist at the Jazz and Blues Festival, Deryl’s gigs will be “group efforts,” featuring the first public gigs for an ensemble Alan Dowling put together in January, called “The Collective”—that includes no fewer than three past Doug Riley Artists.
Doug Riley, who died in 2007, was, as Deryl says, “famous in every style of music and eventually made PEI his home… because he knew how special of a place this is.” Deryl reflects, “And yes, I could have gone to Toronto or Montreal at some point and been a 100% working, gigging bassist, but I’m so blessed to live on PEI, have a great job, and play so much great and diverse music with incredible musicians in this incredible music scene.”
As he helps raise his kids here, he hopes they’ll find music, though he has no plans to push. When they find it, he hopes most of all they don’t lose it. “I’ve seen what it does to people when they lose the love of music because of things. I’ve lived it.” He has no plans to live without music again.