I became a channel for something much bigger.
So said the late Oliver Schroer, who taught dozens of young Smithers fiddlers how to play and to play around with music.
Those words are among many Schroer sayings that calligrapher Julie Maloney has penned in a collection she called Oli-isms.
“He was someone who thought very deeply,” Maloney says.
After hearing him interviewed on CBC Radio’s Tapestry, Maloney picked up Schroer albums like Camino—pieces he recorded live in churches along Spain’s 1000-km Camino de Santiago pilgrim trail.
Maloney enjoyed the improvised style of those pieces, and the sounds of birds, bells and neighbourhood dogs that Schroer’s mobile recording gear picked up around him.
But it was another Schroer journeys, his “Chemino,” that got Maloney writing.
As Schroer struggled with chemotherapy and leukemia, he sent an email newsletter to his friends where he shared his thoughts on life and music.
Maloney returned some of those wise words to Schroer on cards she wrote in an Italic script—gifts that he hung on a clothesline in his room at Princess Margaret hospital.
After Schroer passed, his friend and fellow musician Emilyn Stam suggested that she make a book from the cards—the beginning of Oli-isms.
Melanie Lough, a student of Schroer’s who now leads The Twisted String fiddle group in Smithers, says her copy is bristling with bright pink sticky notes.
“He was super wise,” she said, laughing.
Lough was 11 when she first met the 6’5 fiddler, who sported an extra three-inch mohawk at the time.
“I was quite intimidated at first,” she said. “But I wrote a song in my first lesson, and ever since then I’ve been writing songs.”
Roughly forty fiddlers are in The Twisted String, which has several chapters in B.C.
Lough said that the Smithers group, who are now ages 13 to 18, played the Alpenhorn last week and have an upcoming show in Prince George.
But like Schroer, who recorded ten albums in just 14 years, Lough has lots on the go. She now plays in seven bands, including a six-piece “klezmer dance band” called the Klezmer Cats, which includes another member of The Twisted String.
“I don’t know if I’d still be playing music if I hadn’t met him,” Lough said, adding that it was because of Schroer she and other young Smithers musicians started to write instead of reciting music.
“I think he really gave us a big gift there,” she said.