Saturday, July 25, 2015

O is for Our Lady Peace and the Polka King

     Success means different things to different people.  To many of us, the measure of success is purely quantitative; those who have the most are the most successful because, well, they have the most.  The Education System is groaning under the weight of using standardized testing to measure success. In Music, record sales and concert ticket sales are often the standard by which the success of a singer or band is measured.  But, is this fair?

     In order for data-driven criteria to be the most valid indicator of a success in Music, an artist or band has to play that game as well.  While record sales are always important, in so much as they generate income and help pay the bills that allow artists to produce albums and to hold concerts, for some artists, record sales are just a means to an end and are not the single most important measure of success for them.  Sometimes, an artist is in it for something grander. Sometimes, an artist aspires to use their fame and notoriety to promote a cause that they champion that, is important to them and that, in their eyes, is more more than ticket sales and album units moved.  Such a band was Our Lady Peace.

     Our Lady Peace was a fairly successful pop-rock band. Over the course of their career, they were awarded four Juno Awards and nine Much Music Video awards (the most ever by a single band.) They had numerous Top Ten radio hits such as, Is Anybody Home, Starseed, Life, Innocent, Superman's Dead, Somewhere Out There and Clumsy.   While never quite ascending to the lofty heights of stadium rock maintained by bands such as Rush or Bryan Adams in his day, Our Lady Peace still managed to be that band that would come to your hometown and sell out the local theatre or hockey rink.  They were a made-in-Canada and maintained-in-Canada success story, as far as record sales are concerned.  But, record sales do not tell the whole story.

    Lead singer, Raine Maida, has always been noted for having one of the most powerful and unique voices in Canadian rock.  He is handsome and personable, too.  In the early days of Our Lady Peace, Maida was certainly being groomed to be a "rock star", in the mood of a Corey Hart, perhaps.  But Maida, to his credit, had a higher purpose to his life and refused to be lured into the false trappings of stardom.  Raine Maida is married to fellow singer Chantel Kreviazuk.  Lovely and talented as they both are, the potential to be a musical "power couple" was certainly there. However, both performers are Christians.  Because of their personal beliefs, both singers have dedicated much of their adult lives to helping others in need.  They perform at benefit concerts, they do mission work in third world countries and, at home, they have both dedicated sales of their hit songs to charity.  In the case of Our Lady Peace, sales of one of their biggest hits, Clumsy, have all been directed to helping support an anti-bullying venture in Canada known as Kids Help Phone, where children who feel lost or scared and alone can call and talk to a supportive adult.

     In my eyes, Our Lady Peace has to be considered a great Canadian success story. They have used their music to make a positive difference in the lives of others. At the end of the day, knowing that what you did mattered is among the most important measures of success there is.  Ask any kid who was contemplating suicide but didn't because of that voice on the phone. Ask any refugee who was given shelter and a warm meal. Ask any church whose coffers were bolstered because Our Lady Peace and Chantel Krevizuk appeared, without fanfare, at their church hall for a benefit concert.....ask any of them and they will tell you that fame, itself, is not the measure of success but, instead, it is using fame as a tool to make a difference that can make one a success.  Our Lady Peace had that figured out all along and, as a result, have enjoyed a most successful career as there has been.

     Someone else who seems to have done a terrific job of not letting fame cloud his vision of what constitutes a good life is the man known as Canada's Polka King, Walter Ostanek.  Ostanek has won three Grammy Awards and has been nominated thirteen times!  He has won countless Juno Awards, he is a member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the U.S and Canadian Polka Halls of Fame and he even has his own star on Canada's Walk of Fame in Toronto.  But, Canada's Polka King, remains incredibly grounded.
     He still resides in his hometown of St. Catherine's, Ontario and, up until just recently, he worked at his own music store called, simply, Ostanek's.  He plays few concerts but can always be counted on  to show up in Kitchener/Waterloo during Octoberfest time.  His good humour and warm personality help contribute to the aura that surrounds this man.  He is as beloved a Canadian performer as there is. In fact, way back in the glory days of television show, SCTV, it was Ostanek upon whom John Candy based the Schmenge Brothers polka skit.

     There is a tendency, at times, to relegate genres such as polka music, to the lesser ranks of our musical canon. However, truth be told, music is music. It takes hours of practise to master the techniques required to produce beautiful notes and harmonies that emanate from guitars and drums and fiddles and, yes, even from accordions.  Walter Ostanek is to be lauded and commended for mastering his craft like no other. He can be proud of everything he has accomplished because his skill has been nurtured with love and with dedication to excellence. Our Polka King has earned our respect. Well done, Walter. Well done!

     Please join me in giving a big tip of the old hat to the following group of performers whose name starts with the letter, "O".

Ottawa pop stars, One to One, Gospel stars, Ocean, the comedic stylings of Organized Rhyme (Can you spot the talented star who emerged from this group?), Vancouver pop-rockers, The Odds, Conductor/composer, Peter Oundjian, Edmonton's pop and Christian singer/songwriter, Maren Ord, Alt-country singer, Oh Susanna, Alternative sister act, Ohbijou, Vancouver rockers, The Organ and finally, the lovely and talented singer/songwriter, Mary Margaret O'Hara.

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