As a testament to the universal and unifying powers of music, Baden musician Keith Thom (aka Papa Thom) recounts the story of how he once saw music come between two individuals spoiling for a fight and their intended victims.
“I had two guys come into the shelter all hepped up on crystal meth, had their meals, looking for a fight,” Thom said in an interview.
“I just kept on playing my music and within about three songs I saw these two guys that 15 minutes earlier wanted to beat someone up sitting on the chair; they tipped their heads back and they were singing the words to Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” looking so relaxed. I couldn’t have done that talking to them,” he explained, noting that without his guitar he would merely be “an old guy” to the many youngsters with whom he regularly jams at Reaching Our Outdoor Friends (ROOF) in Kitchener.
Thom, 54, is a singer-songwriter, musician, adjudicator and a workshop leader tightly bound to the Wellesley Idol competition.
He’s also a regular volunteer at ROOF, where for some four years he has been lugging his instruments – guitars, maracas, and congas– to the downtown facility to share a hearty meal and some music with the youngsters.
Within the next few weeks Thom will embark on his Shepherd’s Pie Tour, heading to Toronto for a few gigs, and then to Northern Ontario before heading out west through the prairies, Alberta and British Columbia. For three months, Thom will drive across Canada stopping at youth shelters throughout the country offering up jam sessions and shepherd’s pie. Along the way, he hopes to establish links between youths whose lives are in various stages of transition and other area young people to create a “Youth helping Youth” network.
Thom has thus far secured the sponsorship of the Canadian Organic Growers of Canada, which will provide him with organic ingredients along his voyage. Through local fundraising, he also hopes to buy a guitar from a local music store and donate it at every local shelter.
“I’ve left two in Kitchener and they’re used seven days a week,” he said.
Though the self-professed “bit of a middle-aged hippy” isn’t a counsellor, he notes that music and shepherd’s pie can go a long way to quell a person’s burning hunger and soothe his or her nerves.
“I don’t pretend to be a Dr. Phil; I don’t pretend to be able to solve these young children’s problems, but I can provide food, I can provide music and I’ve got a real good set of ears for listening,” he said, adding that without preaching or telling the youths “what they’re doing is wrong … they generally talk themselves into their own solutions.”
“I’ve just seen so many benefits from giving a belly full of food, sitting around and just playing music and singing …. I’ve seen so many examples of the calming effect of that and I’ve seen the benefits of just sitting and listening to these kids.”
A primary objective of the tour is to get everyday people aware of deep-rooted social problems and issues and to encourage them to demand action from their governments by writing letters to their members of parliament.
Having already contacted the four major federal political parties, Thom noted he has received communications of interest from a few.
To follow Thom on his tour and for more information on how to donate, visit www.papathom.com.