Seven-year-old Jaime Holwell helps dad Tom Oliver promote the Haliburton Music Exchange, an initative to help rehome unused musical instruments into the hands of children in Haliburton County. /Photo submitted by Tom Oliver

Dusting off forgotten musical instruments for kids

By Sue Tiffin

A new initiative to bring loved but unused instruments into the hands of kids throughout the county is only a few days old, but already an inventory is growing and a couple of guitars have found new homes.

Haliburton resident Tom Oliver said the idea started “pretty much on a whim,” when he saw a post from a fellow resident looking to gift her guitars to someone who needed them. Oliver works for Shopify, an e-commerce company, and is skilled at making websites.

“The lightbulb kind of came on and I thought, this wouldn’t be that hard, to put it together and just see who else has got instruments out there, just kicking around in their house,” he said. “I’ve been collecting guitars for years, and I’m as bad as anyone else in terms of having all these dusty instruments in corners. The idea just popped into my head – why don’t we see if we can round up all these instruments and get them into the hands of some kids?”

And so the Haliburton Music Exchange was launched, with a website listing inventory currently available, and Oliver arranging signage to bring attention to the drop-off and pick-up point – his home at 1003 Bolender by the Lake Drive, across from Curry Chevrolet Buick GMC Ltd. off of County Road 21. It’s all happening fast, but Oliver hopes it might get instruments into homes for Christmas.

“On the one hand you have all these people that are in the spirit of Christmas giving, and we’ve got also these people who are having a hard time making ends meet and finding a present they can afford for their kids,” he said. “It wasn’t even that that was in my mind when I first started, but as I was thinking on it I thought, this is perfect timing.”

Quickly, he began receiving offers for instruments, as well as positive feedback from those who appreciate the idea.

“The response has been unbelievable,” said Oliver. “I’ve already got at least 10 guitars that have been donated, clarinets, flutes, some harmonicas, hand drums, there’s just all kinds of stuff that is slowly filtering through. Well, I say slowly, but not even, actually – this has all been within three or four days.”

He’s even had an offer of a donation from HaliUkes, and hopes to have a section on the site to promote that business – as well as others in the area that offer instruments and music-related accessories in the hopes that those who start to learn an instrument will continue supporting local options when it comes time to restring or upgrade. He also plans on launching a resource site linking to online explanations and guides, and also a directory of music lessons – some instructors have already reached out offering to help, perhaps with an online group session.

“It’s one thing to give a kid a guitar, but if you don’t give them any lessons, then you know, it doesn’t really give them a very good starting point,” said Oliver. 

The possibilities are endless, but Oliver laughs: “I literally just built the site three days ago,” he said. “It’s very much the beginning, very much trying to build up inventory right now, that’s our main focus … This is obviously a very long-term thing, and I’m not too worried about what we’re going to be able to do in a couple of weeks but it would be really nice to try to get enough that it has some impact on the holidays this year.” 

The process to choose an instrument is easy, said Oliver, with the site offering pages to scroll through, images of donated items to click on, and a standard check-out option but without a need to give any sort of credit card details – the instruments are free of charge. Contact details enable Oliver to get in touch to arrange pick-up.

While he won’t be limiting anyone from picking out an instrument, Oliver said he does hope people will come for the right reasons.

“I kind of have to put my trust in people to take if they need to take,” he said. “Whether that person was financially able to do it or not, my attitude is, it still got an instrument into somebody’s hands that wasn’t being used and there’s a chance that instrument is going to be used now. I don’t really see how that’s a negative.”

He hopes those who can, will donate toward helping with the cost of strings, giving back into the program. 

And for now, any instrument, or music-related accessory like tuners, strings, sheet music – is welcome. While he’s opted not to move and store pianos or organs, he’s happy to bridge the gap between buyer and seller – or giver and taker – by posting it on the site.

“If it’s something that someone can use to play music, we’ll take it,” he said.

If, by chance, an instrument isn’t being used after being picked up, Oliver recommends bringing it back to circulate in the program again, or trading it for something else.

“You can’t push this kind of stuff on a kid,” he said. “Either they get into it or not. If you’re not using it, bring it back for the same reason you came and picked it up. Pass this off to somebody else, and don’t let it just go sit in the corner of your house.” 

He acknowledges there’s a financial barrier for many kids who want to play an instrument, but hopes that by offering a chance to try it, the interest might stay with someone for life.

“I grew up in a home where my parents collected instruments, that was something they loved to do, I grew up in a house filled with everything you can imagine – cellos, harps, pianos, everything,” he said. “I write music. We’ve got a little seven-year-old at home, she sees me writing music, she’s writing music with her friends every night on Zoom, and just watching her have that spark to pick up a guitar and write a song, it’s awesome. I look at it and, this is amazing. The idea that that would be happening in other households is kind of inspiring.”

Oliver has been coming to the area since he himself was a kid, and bought a house here about five years ago. While his work on a sailboat initially kept him out of the area, with online work with Shopify he is now able to be at home. 

“When I finally got a chance to settle down and kind of be here, I just thanked the gods every day that I had bought when I did, before the market went ballistic, and that I can call this home now,” he said. “I’ve lived all over the place and this is the only place I’ve ever really considered to be home.”

He’s also involved with the Haliburton County Youth Sailing Association, which addresses youth mental health through sailing. Though the in-person group was limited this year in how it could operate, Oliver said the Haliburton Music Exchange doesn’t have any sort of similar barrier due to the pandemic. Now, he just hopes it works. 

“It’s just the anticipation of seeing if we’re going to get the inventory or not,” said Oliver. “I’m just hoping there’s enough stuff out there that we’re able to build up an inventory that gives us some traction and really makes this thing, a thing. Like I’m really at the whim of the community right now. The success of this completely depends upon everybody saying, ‘hey, do I have a dusty guitar, or do I have a dusty anything, and am I willing to give it up.’ If that happens and we get lots of inventory, then this thing’s going to fly.”

For more information, visit, or Haliburton Music Exchange on Facebook.