By Nick Bernard
The Haliburton Music Exchange began with a single Facebook post, which became an idea that became one of the most rewarding experiences of Tom Oliver’s life.
“Somebody was giving away a couple of kids’ guitars … and I thought, man, I wonder how many people have these instruments out there just laying around, and how many of these are just sitting in the corners of peoples’ houses,” Oliver said.
Like any great guitarist, Oliver himself had amassed his own collection of guitars while only playing a small handful of them – that is, three or four guitars out of a whole 20.
“Thinking to myself, like, this is what every guitar player does – and so how many of them are sitting out there? And so it just gave me this idea: well, why don’t I just see?”
The idea stayed with him and, using his professional knowledge in the e-commerce space, created the online framework that would become the Haliburton Music Exchange.
“So I started it last November, with absolutely no expectations of anything, and … by December, by Christmas, I was already in a position where I had, I think at least 15 or 20 instruments sitting here,” Oliver said. “And we did the same thing as what we did this year, blasting out a notice saying ‘does anybody need some instruments out there for the kids for Christmas?’”
This past November, Oliver posted on the Music Exchange’s Facebook page asking whether any children or teens might be interested in learning how to play guitar. As always, the response was immediate and enthusiastic. Oliver was able to get nine guitars out ahead of the holidays, a repeat of the success that started the Exchange in the first place.
“The same thing happened, I put the post up, saying ‘we’ve got full-size body guitars … for teenagers,’ and boom,” he said, expressing the immediacy of the response. “And those went out the door and so now we’ve got a whole bunch of teenagers that are happy.
He says it’s been a progression, getting people aware of what the Exchange has to offer. While, through coincidence, Oliver has seen a focus on guitars, the Music Exchange offers a number of different instruments.
“We’ve also been cycling through all kinds of other instruments,” he said, citing the example of a girl with a physical disability who he was able to provide a trumpet for. “We’ll take any instrument. We don’t take full-size acoustic pianos, but we would love to get keyboards. We’ll take any other type of instrument in any state of repair.”
The Music Exchange takes donations either through Facebook with its page or a form on their website. From there, Oliver fixes them up, purchases whatever parts and supplies what he needs, or he uses parts from other instruments as needed.
People can also request an instrument, where they can pick it up from Oliver’s home on Bolender Lane, across from Curry Chevrolet Buick GMC in Haliburton.
“I built up the website, got the functionality of everything going so that I could … receive information from people about what was out there and what they had to drop off,” Oliver explained.
He says none of what’s become of the Music Exchange, which has recently partnered with the Haliburton Folk Society to produce a free eight-week guitar lesson program, would have been possible without the immediate positive response from the community.
“As soon as I started it, it just blew up. We’ve had just a steady stream of instruments coming in ever since.”
While there were originally plans for the Haliburton Folk Society to provide financial oversight for the Music Exchange, those plans have been put on pause while the Folk Society institutes new COVID policies.
“We … completely support the idea of providing free music lessons to youth within the county, an initiative that was started as a collaboration between Tom [Oliver] and Greg Sadlier of Camexicanus. Their program was very successful last fall and we did provide funding for it,” Haliburton Folk Society president Walter Tose told the Echo in an email. “However we realized afterwards that we did not have policies and procedures in place for proof of vaccination, police checks, parental permission, etc. We are currently developing those and once the COVID situation permits and those policies and procedures are in place we will definitely offer financial and promotional support again for anybody who wishes to pursue such a program and can meet our requirements.”
Tose reiterated that the Folk Society does still support the idea of a free music instruction program.
Looking to the future, Oliver says the focus is on developing more lesson programs, especially for the fall and winter months.
“There’s various different things I have in mind for that,” he said, dwelling on ideas around expanded lessons and potential grants to offer students who wish to take private lessons or attend music school. “Our focus is very specific: We want to provide free instruments and free lessons, and really that’s it … whatever results in goodness out there.”
For more information on the Haliburton Music Exchange, or donate or request an instrument, visit www.haliburtonmusicexchange.com.