Monday, 5 August 2013

Donald Quan, Musideum, and Healing Through Music

Donald Quan and his beautiful family

During the summer of 2010 I discovered an amazing, and at the time not very well known, music venue, Musideum. Donald Quan's gorgeous inspiration brought to life.

"MUSIDEUM is a magical room where music always passes from performer to audience with zero hindrance….as ripples and vibrations pass through water, music passes through the air and the soul with musical instruments being the means. Musideum is a place where music is always shared with all that are willing to receive."

If you've been lucky enough to catch a performance at Musideum you are sure to have met Donald. His infectious glee introducing any act leaves you addicted. From that point on you can never get enough of Donald and his beloved Musideum. When I began Days of Whine and Rosé I KNEW I would have to write about him. So I started to do some research. Donald is an accomplished musician and composer who has numerous awards and nominations to his credit. In 2008 Donald, noticing a lack of places to pick up world instruments, not centred on the musician, but on the instruments themselves, opened Musideum.

A warm rich environment of aged wood and exposed brick is filled to the rafters with instruments of every sort, a truly zen-like atmosphere pervades. You can't help but feel at peace as you walk through the doors. Eventually Donald started to open his doors to musicians seeking a more intimate venue, forever beautifully changing the Toronto music scene. But as I continued my research, I came across stories that blew me away. I easily came to a decision. This story would not be about Musideum per se, it would be about Donald.

Most of who I am is a creator

Donald Quan

In August of 2009, Donald was playing keys for the Derek Miller band at the Kitchener Blues Festival. He felt his heart beat erratically. Then it stopped. Donald collapsed onstage. He was clinically dead for 17 minutes. Donald had suffered a heart arrythmia, a condition brought about by the gruelling physical and emotional stress endured as a touring musician (similar to a marathon runner). Unlike most who experience this extreme medical condition, Donald survived. His wife pregnant with twins and a world of music yet to explore, Donald was not about to give up. He was placed in a medically induced coma to enable his physical healing, but he suffered damage to his brain tantamount to a massive stroke. As a young child I watched as my once vibrant grandmother was taken away from us by the effects of a decade long battle with stroke after stroke. She fiercely battled back each time, in any way she could, until her body was too tired to fight any longer. That personal war she waged to heal her brain was always an inspiration. It takes incredible internal reserves, excellent care and a fair bit of luck to recover from a stroke. I guess thats why I have such unflinching admiration for those who win the battle, like Donald Quan.

With the help of The Toronto Rehab  Donald learned to walk and talk again, learned to balance his books, take the ttc, and all the basic life skills you need. But Donald isn't defined by his life skills. Creativity and music are at the core of Donald's being. As incredible as his practitioners were, that was a part of him they could not heal, and Donald would never feel whole without it. There was no way Donald could resume the life of a touring musician without his skills, he had to get them back. There were bills to pay and a creative need that couldn't be suppressed. Doctors warned Donald that the stress of touring was likely to cause another attack, and he may not be as lucky the second time. There are no rehab facilities that help you recover your musical talent so the clinicians tried desperately to get Donald to accept his physically and creatively restrained lifestyle. Luckily for us, Donald, a classic A-type personality would not take the lack of medical resources as an excuse to NOT heal this most precious part of himself, he'd find a way.

Prior to Donalds brush with death, being an actively touring musician, he had others running the day to day operations of Musideum. The problem with having a vision is rarely do others share it. The brilliance of Musideum, without his regular input, had fallen to the wayside. This was something that weighed heavily on Donald, but with his hectic schedule there was no other option. AFTER his brush with death, Donald was inspired. He'd "prove to the naysayers, challenge myself and make Musideum, and myself, BETTER than before!" Donald fought to bring back his technical skill, but what better way to rehabilitate his ESSENCE, his musical talent and creativity, then by taking Musideum back into his own hands, bringing the true vision to life.

Musideum is located in an historic building at 401 Richmond, one of the most successful re-imaginings of what had been dilapidated urban factory space anywhere. People come regularly from countries around the world to study the creative and financial success that is 401 Richmond. Donald had a long history there, one of the very first tenants in the building. "I'm going to show MYSELF I can hold these concerts". But how? Musicians do not have vacation time, get paid sick leave or qualify for EI. His finances had dropped to practically ZERO. HOW could he keep Musideum running, with no touring income to pay the bills all while rehabilitating his talent? As I'm sure you've figured out by now, Donald is a pretty exceptional person, and very easy to love. When Donald came to the decision he would unfortunately have to close Musideum, 401 Richmond would have none of it. His fellow tenants and management  did all they could to help him to re-establish himself, and Donald didn't disappoint them, or US! 

As a lifelong composer and musician, Donald had always been troubled by the treatment artists received while touring. Venues that were inadequate from a technical standpoint, booking agents who treat the talent as less than human, etc etc. He was determined to make Musideum into an artists' paradise, thereby allowing true creativity to thrive and be SHARED. Musicians and artists of all genres are treated with respect at Musideum. From a technical standpoint, the place is incredible, better than most studios. Donald works with the artists, but never hinders them. All of the artists I've spoken with have said the phrase they hear most often from Donald is "This place is here for you as much as for me". He provides studio time, advice and a venue to artists who put as much into their own careers as he puts into his. He has incredible respect for artists committed to their work. To date since opening the re-visioned Musideum after his collapse on stage, Donald has been host to over 450 performances. Shows are booked 3 months in advance, and as a frequent audience member I can tell you performances sell out quickly. Donald's stress levels, now that he is actively involved in Musideum, have dropped to practically nil and he is happier than ever before. Able to be with his family and fulfil his creative needs all while operating a successful business. A business that brings wonder and joy into the lives of so many. Artists adore him!

"I have have had the pleasure of performing and recording a XMas concert at Musiduem and it was magical. Also, Donald was beyond gracious when hosting a Benefit concert for former Ten Feet Tall owners: Carin and Andy. He is a lovely soul with a deep respect for musicians and their struggle to survive in a world that depreciates artists. He is a music encyclopedia and a giant talent himself. He IS the real deal. " Pat Murray
"I've had the distinct pleasure of performing at Musideum upon several occasions. From the excellent piano to the ambiance of the space to the music audiences that Donald attracts, it is an experience that I cherish."  Rita di Ghent 

Always a giver, and inspired by his friend Talia Wooldridge who was there before, during and after the crisis, Donald is now sharing the power of music through Music Can Heal. An incredible collective of musicians who provide soothing spiritual music at the bedside of critically or terminally ill people.

Near death and extreme brain damage can't keep Donald from being the compassionate talented man he is. All it did was enable him to reset the dial to zero and create the life he was meant to lead.

On July 23, 2013, Donald Quan announced to the world that he had repaired his brain to almost 99% of where he was prior to the attack. He has recovered his musical talent and composition skills. No, not just 'recovered', he has progressed creatively far beyond his pre-arrythmia days. As a thank you to Toronto Rehab, Donald composed and recorded an album, appropriately titled "17 minutes of Silence ", a musical expression of his new found lease on life. The CD is due for re-release early in 2014, but you  can get a taste of Donald's musical brilliance here


Donald, the journey of discovery I took while researching and writing this post is one I shall never forget. It has been my GREAT honour to share your story

1 comment:

Francine Hailman said...

Donald Quan and Musideum are a match made in heaven! I love performing at MUSIDEUM because it is the most perfect concert hall in Toronto. I have an upcoming concert Francine Hailman's Tribute to Miss Peggy Lee