By Elsiewhere. “So, Dean. Why do you do this?” You mean the business, of course.
“For what it does for society. And what else am I going to do?”
He is a quiet person, one who enters a room without notice, because he takes up so little air. Is slow to speak, but once he starts talking, he’s swept into the stream of personal experience and knowledge. A deep stream. One that accommodates to sudden debris, that stuff which, unbidden, interferes with a course that is set, and re-set, accordingly.
He’s interesting, and there’s far, far more to the man than the initial presentation suggests. He is not a braggart. It’s as if his internal “switch” activates when he knows he’ll be heard.
And you? You didn’t even notice he’d left his office to join you and Kathryn at the store front. He’s like a really fine musician who vanishes inside the performance, to let the music itself take centre stage.
Then, suddenly, you’re listening in stereo sound: Kathryn on one side, and Dean on the other. They talk in syncopation. Legato, not staccato.
“A business like this…things change, and it has to be reinvented,” says Dean. “We’ve done that three times, and it will happen again.”
Dean was only 12 in 1965, when his school teacher, Robert Press, hired Dean to tidy his shop – the original Sound of Music in Langley – and for other odd jobs. Several years later, Dean’s natural salesmanship surfaced when Bob left Dean to mind the display at the PNE in Vancouver. While Bob was out for lunch, Dean made three sales. The rest, as they say, is history…and in time, Dean’s family of three opened Sound of Music in Abbotsford’s Historic Downtown.
They were the first “high profile” business to buy in the then decrepit area. He says the “music industry is tight” but it’s obvious he knows this neighbourhood just as well. Dean cites the names of those on the block now: who owns what; which shop is tenant owned. And more.
He talks about the rough start. “I didn’t want to put bars in the windows,” he says. He points at the large windows, at the door, which, recently, was re-secured following an insurance inspection. There’s no bitterness. It’s more like a sad resignation. A reinvention of his belief, perhaps hope, that it wouldn’t be necessary.
There were twelve break-ins between 1998 and 2007. “Addicts?” you ask. “Yes,” he replies. Again, without a hint of contempt in his tone or facial expression. As if he understands why there would be a need to break and enter another man’s business.
“And when we first started, it was so bad down here that prostitutes followed and propositioned the men who were walking their children to the store for music lessons. Our business brought about 150 families down here. We moved our retail store and our Academy here. This used to be a mattress warehouse. There was a grow op on either side, and a spy-ware shop.”
Another financial setback occurred during street work, when West Railway Street was changed into a one-way street. “That really affected the business for six months,” interjects Kathryn. Dean nods.
They have 10 music instructors now. And lessons are tailored to the students. So, if someone likes country, they’ll play country music. If classical, then classical. And so on.
“Do you have, or have you had, any students who went on to fame?” Dean’s answer, in retrospect, isn’t surprising. He may have travelled internationally, and knows people in high places, but his heart is local.
“Do you know Milt Walker?” he asks.
“Of course. He runs Kinghaven and George Schmidt Centre, right?” (rehab and supportive housing for men with substance abuse and alcohol addictions.)
“Yes. He had some trouble himself, and that’s how he got involved there. Well, he takes music lessons here. Is that famous enough?”
More than enough, Dean. And there’s much unspoken information in that detail.
Early on in the conversation, you’d asked Dean what instruments he plays. “Piano. Keyboards. And Organ,” he’d said. Now, you pick up that thread again.
“So, Dean, would you say that, though you’re a business man, at heart you’re a musician?”
“No,” he says. And before he continues, or you can open your mouth to ask for clarification, Kathryn says, “He’s a human at heart.”
Dean remains quiet, and still.
“Are you religious?” you ask.
There is a pause, and then he says, “Spiritual.” And Kathryn nods.
You’d stopped taking notes a while back, and now, looknig through notes taken, you could add a few more details such as what percentage of sales back then were of organs and guitars, or of the resurgence of the banjo, piano and guitar, but something tells you to conclude this post here. Let the man who is human at heart stand in the spotlight.
There, in the middle of SOUND OF MUSIC, a shop that, were it human, would surely win a series of hero awards. As Dean and his family should.
HUGE thanks, Dean, for the visit, and for your solid, courageous, commendable presence in Downtown Abbotsford. Priceless!
Sound of Music. Stop by for a visit. And if you’re in the market for a musical instrument, or music lessons, or know of anyone else who is, make Sound of Music your first and only stop. Help make Historic Downtown Abbotsford a destination – for shopping and a lesson in Abbotsford’s astonishing history.
Elsiewhere, In Abbotsford can be found everyday on her on Facebook page.