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Remembering the Music-Makers

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Our musicians take care of us.

So says Rob Pape, emphasizing that they provide solace and joy through their work. However, it’s a two-way street. We need to take care of the musicians whose music we love–especially now.

Pape is the executive director of the Medicine Hat Folk Music Club and Tongue on the Post Folk Music Festival. He’s been an advocate for mental health within the music industry for years. Now he’s speaking up more than ever. “It’s necessary,” he says. “The strictures of COVID-19 have hit musicians particularly hard.”

“This pandemic has been brutal for musicians and their mental health,” he says. The isolation and financial deprivations of COVID-19 have led many to consider leaving their craft. Tragically, he knows of several musicians in his community who have died by suicide this year.

“It’s been difficult on so many levels,” he says. Artists aren’t able to perform–a crucial source of connection in a life that can be solitary. Performing and touring are also essential sources of income. “Some artists I’ve spoken to didn’t fall within the parameters of this grant or that financial aid so it’s become very difficult for them.” says Pape.

It’s been a lonely, odd, stressful time for many musical artists. Many bands have been prevented by public health restrictions from even getting together and rehearsing. Pape is constantly talking to musicians and says he’s even heard stories of some catching flak from fans for not holding live concerts. “It’s not the musicians’ fault, of course,” Pape says, “but it still doesn’t feel good.”

The key thing, he says, is to keep talking about mental health and creating connections to ensure musicians are doing okay.

To that end, Pape has been assisting several mental health organizations in Alberta, providing input to help foster discussions about musicians’ mental health during COVID-19. He worked with the Canadian Mental Health Association, Alberta Southeast, to help them present Framing a Pathway Forward, a seven-hour livestream event that included local Medicine Hat musicians. Another one is upcoming in September. His company, Plugged In Media, also helps facilitate Our Collective Journey, a podcast about mental health, addictions and recovery.

Those of us who benefit from music need to do our part, too. “Appreciate your artist,” Pape says. “Let them know they matter, that they are making an impact in your life.”

This can take several forms: sending a heartfelt note, buying the album, ordering the t-shirt, making a Patreon contribution–whatever might be within your means and suit your style.

“At the end of the day we just need to show love for one another,” says Pape. “It all starts and ends right there, as far as I’m concerned.”

Keeping connected is key for musicians, as it is for all of us, says Pape. “If things are getting dark, talk to somebody, first and foremost,” he says. “Don’t be alone.”

There are also resources to help. Calling 2-1-1 (for Alberta residents,) or the Mental Health Helpline at 1-877-303-2642 can be a good place to start.