Solar Music - Past, Present & Future

I've been playing music my whole life. I'm 37 now. My grandmother, Ruth Allen, was a graduate from the prestigious Julliard School of Music in New York City and later moved with her husband and family to Nova Scotia. Here she and Chalmers Doane developed and implemented the music education system for Nova Scotia public schools while raising nine children. That's where my music influence began.

I've been surrounded by solar technology my whole life. My father, Peter Allen, started his solar company in 1980, the year I was born, manufacturing the first solar panels in what would later become my bedroom. His company Thermo Dynamics Ltd. has been going ever since and developing world class solar products that have been installed around the world - Switzerland, Japan, Lebanon, the Caribbean, USA, Africa, and of course Canada (to name a few). That's where my solar influence comes from.

When it was time for me to find my path and go to university, rather than study music I opted for Electrical Engineering. I had taken some guitar exams at the Canadian Conservatory, did well (honours with distinction) but I didn't enjoy the process - the exams took the fun out of the music. Instead I decided to study music at the electrical level so I could design music and audio equipment in case I wasn't able to make a living performing and composing music. Whenever possible, I related my projects back to music - microphone design, piezeoelectric guitar pick-ups and transducers, and my final year project was titled 'Design of a Flanger Effect Using Digital Signal Processing' (flanger is a common 60s/70s era effect heard on Pink Floyd's 'Breathe').

Unfortunately once I graduated I wasn't successful in finding jobs relating to music and sound equipment design. It was too small an industry and I couldn't get my foot in the door. I ended up moving to Europe to find work as an engineer on mega yachts, a micro-industry I heard of weeks before my graduation. I was keen to travel Europe and more and it just so happened that the world's richest people needed engineers to help run their boats and travel the world. It worked out beautifully. It wasn't music related, but I did bring my guitar along (always do!).

Years passed, I moved and travelled here and there bouncing around the world and ended up working in the energy industry while keeping the music alive, eventually settling back in Halifax ten years ago (my hometown). Since then I've worked exclusively in the solar energy industry and took the time to develop my music skills to the point where I could record and release my first album reflective of my experiences along the way and the music I heard in my head. That is essentially what I had been working towards my whole life - one album of original music. 

It came and went. I had great "success" as an independent DIY artist (no funding, no management, no promotional support... just me and small group of supporters). I was able to share the music I had created with a band of world class musicians and put on well attended shows that felt good. That is success for me - doing what I love, sharing and creating with others, getting some recognition for it, and feeling good about it. Sustainability is a HUGE bonus (the dream!). However, all in all, any money I made from the music was reinvested or went to others. I am still in debt from the album and music as a whole. I can live with that. I have no choice. But what about all this other music I have? How can I justify taking time and spending more money to produce, record and share it? It is a labour of love that I'm not sure how to keep alive.

Fortunately though, I think I found my sweet spot - Solar Powered Music! 

The "Tree of Dreams" - A Solar Concert for a Sustainable Future was a resounding success and came together like nothing I'd done before. It resonated with just about everyone I pitched the idea to and I was able to build it from the ground up with no money to begin with. All I had was an idea, a dream, and the kindness and belief of the staff at Halifax Public Libraries who graciously donated the space, Paul O'Regan Hall, for the event. From there I managed to incrementally raise money from all the generous partners and sponsors, and bring on the musicians and artists one at a time. It may not have been necessary, many would have done it for free, but the fact is money talks and I have always strived to pay the artists I work with because I don't believe in something for nothing. I value their work and always do my best to compensate them for it.

As for the solar concert, it was inspired primarily by three things:

1 - a portable solar generator developed by my father (the Thermo Dynamics 'PowerPakk'),

2 - playing at the Halifax Jazz Festival on a nice sunny day with a noisy gas generator next to the stage,

3 - playing a charity event for the Ronald McDonald House PJ Walk for Kids at the Halifax Commons on a nice sunny day with a noisy gas generator next to the stage.

Being a solar energy researcher in the loop with much of the world's leading edge solar technological developments, I saw the simplest of solutions (and possibilities!) - solar powered music! And it's nothing new or genius. It's just batteries charged by the sun and connected to an inverter to provide AC power for the music and audio equipment. People have been doing this for years. It seemed like a revolutionary idea but it's not. I just helped put it on stage and package it up with some great leading edge energy partners and world class artists.

I am supremely grateful that it came together and was a hit. It was an immense labour of love and all money raised went into the event itself and into some video clips I'm working on to share to help promote the concept and, of course, the music. But it took a lot out of me. I've had to take a big step back, focus on actually making money, and take time to reflect, refuel and recharge my own battery and spirit. Pursuing dreams and bringing them to life in front of a large public audience for all to see and potentially criticize is no easy feat. But miraculously, it all came together. It was a miracle indeed.

So that's how the solar concert came to be. Perhaps more history than you're interested in but it helps to know the past before moving forward into the future. And that's what I'm working on. How do I move forward from here? How to WE move forward from here? I have a lot more to share and give but I'll need your support. I'd like to think this is just the tip of the iceberg, but I can't do it alone and frankly, I don't want to. So I suppose this is a bit of a call for support. I'll be releasing more music and videos soon and planning events and what not. If you deem them worthy, please show your support however feels good and natural for you - buy the album, share stuff on social media, join the newsletter, follow me on social media (@tomiallenmusic), tell your family and friends, go to shows, pay for music.... whatever. It all adds up. We artists do it for love, but we still need to eat, pay the bills and pay for the creative process itself. And the reality is, the majority of the artists that I know who contribute to society, majority of them are pretty damn broke. It keeps it real, it keeps it honest, and that's how it is.... but what if society did support the arts more? And what if we fuelled those fires with fresh solar power straight from the sun and left the oil, coal and gas in the ground? We artists could use a break. Mother Earth too.

 

 

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