Order of Canada awarded to Qualicum Beach musician

Phil Dwyer receives national recognition before leaving the stage to study law

Phil Dwyer says his head is spinning.

The renowned jazz musician made the comments when asked about his recent appointment to the Order of Canada for his work in music after a recent announcement that he will be moving away from that career.

“I’ve got to say my head’s kind of spinning from all of it sort of happening at the same time,” he said.

It was announced Dec. 30 that Dwyer was on a list of 60 other Canadians being appointed a Member of the Order of Canada for his contributions to jazz as a performer, composer and producer, and for increasing access to music education in his community.

But halfway through last year, Dwyer made it public that he’s decided to move to New Brunswick to go to law school. His interest in that arena involves public service, he said. He is interested in environmental law but also in mental health advocacy.

And he drove that latter point home in his presentation in a TEDx event in Powell River which is featured on YouTube. TEDx events are independently organized gatherings where TEDTalk videos are screened and live speakers make presentations with the aim to spark deep, meaningful discussion and connection among people. In the 20-minute video Dwyer talked about his own mental illness and past addictions and his desire to help people and the planet.

He said the people at the University of New Brunswick, where he’ll be going to school in September, saw his TEDTalks video on YouTube and agreed there was a huge opportunity for him to do some great work in the field of mental health advocacy.

“Because there are not that many people who have been through what I have been through that ever get the chance to be a lawyer,” he said.

But he won’t give up music completely.

His appointment to the Order of Canada means he’s joining  a long list of his music mentors and icons who have all influenced him greatly over the years.

Oscar Peterson, who Dwyer said was one of the main reasons he became a musician, was named to the Order (and promoted to the merit of the highest degree) and Dwyer’s friend and mentor Don Thompson is also on that distinguished list.

He said to picture his name alongside these and other incredible people is humbling, but it also reassures him that the path he has chosen for his future is the right one, he said.

“I think music for me is now going to hold a really central and sacred place in my life that I can turn to for different reasons than I am now.”

There is still a huge amount of prejudice surrounding mental illness in society and Dwyer said he feels he has a mission to help make change. He said there were people who literally and physically shrunk away from him when they found out he was bipolar.

Dwyer said because of who he is, he thinks it is probably better that he not do music full time.

Instead of doing a variety of “functional stuff” to make a living he can still do the 15 to 20 per cent of musical endeavors that thrill him to death, he said.

“To shift my focus professionally away from doing commercial music work, to do something that might be of greater public service work, and to be involved in music couldn’t be more ideal,” he said. “And I think it’s really possible to do.”

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