INTERVIEW: D.O.A.'s Joe Keithley To Ramp Up Harmony for All Musical Instrument Program

By Steve McLean 1/5/22 |

Joe Keithley, ahead of a musical instrument donation drive last month at Burnaby City Hall — photo credit: Facebook
Musician turned politician Joe Keithley initiated the Harmony for All musical instrument lending program in Burnaby, B.C. in 2019, but it will kick into a higher gear in April.

Keithley said almost 400 instruments were accumulated through two 2021 collection drives. The program alos includes lessons, and it has received financial support from the City of Burnaby and the Burnaby Firefighters Charitable Society.

Keithley started playing drums at age 11 and later moved on to guitar and singing for an early punk band called The Skulls in 1977, before forming D.O.A. a year later. Keithley has remained the frontman and sole original member for the pioneering punk group ever since, while a large number of musicians has passed through to back him over the years.

“I was far from the most popular person in my high school, but when I started playing music I started making new friends,” Keithley told Samaritan about the importance of music in his adolescence.

Expressing yourself through music can bring happiness and a sense of fulfillment, but many people can’t afford to buy or rent instruments and pay for lessons. Harmony for All was created to ensure that Burnaby residents have the opportunity to explore their musical talents, which can also help them connect with others.

“The thing about music is it can cross cultural barriers,” said Keithley. “We’re living in a time where there's a lot of prejudice and a lot of hate. But the one thing everybody in the world loves, whether they play it or not, or sing, is music. It’s the universal language.”

Talk-Action=0 is the title of a 2010 D.O.A. album and a 2011 book by Keithley, and it reflects his longtime activism. D.O.A. has played numerous peace and environmental rallies, and Keithley ran for the Green Party three times in British Columbia provincial elections before being elected to Burnaby City Council in 2018 municipal elections.

Keithley said he initially "met with some resistance from council" members when he first suggested that Harmony for All become a City program in 2019. But Mayor Mike Hurley — an amateur musician and former firefighter — was supportive and helped get the Burnaby Fire Department’s charitable organization involved.

Meetings were set up with local music teachers in early 2020 to involve the local school system, but the pandemic put plans on hold before momentum picked up again last fall.

Burnaby City Council agreed in November to contribute $72,000 to establish Harmony for All as a City-operated program. That same month the Burnaby Firefighters Charitable Society pledged $10,000 and committed to contribute a further $10,000 every year for the next 10 years.

That money will be used to help pay for lessons and any additional instruments or refurbishments that may be needed.

There are no strict guidelines for loaning instruments, according to Keithley, and the goal is to provide assistance to whoever wants it.

“If somebody comes forward, like a music teacher, a parent, an older brother, or a friend of the family, and they go ‘I think little so-and-so has got a talent playing piano, but he has no piano,’” Keithley said Harmony for All can help.

“There are no parameters on the style of music either,” he added. “It could be anything from bhangra to electronic to hip-hop to punk rock to trance.”

Keithley said he isn’t very familiar with the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences and The JUNO Awards’ MusiCounts — a charity that makes music education inclusive, sustainable and accessible for youth across Canada by providing musical instruments, equipment, and resources — and couldn’t make comparisons between it and Harmony for All.

Harmony for All will accept and distribute all sorts of instruments and Keithley said it would even take DJ equipment, though none has been donated thus far. People can receive a tax receipt for the value of their instrument donation.

Vancouver area instrument retailer Tom Lee Music was previously provided with photos, descriptions and serial numbers of instruments and it would provide estimates for the value of the donation. Harmony for All will now try to do that internally, but will look for external help if necessary.

Keithley said some people are happy to donate their instruments without receiving a tax receipt.

The first lessons for instrument recipients should begin in April if COVID-19 doesn’t cause more delays to Harmony for All than it already has over the past two years.

One of the goals is for students to take part in musical performances, either as individuals or in groups, with some professional musicians also taking part alongside them in showcases to highlight the talents of Harmony for All participants.

Though it’s too early for details to be available, Harmony for All will also introduce low or no-cost outreach music programs to organizations that serve under-represented populations. The final phase of the program will provide grants to low-income residents to help them pay for City of Burnaby music programs and lessons.

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