From the Fall 2023 Issue of THE LEAF
Profile of a musician/writer
The Value of Music: A Conversation with Rob Ritchie
by Rachel Hepburn
The value of music is both quantitative and qualitative. Music has monetary value as when songwriters are paid—or not—per song play. That’s quantitative. The qualitative values of music are harder to nail down. How does music enhance human life? Music is multi-faceted and subjective. It means something different to each and every one of us. In a recent phone conversation with Rob Ritchie, author of four novels and a musician based out of Wiarton, Ontario we explore his thoughts and opinions on music, his musical beginnings and where he, and his son, Josh, are on that musical continuum today.
“It starts with an aptitude for music” says Rob Ritchie, composer and keyboardist for, currently, five bands he plays with locally and in Toronto. They are Midnight Blue, The Josh Ritchie Band, Steve Dickinson Band, Gracie Jet and RPR. And Rob should know. His parents, Wally and Betty Ritchie, allowed their sons to play hockey on the condition that they take music lessons. He may have been dragged “kicking and screaming” to his piano lessons with locally renowned Arlene MacNay, but it was at the keyboard where Rob’s creative language was born. With time and practice, and being immersed in music from the get go meant Rob’s facility with the language of music could only grow stronger.
Decades later, when Rob’s sons were born, he took the tact of, “Let’s see where this goes” and supported his sons to explore their own areas of interest, without the element of bribery. Rob and Ande’s youngest son is exploring the visual arts, while their oldest son, Josh, is full steam ahead in the music world. A self-taught guitarist, vocalist and performer, Josh is already covering a lot of musical territory. Josh loves fronting the Josh Ritchie Band but being in his home studio, arranging and orchestrating songs and creating “huge, beautiful soundscape songs” is his focus. He is passionate about engineering and layering sounds. For Rob, performing and composing are his favourite things about music.
While Josh has just released his second album, Rob is currently working on The Milk Glass Project. As Rob explains, “milk glass” was once highly valued by antique collectors but by today’s standards it is worthless. It’s Rob’s vision to record some of his old and new music with the accompaniment of a variety of musicians. The first song of the collection is a namesake of Rob’s fourth published book, Between the Sand and the Sea. The Milk Glass Project is a “cross pollination” of ideas that marries creative fiction, music and Rob’s creative response to the current state of the music industry where music—and musicians, are devalued—just like milk glass is currently devalued.
The combination of devalued music, social media demands and a post covid era where attendance numbers are still down spells challenging times for all musicians. Young musicians like Josh must not only have a prominent social media presence with plenty of followers (it is presumed there is a correlation between numbers of followers and ticket sales to performances). They also must be good at grant writing to fund their musical projects. It’s a hard climate to be a musician in nowadays.
And what of the qualitative attributes of music? Strong relationships are built within the musical community. Rob spoke respectfully of the mentorships that exist between musicians. Rob readily acknowledges that his son Josh has already exceeded what Rob can teach him. By his own admission, Rob does not give much thought to the generational aspect of his musical life and in fact probably “takes it for granted”. Still, it must be a powerful point of pride to be sharing the stage with your very talented son, playing and performing alongside him.
What else is it about music that is valuable? In Robs words, “It feeds the soul. As someone who is immersed in music it is a language I have a facility in that can move me. Music is the medium. It accentuates feelings and clarifies them”. For Rob, there are songs for when you are angry or sad, and to help work out the problems in your life “as a musical sound track”. He adds, “Listening to this soundtrack is a blessing because it is always going to be something that I want to do.”
Rob and Josh’s love of music, of exploring and trying new musical things for the sheer delight of it not only allows them their creative expression to shine through, it can encourage all of us who love music to enrich the world and be enriched by it.
To learn more about Rob or Josh Ritchie or to connect: www.robritchiemedia.com
THE LEAF is a literary magazine published twice a year by Brucedale Press, Port Elgin ON