IN THE SPOTLIGHT – Justin Oliver

QUESTION – Tell us about yourself. Who is Justin Oliver?
Justin O. – That’s a hard question! Just insert a link to those Dos Equis ads here! I’ve always been a passionate person with a lot of different interests. I love math (don’t judge me), music, sports, modern art, and most importantly spending time with my friends and family. I’m a big believer in exploring and trying new things whenever possible, and always ready to have fun when the situation calls for it (and sometimes when it doesn’t).

QUESTION – How were you first introduced to the Steelpan?
Justin O. – Pan has been a part of life at Rosedale Public School for as long as Salmon has been teaching there. From my first days in kindergarten, I remember watching the “older kids” perform at assemblies and barbecues, and thinking how incredible it was. I started playing pan when I was in first or second grade as part of the music program and never looked back.

Sharing the stage with Steelpan virtuoso, Duvone Stewart, at live CTV performance.

QUESTION – When did you join the Toronto All Stars Steel Orchestra (TASSO)? Describe that experience.
Justin O. – I joined TASSO as soon as I graduated from Rosedale Public School in 2006. After having played for so many years, there was never a doubt in my mind that I would join the alumni band and continue with it. Every week I would travel back to Rosedale from my middle or high school for practice on
Fridays, which I always looked forward to.

QUESTION – TASSO performs internationally, bi-annually. What international tours have you participated in with the band? Describe the experience of international travel with the orchestra.
Justin O. – I travelled with the band to Scotland in 2009, Italy in 2011, and Germany / Austria / Czech Republic in 2013. We performed in some of the most beautiful venues in the world, met amazing people from dozens of countries, and did all of it with a group of close friends and bandmates. Some of my closest friends to this day are from TASSO, so having the experience of seeing the world and performing with them was pretty special. Each trip was an incredible experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

Performing with the band in Prague -TASSO’s Central European tour, 2013

Performing with the alternative percussion group called The Harvard Undergraduate Drummers (THUD)

QUESTION – What are you most proud of as it relates to Steelpan and TASSO?
Justin O. – I Honestly, I’m honoured just to be a part of the Steelpan community. Having the opportunity to play pan at such a high level, and with the calibre of teaching we were afforded, is beyond special. It has taught me lessons and set me apart in ways I wouldn’t have found anywhere else. But to cite a specific achievement, I’d have to say my last trip to Europe was a highlight. We blew every crowd away, from our fellow festival participants to small communities in the countryside. The feeling of surprising and amazing people with our performances is one I’ll never forget.

QUESTION –After graduating from TASSO, what post-secondary institution(s) did you attend, and what area of study did you pursue?
Justin O. – I did my undergrad at Harvard where I studied Applied Math with a focus in Biology and a minor in Computer Science. And where, by the way, I played in an alternative percussion group called The Harvard Undergraduate Drummers (THUD) and frequently made appearances with my tenor pan.

QUESTION – Who and what are your musical influences?
Justin O. – Salmon Cupid. End of answer.
Seriously, though, I have a hard time pinpointing any specific artists that have influenced me, but I generally gravitate towards melody-focused music and genres like jazz, alternative rock, and some tropical house.

Performing with the band in Munich -TASSO’s Central European tour, 2013

QUESTION – As a past or present Steelpan musician and ambassador, what advice would you give to young people who may want to follow in your footsteps and use Steelpan as a conduit as they continue to acquire the art of learning?
Justin O. – Embrace every moment of the journey while you can, and don’t take for granted how lucky you are to be a part of TASSO and the world of Steelpan. To this day telling people I play Steelpan is one of the things I am proudest of in my life. I’m convinced it has helped me get into schools and get jobs – not just as a bullet point on a resume, but through the intangible skills that were instilled in me during my 12+ years of playing. It’s also some of the most fun I can remember having. So enjoy it, learn from it, and allow it to inspire you in all aspects of your life.

QUESTION – What are you doing now?
Justin O. – Other than staying inside? I currently live and work in NYC where I’ve been since graduating from university in 2016. I recently started a new job as the Director of Business Development for an art/technology startup called ARTBnk, which is a bit of a dream come true for me as I’ve been searching for a job in the art world where I could apply my quantitive background for a long time.

My sister, Elodie, and me during a dress rehearsal in Florence for our open-air performance of “Flight of the Bumble Bee” where we would share the stage with famous statues of Hercules, Menelaos, and Perseus. TASSO Italia tour, 2011

Lunch with band mates during TASSO’s Central European tour, 2013

QUESTION – What’s next for Justin Oliver?
Justin O. – Who knows! I’m excited to see where this new job will take me, and to continue enjoying living in a different part of the world (at least for a little while longer). Canada has always been my home and I certainly hope to return there someday, but in the meantime, I’m going to continue working hard at what I love and making the most of every experience. The phrase “hard work brings great rewards” comes to mind, but for the life of me I can’t remember who said it…