If you happen to hear a sweet, flute-like melody when you’re walking on Commercial Street in downtown Nanaimo, it is likely coming from Tim Lander’s pennywhistle.
Originally hailing from Chipstead, near London, U.K., Lander says he became “fed up” with the dreariness of London. He came to Canada 51 years ago and moved to Nanaimo 35 years ago.
The pennywhistle is a traditional street musician’s instrument and derives its name from the fact people would charge a penny a song in the 19th century, said Lander. His path to the pennywhistle began after his brother sold him a little wooden flute for $6 when he was 21. It was something he said he really got into.
He also played the piccolo, but it was very loud and it was making him go deaf. Lander confesses the pennywhistle was originally a substitute instrument.
“The piccolo needed to be re-padded, so I sent it away to be re-padded and it was going to take a couple of months and I bought a pennywhistle, just to tie me over and I really fell in love with [it]. Anything you can do on a piccolo, you can do on a pennywhistle and it’s easier on the ears,” said Lander.
Lander is also a published poet, but he suffered a stroke five years ago and it has affected both his poetry and pennywhistle playing. He says the stroke left him with a slight case of dyslexia.
“I couldn’t do poetry anymore,” said Lander. “I couldn’t think in the same way, so that sort of put an end to that and when I had the stroke, I lost all the tunes I used to play, so I had to make them up as I went along. Now I just improvise and I find that really works well and it’s really rewarding.”
Lander said he spent a month in the hospital recovering and still makes weekly visits for speech therapy.
He said he wants to continue to play his music and is considering picking up the recorder again.
“I used to play the recorder, but it’s different fingering, it’s more complicated fingering,” said Lander. “You can get more notes on the recorder.”
He says he thinks the harbour is his favourite part of Nanaimo.
“I have a little boat down in the harbour and I can row or sail it out,” Lander said.
“I’m not a terribly good sailor, but I enjoy it, especially when it’s warmer. When it’s cold I usually row because you’re getting the exercise and generating warmth,” he said.
Tim Lander’s story continues an ongoing feature series profiling Nanaimo residents and their stories.