TTC Busker Harper Derick Greenly

TTC Busker Profile: Derick Greenly

Most of us have already seen one harper of the musical variety, but Derick Greenly has carved out a niche of his own as a TTC busker. I came across him at Queen station, top hatted and formidably whiskered, performing with stoic precision and transporting many a frazzled, frozen commuter somewhere far away. Somewhere warm, with rolling green hills and buttercups.

Perhaps most impressively, Derick does it all without the slightest bit of help from his friends. But just how does this harper do it? I decided to find out.

Tell me a bit about yourself. Who is Derick Greenly?

I grew up in Warkworth, Onario, a small town originally known for maple syrup and cheese. I lived on a petting zoo, actually. It started as a dairy farm, and it eventually became a hobby farm with all sorts of animals that would tour around to fairs and stuff. So that was a little part of my childhood.

After sitting in school for four years, I definitely needed a breather from the field I was in, and I'd kind of been neglecting my music. I tried to get the subway permit last year, botched it somehow, and this year I got it.

I have to say, your beard and top hat are very Abe Lincoln. Any connection or inspiration there?

Well, I wouldn't want to go out and play in a simple pedestrian's appearance. People ask me repeatedly if the beard is fake. People also ask if I'm trying to be Abe Lincoln, or if I'm Amish, or Mennonite, or Jewish, or Dutch, or a plethora of other things, none of which I am. I just kind of latched on to the style of the beard. Now it's the shape it took on, of its own volition.

Have you heard of Movember?

I didn't know about Movember until about two-thirds of the way through. Of course, I'd been shaving my upper lip all that time. I completely bungled it; I didn't have a chance to grow any kind of mustache.

How long have you been playing the harp? How did you get into it?

I picked it up just a couple of years ago. At that time, I was getting into Irish music and this was a really different, eye-catching instrument that I thought I could try my hand at. And I wound up loving it. TTC busking was really the first time I went public as a harper.

People rant and rave to me about how thankful they are that I'm sitting here playing it for them. It's something that would be pretty hard for me to lose interest in, now that I've started busking. Every day, numerous people gush about how it's made their day, which I never expected to happen.

What's your genre?

I play some traditional tunes, some Irish tunes. It's getting close to holiday time, so I inject a few Christmas tunes in there just for audience appreciation.

Who are some of your inspirations?

Probably Dorothy Ashby, Harpo Marx, Frank Zappa, and Derek Vell.

Your harp is almost as big as I am, and it looks heavier than, say, a double bass. Do you find it difficult to transport between stations?

The only thing that's difficult about it is when people look at me and they say, "Man! That must be a pain in the ass. You must get so sick of dragging that thing around." I don't, until they push me to think about it. Even then, it's kind of something I suck up. I've dedicated myself to playing this instrument and never feeling limited by it.

Can you tell me a bit about the harp you play?

It's a Gothic style harp with 36 strings. I actually built it from a kit -- it was a project I took on two years ago, because it was the only way I could dream of affording a harp of that size. If I were to buy it assembled from a maker, it could run between $3500 and $6000. I was able to spend just a little over $1000 on the kit, though.

Does your instrument have a name?

I've played around with a couple names for it. I guess not at this point.

What do you do when you're not busking?

I make movies. I do a bit of short film stuff and stop-motion animation. I like traveling, and I aim to do more of that, but I'll have to come up with a plan B as far as taking a musical instrument with me, because the harp just won't work.

You might remember that man who boogied down in front of you the other day, just as I was filming...

That guy was great! He dropped me a dollar. He'd been hustling me for some change earlier in the day. I gave him a dollar, and I'm pretty sure he gave me that dollar right back. I'm pretty sure he just wanted it so that he could come back later, pretend he was someone else, and tip me.

How often does stuff like that happen? People who really stop to connect with you like that, as a busker?

Repeatedly. Probably every couple of tunes. Once every ten minutes, somebody will say something to me. About twice a day, somebody will stop and something outrageous will happen. It'd probably make most people nervous, but the novelty of it is something that entertains me.

Any other interesting stories from your busking that you'd like to share?

There was this one guy who came to me at around 10 a.m. on a Thursday, completely drunk. He requested all these beautiful show tunes and songs from Casablanca that I, sadly, could not play for him. He was disappointed, but he thought he'd stand there and sing every one of them to all the girls that were passing by, chase them down, and demand that they tip me. That backfired.

What's the most interesting thing you've ever had dropped into your bag?

I guess someone tried to drop me a hint once, and left a business card for their hairstyling place.

Watch Derick play traditional songs Trip to Sligo and Country Gardens below.

Every week, TTC Busker Profiles aim to shed some light on the talented people who add a little something to our daily commute -- Toronto's true "underground" musicians.


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