What makes a vibrant local music scene?
Jam packed music venues and festivals are essential. Recording studios and radio stations are definitely good. Corporate and government support doesn’t hurt either. Music teachers and music schools are important to provide new blood to the scene. And a final factor might be the availability of quality, reasonably-priced musical instruments and equipment for artists to buy or rent.
In recent years, Edmonton has lost several locally-owned music stores, including Lillo’s, Gordon Price Music, Mother’s Music, Axe Music and Giovanni Music. But one that has survived is Alberta Avenue-area's Myhre's Music, on 118th Ave and 87 St. The family-run music store specializing in stringed instruments keeps its doors open through the efforts of Byron Myhre, son Tanner, wife Kim and employee Thomas Slaymaker. Alfie Myhre is pretty much retired, but he drops in occasionally too.
When you ask Alfie or Byron why the business has survived more than 50 years, they struggle to find an answer. Both agree it has to do with the relationships they’ve built with customers. And that's more than just words. Walk into the store on any given day, and you'll likely experience Alfie or Byron playing the instruments for customers. It's a special experience for visitors, but something that is second nature for the Myhres.
"A young family walks into the store. The parents are nervous. This is unfamiliar territory. Their child’s music teacher has told them they need to buy a ukulele. They have no idea where to begin," explained Byron of a typical store visit. Luckily, the walls of the store are lined with violins, violas, cellos, double basses, mandolins, banjos and guitars.
Usually, coming out from behind the counter, Byron hands an old ukulele to the child and offers a few tips on where to put his or her fingers. The child starts to experiment, Byron grabs an instrument and starts to play along, and soon the room is filled with music. Though the family may leave without buying, Byron says most often, they come back. This type of magical moment happens every day at Myhre's Music, says Byron.
The business of music
Alfie, now 83, says it has been that way since the beginning. The senior's music store business opened in April, 1967, with a store front at the corner of 95th St. and 102. At the time, Myhre--with friend and performing partner Don Evoy--sold only banjos. The 'House of Banjo' had only a few instruments at first, but it also had two proprietors that were enthusiastic, skilled musicians who loved to give impromptu concerts. As well, the pair had wisely located a shop beside a guitar school where students would drop in before or after lessons.
Myhre and Evoy soon became features of the then newly-named Klondike Days, playing dixieland and bluegrass music there and on radio and t.v. where they promoted the music store at the same time. By 1969, the store moved to the Woodcroft neighbourhood, where Myhre and Evoy began teaching, repairing and restoring various stringed instruments.
In the mid 1970s, the music store moved to 124th St. at 107 Ave renaming itself the House of Banjo, Fiddle and Guitar. For a while there was a second location at 112th Ave and 64th St. In 1977, the business moved to its present location and renamed itself Myhre's Music in 2016. Alfie says he likes the community around 118th Ave., a mix of young families to go with the popular festivals and robust arts community along Alberta Avenue.
Through the years, Myhre's Music has picked up numerous accolades from pros like Edmonton Symphony Orchestra violinist Broddy Olson, Grammy Award-winning musician John Reischman, world class fiddler and composer Calvin Vollrath and bassist Mike Lent. Alfie himself is a two-time Grand North American fiddle champion and, not to be outdone, son Byron is also an accomplished fiddle and guitar player, playing with the bluegrass band Jerusalem Ridge.
“Sometimes, you end of giving a show instead of selling something,” Alfie joked.
“People say 'let’s go down and see if they will play a tune'. The experience here is much different than other retail establishments,” said Byron. “Yes, they may have the same selection of instruments, and maybe even lower prices, but they don’t have us."