First Nation piano man tells mom ‘he’s made it’ as he opens up to APTN

Etched Ryan Arcand’s face are lines that hold the memories of a lifetime of misfortunes, and make him appear much older than his 43 years.

By Brandi Morin
APTN National News
EDMONTON – Etched onto Ryan Arcand’s face are lines that hold the memories of a lifetime of misfortunes, and make him appear much older than his 43 years.

Arcand has called the streets of Edmonton home for more than 20 years and has learned to survive.

Estranged from family, he finds comfort in the liberty of wandering alone. Except now, his face has become recognized around the world since a video featuring him playing a public  piano at Churchill Square in Edmonton went viral last week.

Through the hardness of life on the streets an exceptionally gifted player and composer shone through on camera.

Arcand is glad to share his talent, though he never wanted to be famous.

APTN spotted the remarkably talented Arcand downtown Edmonton on Nov. 1

It was around noon and he was drinking a bottle of Listerine concealed in a plastic bag. The tongues of his runners stuck out because the laces were taken by staff at a recent hospital stay.

He no longer had a full head of unkempt, chin length, black hair and a mustache seen in the online video. Instead he is bald and said he shaved his hair at the hospital.

He explained he was OK and had sought out medical care for a bit of anxiety.  His near toothless grin accentuated his friendly demeanor when he explained he never expected to become famous and the sudden recognition is a little overwhelming.

“I’m scared, but I’m happy. I have to walk through back alleys where people don’t see me. Or maybe I’ll just put on a wig or a dress so people don’t recognize me,” he joked.

His stories are a bit scattered and he quickly jumps from one topic to the next. He is jittery until he is able to find some beer and after a few swigs eases into conversation.

Playing music for a living has always been a dream of his, however, it has been harder to pursue through his many adversities.  Arcand comes from a broken and dysfunctional family background. He is a member of the Alexander First Nation but was raised off reserve in foster care with his younger brother, Blake.

It was in one of those foster homes where the boys eventually found solace through their mutual love of music.

Arcand first fell in love with the piano around age 8. He taught himself to play and wrote his first song, the one from the online video, when he was just 13.

His Aunt, Ruth Arcand, said she always knew the two brothers were talented and she’s happy that her nephew is finally being noticed.

“I want to tell him, ‘Come on, and wake up! This is your chance to get out of this,’” said Ruth.  “He doesn’t have to live his life in the dark.”

For years Arcand has struggled with an addiction to alcohol

“I wish he could go to treatment and maybe that will help encourage him. I would say ‘Don’t give up, people love and care about you,’” said Ruth.

Sometimes he sleeps in back alleys, dumpsters and even seeks warmth at local hospitals. But to him, it’s the only life he knows how to live.

“Being homeless is just like being free. You can do whatever you want. You can go wherever you want. It has its advantages, but a lot of disadvantages. It’s not easy. But you learn from your experiences,” Arcand said.

His brother Blake also used to live on the streets but was able to break away from that lifestyle and now lives with a roommate in Edmonton. He said that Arcand always had a natural way with music and that he could pick up and play any song by ear. Blake also writes songs, plays his guitar and busks on city streets regularly. He said he hasn’t seen his brother in a long time but is happy for him.

“Ryan has walked the fire and the shadows of life,” he said. “He needs some light in his life.”

Arcand’s birth mother, Marilyn Simon, who had been estranged from her son for over four years was surprised to learn of his sudden fame.

“I couldn’t believe it. I’m so happy. I knew he had a talent for music, along with his brother,” she said. “They used to visit me and used to sing together. They were a twosome. I knew they were talented.”

In light of the recent events Arcand was inspired to reconcile with his mother and spoke with her over the telephone.

“Did you see me on Youtube?” he asked her. “I love you mom. I made it.”

Apologized for past wrongdoings

He went on to apologize for any past wrongdoings and displayed a spark of hope for new beginnings. The Beginning is the name of the enchanting melody he wrote seen on the viral video that has inspired viewers worldwide.

While stopping to pick out cigarette butts at an outdoor ashtray, Arcand explained he is forever “looking for a drag.”

He went on to share that he loves people and children; his favourite pizza is Hawaiian and his current favourite song is John Legend’s All of Me. It’s his love of music that has kept him going whenever he’s felt down and several times in the past, from taking his own life.

“You can be religious, but not believe. But me, I believe and I’m not religious. I believe in a higher power, in the Creator. And I thank the Creator and I love the Creator for giving me this gift.”

If there are opportunities to travel and play music yet to come out of this experience, Arcand said he wouldn’t hesitate to make an honest effort to get sober. He has a number of other original songs and dreams of one day owning a Roland E-36 Keyboard. He would like to record an album of his music and maybe, he will track down his brother Blake and the two can again make music together.

Whatever happens, Arcand encourages any other unknown musicians to share their talents with others.

“Don’t be scared to come out of the shadows and just play. It pays off,” he said.


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5 thoughts on “First Nation piano man tells mom ‘he’s made it’ as he opens up to APTN

  1. What an awesome story! I hope Ryan does pair up with his brother Blake and they can both follow their dreams.

  2. Glad to see my cousin is still using music to survive! Our familys story is sad and broken! I hope ryan is able to finally get the help he needs

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