John Larsen’s love affair with music will never die, despite his impending retirement and the closing of his longtime Cook Street business.
He started his career playing bassoon in symphony orchestras and a variety of chamber music groups. For a dozen years he travelled the world sharing his joy of music with appreciative audiences.
Upon returning to his birthplace of Victoria for a visit in the early 1990’s, he and his wife decided they wanted to raise their two daughters here. They returned to Japan, where they were living at the time, and made arrangements to start a new chapter of their lives on Vancouver Island.
“When I got here I got a job at a music store, just for the summer, and I fell in love with the business. I enjoyed the people and their love of music and I decided I wanted to be a part of that,” said the 74-year-old Larsen, speaking softly and looking around his store with a wistful expression.
“It was my wife who suggested I open my own store, saying it was the only way I’d be able to do things in a way that made me happy. She was, as always, quite right.”
For the first year the couple operated the shop from their home, but when they tired of sliding between stacks of instruments stored in every nook and cranny, they purchased their first shop at 1808 Cook St. in 1996. When the Church of God building across the street came up for sale, Larsen’s Music moved into that space, but the original space was retained for lessons programs.
Larsen has based his business model upon a belief that music stores do a better job when they are smaller and more connected to their customers. One of the gaps in the music business in the early days, he said, involved stringed instruments.
“There really wasn’t the kind of expertise in Victoria for stringed musicians, so we hired one of the best guitar repair people in the country and he trained our staff. Instead of just getting instruments in and selling or renting them, we would take new guitars and strip them down and rebuild them for optimum performance. Musicians appreciated that.”
Larsen’s niche in the market has always involved bringing music to children. His business has outfitted bands all over Vancouver Island, always going the extra mile to accommodate requests and be responsive to whatever was needed.
“It’s a great feeling, you know. I loved working with the parents and kids and these days I’m often stopped by young men and women who will tell me about how they got their first instrument from me and how they are still playing … still loving music.”
With the store being sold, the musical instruments that once graced the walls of the store are largely gone. But for Larsen, the memories and music remain.
“I still play, you know. Not as well as I once did, but music has always been a part of who I am and I guess it always will be. You know what the ancient Greeks used to say? Music is the only real way to talk to the gods.”
For Larsen, as he looks around the Church that became a music store, one gets the sense he’ll keep that conversation going long after his music store is gone.