Western connection sparks ‘Reaction’ in the GTA

What started in residence hallways at Western is continuing on the subway trains of Toronto.

Blake Fleischacker, Amir Fishman and Elan Marko, part of a group called The Good Acoustics, have started what they are calling Train Reaction, a project that finds them playing music together, for free, on Toronto subways.

The group’s following is quickly growing, with commuters grooving to their acoustic tunes. Just recently, they were featured on City TV’s Breakfast Television.

The three young men met for the first time on campus, nearly a decade ago. Fleischacker graduated in 2007 with a Sociology and Writing degree; Marko graduated the following year from Ivey Business School’s HBA program; and Fishman graduated the following year, with a Psychology and Writing degree.

They credit music for bringing them together.

“First night of residence, we met playing guitar in the hallway. I walked around the residence (Medway-Sydenham) and met Elan because I was carrying a guitar in my hand, and he played guitar,” Fleischacker said.

“We just jammed for a month in coffeehouses and in the courtyard of Med-Syd, and then Amir walked up to us one day, holding a hand drum and was like, ‘Guys, want to go from a duo to a trio?’ The rest is kind of history. We played in stairwells, tunnels, all around campus.”

The group grew close, but following graduation, went its separate ways.

“We have all, after university, done our own thing. We all travelled, and were in different places, and when we finally got back together, we were jonesing for a bit for that connection we had back in university. With our busy lives, it was kind of hard to make time for the three of us to get together. Elan and Blake, while I was in Japan, decided to try one day and play on the train,” Fishman explained.

A few impromptu performances on the subway, and Train Reaction started to take shape.

“Basically, when we graduated, there was no more sense of community like there was when we were at Western, when we were so tight. But Blake and I wanted to go and play on the subways for a while because it seemed like it could be really fun. It would be a little bit like a flash mob. The first time we did it, we were crazy nervous. But we eventually took out our instruments and hammered out some songs and people had a great time,” Marko added.

The two saw a good response from the commuter crowd, and six months later, did it again. Now, with all three settled in Toronto, they’re finally back together.

“We thought, ‘Let’s give this a good shot.’ … Commuting really sucks, and it’s boring, and this is a way for us to build a community in our own way, at a grassroots level. We don’t ask people for money. This is an extracurricular thing for fun,” said Marko, a consultant to small business owners and entrepreneurs.

The sense of community certainly has grown, and the Train Reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, the group noted.

“We’ve had people start breakdancing on the train; we’ve had cello players pull out their cellos; we’ve had violin players, sax players,” said Fishman, owner of an outdoor adventure company called Overhang Adventures. “We’ve had people come up to us afterwards and say, ‘Hey my stop was back at College and I rode for an extra 40 minutes with you guys because you were the best part of my day.’ We’ve had people send us emails afterwards saying, ‘You don’t know what a terrible day I’ve had; you guys changed my day.’”

“We’ve had some really touching moments,” added Fleischacker, a youth motivational speaker delivering anti-bullying and leadership seminars. “We’ve had this one woman who told us she had the worst day of her life and this changed her day. We’re doing what we love to do but changing people’s day in some small way.”

“It’s pretty cool since this is Western oriented and we can go full circle,” he continued. “We want to be more intentional, letting people know when they are taking place and they can take part. We are starting a cameo program trying to get some local Canadian musicians who have some clout, have them join in. Not for us. We’re hoping some big deal musician might get a kick playing for some 20 strangers on a train.

“All of this is a testimony to us missing what was easy to build at Western. When you leave and graduate, it’s done. We’ve literally replicated that spirit we had in residence on the train.”