Jeff Burke was missing something central to his very being — a bassoon the Toronto street musician and subway busker describes as “a part of me.”
“The bassoon I had, my dad helped me buy, co-signed the bank loan,” Burke told CBC Toronto.
“I’ve had my Fox bassoon for 32 years.”
On Jan. 5, Burke was on his way home in the Bloorcourt Village area when he left his instruments unattended for a few moments while he took a bathroom break.
“I came back and they were gone,” Burke said.
“Everything that musically mattered to me was gone in that instant.”
Burke searched the immediate area, checking every dumpster, alley and open shop, for any lead.
But there was no sign.
“It was devastating. It was a shock. I just fell into depression,” he said.
After a month-long ordeal tracking down serial numbers for his instruments with help from friends and trying to collect information on his own, Burke hit a dead end. He filed a police report.
A small community of Burke’s friends and fans decided to start a crowdfunding campaign.
Leo Nelson, who’s known Burke for 25 years, put the page online.
“A bunch of us sat down after a dance event and decided that we needed to raise money for him,” Nelson said.
‘Like taking the wings off a bird’
The campaign raised $8,817 in just five days. The goal was $10,000, the money it would cost Burke to replace his bassoon and other instruments like his theremin and Irish whistles.
Burke said he expected the campaign might raise a couple hundred dollars.
“Taking the instruments off a person like Jeff, is like taking the wings off a bird,” said Nelson.
Burke’s music and personality has had a such massive impact on his listeners, fans and friends that some even donated large sums such as $500.
Burke was extremely grateful for their help.
“It’s like being cold and alone and all of a sudden a whole bunch of people come and say, ‘Here’s a warm coat, here’s a warm drink,'” he said.
“I’m still hopeful.”
TTC reunites Burke with his Bassoon
Burke’s hope wasn’t misplaced.
Sue Motahedin, head of the customer service for the TTC, sent a tweet saying the bassoon had been turned in to their lost articles office in January.
She said one of their employees saw Burke’s story in the news and connected the dots.
Burke and his bassoon were reunited Tuesday, along with the rest of his equipment.
“It’s nice to be me again,” he told CBC Toronto.
“I’ve spent much of the last five weeks in a very emotionally dark place.”
He said when he shared what had happened with the people around them, he was very surprised by the response.
When he saw a man walking toward him with his bassoon case on Tuesday, he said he hadn’t felt happy like that a long time.
“It was just overwhelmingly incredible because I had given up hope that I would see it again.”