Alex Gillespie remembered with music scholarships

From left, Tyler Pearse and Aaron Cheung were awarded $1,000 each from Set Sail: the Alex Gillespie Music Fund, represented by fund president Kathryn Wright and vice president Wayne Webster. PHOTO: Jon Muldoon
From left, Tyler Pearse and Aaron Cheung were awarded $1,000 each from Set Sail: the Alex Gillespie Music Fund, represented by fund president Kathryn Wright and vice president Wayne Webster.
PHOTO: Jon Muldoon

For two young music lovers, a scholarship from Set Sail: the Alex Gillespie Music Fund is a welcome contribution toward each of their training for future careers.

For Kathryn Wright, it’s a chance to turn the tragedy of Gillespie’s death at age 17 into a legacy of helping other young musicians hoping to find a career in some aspect of the music business.

“Nothing will ever ease the pain of losing Alex, but what we can do is honour him,” she said in her opening remarks before handing over cheques for $1,000 each to Aaron Cheung and Tyler Pearse in her Queen Street East office on June 22.

Pearse was nominated by his former principal at the Etobicoke School for the Arts.

“This young man overcame serious health concerns to become one of our lead performers in music theatre,” wrote Rob MacKinnon in his nomination letter. “Tyler contributed to the life of the whole school, was a positive influence on the music theatre program and brought out the best in his peers.”

Pearse has just finished his first year in the music theatre program at Sheridan College.

“It’s been amazing, it’s been such a great experience,” he said.

The Set Sail scholarship will be a great help in following his one true passion, he said.

“For me singing and dancing is the main thing. I don’t really do anything else, to be honest.”

Cheung will be attending U of T for music in September, and was set to earn his Grade 10 in violin and Grade 6 in piano at the Royal Conservatory of Music by the end of last week. The multi-talented instrumentalist also plays guitar and bass, playing all four instruments in a variety of groups covering everything from classical to jazz to hip-hop.

He said the Set Sail scholarship was both a big help and also a bit humbling.

“It’s a great honour, especially coming from such a great family,” he said.

“I’ve heard such great things about Alex,” he added.

Wright emphasized that money is not the only benefit Set Sail can offer. With a list of honorary patrons that includes New Orleans jazz heavyweight Trombone Shorty, hip hop artist Classified (one of Alex’s favourites), Kevin Hearn of the Barenaked Ladies, singer Dan Hill, and more, awards can consist of anything from marketing help to studio time, or from mentoring to scholarships.

“We don’t want to just hand out money, we want to help people with precisely what they need at the time,” said Wright.

Set Sail vice president Wayne Webster added that there’s no set type of musician who qualifies – anyone is welcome to apply for assistance.

“Basically we’re just trying to help people who could use the help,” he said.

Mark Walker, known on stage as EPDMC, is a hip hop artist in Nova Scotia, where Alex spent summers with family. Walker was awarded a $2,500 Apple gift card to acquire computer equipment for music production and recording.

Former Toronto student Matthew Morris was given a $1,000 scholarship to go towards the education he’s pursuing at Berklee College of Music in Boston.

Wright said there are loose plans in the works for upcoming fundraisers, and the board has applied for official charitable status. In the meantime, funds from an early event held shortly after Alex’s death – which also helped pay for a memorial tree and bench by the boardwalk – are supplemented by donations.

“The long-term goal really would be to make it a national organization,” said Wright.

To find out more about Alex Gillespie, Set Sail, or to make a donation, see

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