Ben Caplan opens up for Hey Rosetta! in Halifax on April 15th, 2011. (Photo: Jonathan Briggins)

University instrumental for Ben Caplan's music career

King's graduate reflects on the balance of school and music


Looking at Ben Caplan, the first thing that jumps out is his long flowing and tangled beard, much like the philosophers he studied at the University of King's College.

The 25 year-old musician, originally from Hamilton but now living in Halifax, will start a live show by walking into the room and announcing his arrival through a megaphone before taking a seat at the piano. What follows is a performance that takes elements of folk and blues rock and delivers through the sounds of guitar, banjo, saxophone, melodica, violin and Caplan's distinctive raspy, growling voice. He knows how to engage a crowd, inviting them to take part in the call and response chorus of songs such as "Conduit".

Ben Caplan graduated in 2010 with a BA in history. Initially, he had planned to pursue a PhD in philosophy, but his focus quickly turned to music.  While he was at school, playing music was on his mind but becoming a musician was not.

"King's was instrumental in making connections for playing music," Caplan says in a phone interview on Thursday in between shows in Sackville and Moncton. He's been on the road for three months promoting his latest album, "In the Time of the Great Remembering."

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Ben Caplan plays his song Strangers. Video by Mitch Fillion for Southern Souls.

Caplan built himself from the ground up as a musician. You can find Caplan with a rotating cast of musicians called the Casual Smokers. Caplan says he found the first 30 or so members, including a professor, through King's.

Back when he was going to university, the aspiring musician would see people jamming in the quad daily. Eventually he walked up and asked if they wanted to make music together.

Caplan says going to King's both influenced and strengthened his songwriting.

"I wouldn't have been able to make the kind of connections that allowed me to build a band and develop as a band leader and as a songwriter unless I was in that environment," he says.

Balancing school and music

Caplan struggled through the last two years of his degree as he tried to move forward as a musician. "Everything else was just an annoying distraction, everything else was just getting in my way which made finishing my degree more difficult," he says. Despite the time consuming tasks of playing shows and booking tours, he was too far into his degree to give up school.

Finding time

Caplan says he felt like there wasn't enough time in the day to do music and school, but in the end he found the time.  Looking back on his days at school, he feels he could have been more patient and let things settle more. Maybe even play a few less shows.

"It was a really good thing, I'm glad I got through it, that I finished in the end," Ben Caplan said about his time at university.

Ben Caplan plays in Quebec City at L'Agitee with Charlotte Cornfield Monday night as he tours throughout the Maritimes, Quebec and Ontario.


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