Artist Spotlight: Isaac Hunter Page
“Leave Toronto, something’s calling.
Mississauga traffic’s crawling.
On the 401 and I don’t know what to do.
I’m going to Kitchener-Waterloo.”
– From “Going to Kitchener-Waterloo” by Isaac Hunter Page
Isaac Hunter Page was almost destined to be a musician.
Born into a musical family in Toronto, Page grew up surrounded by a range of musical influence. Classically trained as a composer and conductor, Page began to explore his songwriting more intently over the past year. In his songs, Page seeks to blend his classical and pop backgrounds, telling his stories in musically inventive ways.
Page studied composition and music theory at Wilfrid Laurier University for his undergraduate degree before moving to Ohio, where he completed a Master’s degree in orchestral conducting at Bowling Green State University. During his time at Laurier, Page was well-integrated into the Kitchener-Waterloo music scene. He served as the assistant conductor for the Wilfrid Laurier Wind Orchestra and the Kitchener-Waterloo Youth Orchestra. He is also a founding member of The Yacht Club, a Waterloo-based contemporary music and theatre collective.
Page’s musical pursuits extend far beyond the KW region. Among his many accomplishments, he was awarded a 2017 SOCAN Young Composer Award for his choral piece A Mari Usque Ad Mare.
Despite his many musical successes, Page hasn’t always seen himself as a talented songwriter. Although he wrote occasionally as a teenager, he admits that his friends used to critique his work heavily, and he set aside his pop and indie songwriting explorations to pursue classical music in university.
During the pandemic, songwriting has made a bit of a comeback. “Once everything changed around this time last year, I started writing songs again” he said. Under “Isaac Hunter,” his first and middle names, Page released two EPs in 2020. One of his original songs, “Going to Kitchener-Waterloo,” has somewhat blown up with students in the region. The video has over 50,000 views with hundreds of supportive comments.
Among the musicians who inspire his songwriting, Page highlights songwriter Gabriel Kahane, whose musical undertakings, like Page’s, blend classical and popular influences.
“Gabriel’s music really inspired me because it showed me that you can have musically academic concepts in popular music,” Page said. “I think he does an absolutely beautiful job blending the two styles of classical and pop music. He comes from a classical-focused background, but also grew up playing the guitar.”
There is another key similarity between Page and Kahane: both artists were raised by a famous musician. Page’s father is Steven Page of the Barenaked Ladies, while Kahane’s father Jeffrey Kahane has had an extremely successful career as a concert pianist, conductor and music director.
Page is also inspired by Kahane’s storytelling through song. “Sometimes the production [for Kahane’s music] can be very large or intricate, but at the core of it he’s a fantastic songwriter and storyteller,” he said. “That’s where I draw inspiration; I really love when both the story of the song and the musical concept of the song can be held up and admired.”
Page’s songs from the past year combine classical musical concepts with clever storytelling. In “Going to Kitchener-Waterloo,” his lyrics capture a classic university experience – feeling drawn back to the city where you first stepped out on your own and made some of the most important memories of your life. As Page puts it in his song, “Those four years were the best I ever knew.”
Page listed his father as another one of his musical influences. He explained that he connected deeply with his father’s songs after he left home for university. Living on his own for the first time, the songs started to resonate in a very authentic way. “It wasn’t my dad singing, it was, ‘Wow, this songwriter gets me.’ And then you realize, ‘Oh s***! Was my dad cool at some point? Damn!’”
Page’s parents offered musical guidance long before this realization, too. In addition to his rock singer, songwriter and guitarist father, Page’s mother is a classical flautist. The two encouraged Page to follow his musical interests throughout his childhood.
The everpresent musical expertise was “a mixed blessing” according to Page. “It’s incredibly inspiring on the one hand, because as me and my siblings have done before, you can all collaborate and feed off each other’s energy. But on the other hand, you’re all so good at different things that sometimes you want to compete about being better at different aspects of it.”
There was also no escaping his parents’ well-trained ears. Page, who started out as a pianist, picked up the violin so that he could slack off during music practices. “My mom was a flute player, my dad was a guitar player and they both knew how to play piano. Thinking that I was going to outsmart them, I decided to play the violin. I wasn’t going to have to practice because they couldn’t tell me how to play it better. Little did I know, that’s not how music works.”
Having successful parents, especially a father like Steven Page, has provided an opening into the music industry. One of Page’s favourite musical experiences was conducting the Hamilton Philharmonic chamber orchestra through orchestral arrangements of his father’s music. Two of the arrangements are Page’s own.
Page acknowledges that he’s received a significant advantage, and emphasizes that it’s important that his musical qualifications stand on their own. “I have done the most I can to have my own success,” he said.
Page’s musical accomplishments speak for themselves. He has received numerous accolades for his classical work, and his original songs are becoming popular independently. Speaking about “Going to Kitchener-Waterloo,” Page said, “It somehow made a lot of other people happy and that was shocking and humbling.”
In terms of his next steps, Page’s most immediate desire is “to play a live show.” Beyond that, he hopes to explore his songwriting opportunities further, while still focusing on his passions for composition and conducting.
To see Page’s work, visit https://linktr.ee/isaachunterpage.