Paul Hoffert: Lighthouse co-founder and Renaissance man

22Aug14
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Duke Ellington with Skip and Paul Hoffert at Rock Pile May 14, 1969

Exactly 45 years ago this weekend [August 2], Paul Hoffert and the Canadian rock band Lighthouse were playing at the Atlantic City Pop Festival.

They shared the bill with Jefferson Airplane, Creedence Clearwater, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, B.B.King, Tim Buckley, Byrds, Hugh Masekela and American Dream.

Keyboardist Hoffert and drummer Skip Prokop, of Paupers fame, had just formed the rock band with horns and strings, playing their first gig at the Rock Pile in Toronto, May 14, 1969 and Carnegie Hall 11 days later.

This weekend, Hoffert is flying home from Los Angeles where he is on the advisory board of a music company. Sunday will be a family day spent with his wife of 50 years, Brenda, before participating in a conference on intellectual property in Kingston.

And then it’s off to class. The University of Toronto has just cross-appointed him to three different faculties: music, information and law. (He received an honorary degree from U of T two years ago.)

“He’s the ideal guy to plunk into that mix,” says Don McLean, dean of music. “We will use him as a mentor, a catalyst for research discussions, to teach in some cases.”

 While Lighthouse has been part of Hoffert’s life off and on for years, the physicist has wandered many paths, dipping his toe in scientific research, law, music composition and filmmaking.

He is an expert on intellectual property who taught at Harvard’s law school.

He helped invent the algorithm that makes music files smaller, when he was director of Digital Home Jukebox.

The Juno winner got media guru Marshall McLuhan to write the liner notes for his award-winning classical album, Hoffert Violin Concerto .

Hoffert, who composed the music in the Canadian film Outrageous , founded the Screen Composers Guild of Canada and numerous other Canadian arts organizations.

He received the Order of Canada in 2004 for achievement in and service to the arts.

An American who moved here at age 14, he was struck by the lack of agencies promoting culture and worked at getting them set up.

“I attribute my strong Canadian nationalism to my lifelong travels abroad and my immigrant background. It’s hard not to be proud of Canada,” he says.

At the age of 19, Hoffert was already an accomplished musician, stepping in for ill vibraphonist Peter Appleyard at one show. That’s also when he married Brenda, who was 18, at Toronto City Hall, a baby on the way.

They moved in with his father while Hoffert continued his music and studies in physics and chemistry at U of T during the day.

“When you are young, the possibilities are exciting,” says Brenda, a visual artist and lyricist who also manages Lighthouse. “We embrace whatever is out there, good and bad. That’s the situation, let’s figure it out.”

“We were childhood sweethearts,” says Hoffert, sitting beside his spouse on the couch.

He practically dresses in a uniform: black clothing, some colour on the sneakers and a pigtail under his fedora. He explains the pigtail as “all I have left” adding, “After I left the rock scene I became tired of being hassled by customs officials at the borders.

“I kept the tail as symbol of rebellion that officials only see after I’ve passed through customs.”

Gradually he stopped touring with Lighthouse to spend more time with the family and the band disbanded only to reform again.

He earned his daily bread in the science world. Hoffert founded CulTech, an innovative research program at York University, and worked on projects like delivering information via videophone and video-conferencing (this was back in 1995).

Science and music have intersected constantly throughout his career.

“I really didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in technology,” says Hoffert, interviewed in his art-bedecked Lawrence Manor home.

The first thing you see is a giant painting of fellow musician and good friend Don Francks by Michael Crayden.

The three Juno Awards won by Lighthouse (Album of the Year, 1971 to ’73) and his personal award for Classical Album of the Year (1978) are lined up on a shelf. The walls are covered with Brenda’s colourful photographs and their entranceway has been turned into an enchanted forest by a scene painter (who would only paint plants indigenous to Canada when Hoffert wanted more exotic flora).

Read the rest of this article at http://tinyurl.com/oq36s2h .

Paul Hoffert
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