Student sings in Yorkville for tuition

Opera singer has busked a cappella on street corners for years


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A woman contributes to Ian Sabourin’s tuition fund while he performs at Yonge and Bloor

On a busy street corner in Yorkville, Ian Sabourin can often be found singing classical music a cappella to the passing crowds with a bucket and sign that reads “tuition fund.”

Passersby would be remiss if they did not stop and listen to the melodic stylings of the street busker, whose rendition of “Ave Maria,” by Franz Schubert, is likely to get anyone’s attention.

The 21-year-old music student, originally from Ottawa, has been singing on street corners since he arrived in Toronto three years ago. All that spare change adds up, it seems, as Sabourin claimed he’s earned enough money from busking and the opportunities it provides to cover the bulk of his university tuition.

“It’s a really good opportunity to make some extra cash and to sing for the public who’s never exposed to this kind of music and show them that this music is still alive, still relevant and needs to be presented in a way that’s accessible,” said Sabourin. 

His love for classical music began through a men and boys’ choir he was a member of for 10 years in Ottawa. He was in his first year at the University of Ottawa when he was offered the opportunity to study at the University of Toronto (U of T). Around that time, his indie band was also mulling over a move to Toronto, and so he made the decision to migrate with them. 

Sabourin is now in his second year at U of T studying vocal performance, which covers the whole spectrum of classical music including Renaissance music and pieces from the baroque and romantic periods.

Busking is an adventure, and Sabourin said he never knows quite what to expect. He’ll sing for about an hour or so, in all kinds of weather. Along with the more standard tips, he’s also received condoms, snacks, bottles of water and, occasionally, a good book.

“I’ve been offered a lot of bibles,” he said. But one of the best tips, aside from a surprise $100 bill, was the phone number of a girl who he ended up dating for a while.

“It was nice,” he said, because she was “the first girl that didn’t know I was an indie singer first. It was strictly opera. That was cool.”

Not only loonies and snacks fall into his bucket. So do opportunities. Sabourin said he’s often discovered by people who want to hire him for special occasions, like weddings, funerals, corporate events and private parties. His voice has even caught the attention of listeners who, he said, have become private sponsors, one going so far as to fund one semester of university last year. 

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