Is it illegal to play music in Delta? The bylaw suggests it is.
Music is noise, according to the Delta bylaw officer who visited my home. He stated that driving by the front of the house with his car window open, he could hear the musicians rehearsing inside. As a neighbour's complaint had been filed with the Corporation of Delta, the bylaw officer was sent to investigate and a $200 fine was the possible outcome.
For reference, this complaint occurred on a Thursday at 11: 30 a.m.
Opening the door to greet the officer, I heard a table saw running in a nearby garage. Power washers running continuously for several hours are not uncommon in our neighbourhood, nor are dogs barking, lawn mowers, tree chippers and a host of other potential auditorially offensive devices.
Don't we consider these kinds of noises sounds of the neighbourhood? Most would agree and consider it as acceptable.
Preferring not to use the term noise when describing the occurrences I hear affords me the latitude to include a child's laughter or excitement in scoring a road hockey goal as sound. A raucous 50th birthday party in a nearby backyard is the sound of celebrating. The skateboard wheels grinding against the road as it scoots down the street sound like a young person's transportation.
A neighbourhood usually learns to get along with these sounds, unless one person objects. It is at this point the individual objecting has a distinct advantage and a lever over the alleged offender.
The way the current bylaw is written is too vague as it pertains to music. It allows one neighbour to exercise control over another. If I don't like your music, I can report it as an offence. Frankly, I can take it even further; if I don't like you, I can use the fact you were merely playing music that I can hear (according to the bylaw) as a reason to create some strife toward you.
So where does that leave practicing live music in Delta? Should it matter if the musicians playing at my home were from the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra or from a rock band? Does a child learning violin deserve more or less leeway than an accomplished blues musician practicing harmonica?
Where are the guidelines? The fact is there are none. Music, according to Delta's bylaw, is noise, so long as one dissenting neighbour says it is.
So as to abide by the law and avoid a $200 fine, I stopped the rehearsal.
The offended neighbour had made their point. The musicians packed up their instruments and moved a few blocks away to the neighbourhood where they had lived with their parents.
It's the same neighbourhood they had rehearsed in for years as they became accomplished songwriters, so accomplished in fact they were chosen as finalists from 10,000 entrants across Canada. A national television spot and accolades from the music industry were the results of those neighbourhood rehearsals, not to mention having a creative outlet has proven to be beneficial with their studies as well as this year they'll complete their degrees at UBC.
If we do not look to clarify how the bylaw is enforced, the message the community inadvertently sends to musicians like theses young men rehearsing is: "We don't want to hear the noise you are making. We are exercising our rights under the law to discourage this kind of behaviour."
The bylaw, as applied, supports that one's rights to quiet enjoyment are more important than another's creative outlet or even vocation. We give an enormous amount of power to as little as one single citizen, when music equals noise if they say it is so.
As written, this bylaw could enforce restrictions on a classical composer, a Grammy Award-wining operatic singer or the next heavy metal guitar hero. There is no distinguishing between genres, instruments, talent or purpose.
Through the actions of one biased individual, the demeanor of a community is reflected? Is this the message we, as a community, want to send to young and old alike? One's intolerance carries more weight than the activity of playing music?
That's all it took. One phone call resulted in a professional rehearsal being scuttled. There was no arbitration, no process for appeal, not even a request to turn it down a bit.
This is the law in Delta, so run your saws, gas-powered leaf blowers, excavators and jack hammers, but don't even think of playing that instrument.