Calgary

Eat to the beat at the Cornerstone Music Cafe

They’re seeing a surge of older musicians wanting to scratch an instrument off their bucket lists

Sylvia Johnston

Sylvia Johnston transformed a small music school in southeast Calgary into a community gathering space. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

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There's a tiny music school in Deer Ridge, near the entrance to Fish Creek Park, that has been in the same spot for 27 years — the first occupant of the strip mall it calls home.

Kids and grown ups have been learning guitar, drums, piano, saxophone and violin and honing their voices in the private rooms in the back ever since.

When Sylvia Johnston came to the studio as a receptionist — an unsuccessful attempt to leave the food industry — she found herself daydreaming about how the space could be better utilized, how it could become more of a community hub.

She and her now-husband, Jim — who was (and still is) an instructor at the studio — took the place over, gave it a makeover and reopened in the fall of 2011.

Cornerstone Music Cafe was born.

Today, there's a fancy cappuccino machine and Cafe Rosso beans, food made from scratch and beer and wine on offer in the front to make parents' waits easier.

Cornerstone Music Cafe

Butter chicken is one of the most popular items at Cornerstone, but you’re likely to find coconut chickpea, lamb or lentil curry on the menu as well. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

On the walls, black-and-white photos show that both music and food run in the family: Johnston at age four, whipping cream with Jetson-esque hand beaters, her grandmother in her cafe in Irvine (a hamlet east of Medicine Hat) and her husband as a toddler playing piano.

Cornerstone music students range in age from 15 months to 75 years — the business is seeing a surge of older musicians wanting to scratch an instrument off their bucket lists and many who've been laid off and find themselves with time to kill.

Cornerstone even offers interactive online lessons via your laptop computer or iPad.

All the food is made in-house, from the Gouda mac & cheese and chorizo tacos, to the curries Johnston has become known for.

After living and working in Africa and the U.K., she began learning and honing her curry-making techniques, starting each with her own masala blend, as evidenced by the jars of spices lined up on a kitchen shelf.

Her butter chicken is one of the most popular, and you're likely to find coconut chickpea, lamb or lentil curry on the menu as well.

This year, Johnston put a freezer in the front foyer and offered up frozen containers of curries and soups for busy families to take out, and they've been a hit.

Cornerstone Music Cafe

The Cornerstone Music Cafe has become a community gathering place, combining two things that always bring people together — music and food. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

The entire menu can be ordered gluten-free — including an extensive array of baked goods — with the exception of the individually wrapped sandwiches.

If you stay in, you won't necessarily be subjected to the sounds of beginner clarinet. The tiny cafe makes an intimate venue for live musicians, and some of Alberta's best singer/songwriters, Juno award-winners and musicians just starting out play on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons.

There are open jams and sing-alongs, which often double as fundraisers for local causes.

It has become a community gathering place, combining two things that always bring people together — music and food.

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