He’s an up and coming musician on Winnipeg’s music scene, but unless you’ve seen Nic Dyson in person, you’d never guess that he has cerebral palsy.
“There’s a fine line between acknowledging it and ignoring it,” said Dyson. “I was born with it and it’s very mild. It’s not debilitating and it’s purely physical. There’s nothing wrong with my brain.”
His condition isn’t stopping him from doing what he loves, even if he was bullied because of it when he was younger.
“I was a social outcast,” said Dyson. “I didn’t talk to anybody. I had one group of guy friends and I was the social outcast of that group. I was the weakest link. I was picked on and bullied by them, but they were all that I had. So I stuck with them.”
Dyson experienced exclusion. He was picked last in gym class and not included in games. He said he understood, because he knew people thought he’d slow them down.
“I was well aware that people treated me differently,” said Dyson.
It wasn’t until 2011 when he was able to take his love for music to the next level. He attended a camp called Artspeak, which was offered through Sunrise School Division.
“I met a group of people there and they inspired me to start singing because of their friendship,” said Dyson. “When I went there, I realized what true friendship was. They didn’t judge me and they encouraged me.”
When Dyson came back, he went through a bout of a depression because his new friends were from different schools. He used music and songwriting as a way to cope with how he was feeling.
“I was sad for a while and I wrote my first song about them. Just to deal with the sadness. I kept it inside for a couple of months before I showed anybody,” said Dyson.
Later that semester, Dyson auditioned for his school’s talent show. He had played his guitar before, but this time he was also planning on singing.
Dyson played a City and Colour song for his teacher and a room full of other kids who were auditioning.
“I always sing with my eyes closed and when I opened them, everyone was crying. It was a big moment for me because besides the people at Artspeak, that was the first audience that I ever sang in front of.”
Dyson went to two schools earlier this year to share his experiences with bullying and to play some of his songs.
Dyson played at his friend’s art show a year ago. His friend’s mother and acquaintance were there and are both teachers. After his set, they asked if he’d consider coming to their schools to share his music and experiences on bullying.
“I was like, ‘of course,’ but I never thought it would actually happen.”
His friend’s mom approached him again and asked if he’d come to the school she worked at, Neil Campbell School, during anti-bullying week. Dyson happily agreed because he enjoys helping people.
“I write songs to create something positive out of the extreme negatives that I have to experience in my life,” he said. “I feel that if I can do that, then maybe my sadness isn’t so bad, especially since I share these songs. If I can help someone with their songs or mine, then it’s making a difference.”
At the school, Dyson spoke to grade-schoolers about his experiences with bullying and about the people he met at Artspeak.
“I talked about how those people were kind and caring and non-judgemental and how they really opened my eyes to how friends should be treated. It really made a difference in my eyes.”
Dyson played a few of his songs and got the kids to sing along. He said he knew right away they really looked up to him.
One of the greatest things to ever happen to Dyson occurred outside the gym, after his talk.
“One of the girls that was in the presentation was walking with me and telling me how awesome I was. One of the girls who wasn’t in the presentation, came and walked beside us. She looked at me and said, ‘why do you walk like that?’ The girl that was in the presentation said, ‘That’s just the way it is and that’s that.’ I know if I didn’t have that presentation, she wouldn’t have said that. It was an immediate gratification that I just made a difference for both those people.”
One of his friends and fellow musician, Scott Miller, was an educational assistant at Samuel Burland School, where Dyson came to talk to the entire student body.
Dyson was interviewed by Miller and played some songs with him.
Miller said Dyson was met with a positive response from the students.
“It’s entertaining and it comes through as a positive message in the end,” said Miller. “It’s not him being sad about it, it’s him telling his story and how it’s only affected him positively.”
Dyson studies education at the University of Winnipeg and hopes of becoming a teacher who makes a difference to his students.
“I wanna be that teacher that inspires. I think we all have at least one teacher that inspired us along the way, so I wanna be that teacher.”
He already feels he makes a difference because students recognize him on the street.
“I’ve been recognized by some of these kids in public. They’ll be like, ‘you played at my school’ and it’s happened to me more than a couple of times, which is pretty incredible that they’d remember me and want to talk to me.”
Dyson released his first EP, Dreaming Under a Broken Tree, in May 2012. His second EP, This One’s For You, was released in August.
He’s played a string of headlining shows across Winnipeg and rural Manitoba. He opened for popular local bands like Kids and Heroes, Latka and Take Me to The Pilot.
This One’s For You is available on iTunes.