Growing up, Joe Vizvary wanted to be one of two things: a pro hockey player or a rock star. A severe hand injury derailed the hockey career, so Vizvary became a rock star.
If only it had been that simple. "It's been an interesting and weird journey to get here," said Vizvary, 55, with a laugh.
Today, he teaches music and English courses at Princess Margaret Secondary.
In the 1980s, Vizvary was keyboardist for Images in Vogue, a New Wave band that played electro-pop songs.
The son of Hungarian immigrants, Vizvary was lucky for the chance to be in a rock band at all, never mind one that toured alongside the likes of Duran Duran, Depeche Mode and Bryan Adams.
Vizvary was born in 1956 during the Hungarian Revolution. When he was just 17 days old, his parents smuggled him out of the country in a wicker basket and fled to Vienna. The family then joined the 3,000 Hungarian refugees accepted by Canada, and lived at the Abbotsford airforce base for six months until a family in Vancouver agreed to sponsor their stay.
As they set down roots in Vancouver, there was little opportunity to learn English and Vizvary was halfway through Grade 1 before he could hold a conversation with his English-speaking classmates. But he soon became a typical Canadian kid, in love with hockey and playing guitar, and decided rather ambitiously that he would either play in the NHL or be a rock star.
When Vizvary broke his thumb during a hockey game at age 15, everything changed. The break was so severe, it ruined the rest of his hockey season and - adding insult to injury - crippled his thumb so badly that he would never be any better than a "crappy guitar player."
Demoralized, Vizvary turned to the keyboards by default. Ironically, his parents had been making him take lessons from an octogenarian piano teacher for years, so he was already pretty accomplished on the ivories. Still, before their son could run off and join a band, Vizvary's parents made him go to university and get a teaching degree, and promise to spend no more than five years trying to make it as a keyboardist before getting a real job in the classroom.
"I said I wanted to pursue music - just give me five years. And they agreed."
Images in Vogue was born on April 29, 1981; by Sept. 26 of that same year, the band had a demo tape and their first live performance, complete with a concert poster designed by a young up-and-coming artist named Douglas Coupland.
A deal with record company WEA Canada (now Warner Music Canada) followed on March 25, 1983 - almost five years to the day Vizvary had promised his parents he would return to teaching if he couldn't make a living in a band. From there, Images in Vogue recorded its first hit single, "Lust for Love," and enjoyed the popularity that came from touring Canada and beyond.
And while other bands were creating music videos that were nothing more than taped recordings of their performances, Images in Vogue was the first B.C. band to create a music video that told a story. It was six months before MuchMusic even existed.
The band's journey wasn't all screaming fans and fat paycheques, though. Invited on Duran Duran's entire West Coast U.S. tour after their Pacific Coliseum performance, Images in Vogue only made the Seattle show. That's because they were sent back to Canada to get a work permit; this being pre-NAFTA times, once they returned to Canada, they couldn't get back into the U.S. with the required permit and Duran Duran's Seven and the Ragged Tiger tour went on without them.
Ever determined, the band went on to record and release music, but disagreements with WEA were constant, and at the time the company was more focused on promoting another Canadian upstart: Honeymoon Suite. Images in Vogue eventually split from WEA and moved to Toronto in search of another record and management company. They played constantly, but Vizvary says ultimately the story went like Bryan Adams' "Summer of '69," and members all went their separate ways. Vizvary is quick to note, however, that he never quit, and he remains a member of Images in Vogue.
The band will reunite again in Toronto on Nov. 30 to perform a few songs as part of a 30th-anniversary concert staged by The Spoons, old pals of the band. It's been eight years since Images in Vogue last performed, in 2004 at the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver, also with The Spoons. For the Toronto gig this month, band members will fly in from as far afield as Vietnam.
Today, instead of screaming teenage fans, it's students of the Surrey school district who benefit from Vizvary's experience and musical talents. Vintage posters and memorabilia in the corner of Vizvary's classroom at Princess Margaret Secondary remind students that if a young non-English-speaking Hungarian refugee with a broken hand can make a dream come true, they can, too.
"I didn't just randomly hope to become a musician. I had a set of goals that I had to accomplish," said Vizvary, "and I had to work very hard."
Vizvary joined the teaching staff at Princess Margaret in 1998. In addition to English, he teaches music composition and technology, keyboards, electronic music, band and video production. He also started a DJ club for students and he and colleague Peter Nikkel, who teaches the guitar and singer/songwriter programs at PM, built a recording studio in the music room. Nikkel started the school's modern music program in 1998 while Vizvary started the keyboard program in 2002 and the video program in 1999.
"More than being a musician, teaching is a better way to do something positive with my skills and talent," Vizvary said.
The school has a large population of new Canadians, and Vizvary's perspective of coming to this country as a refugee also gives students a sense of the opportunities they now have.
Vizvary's students conduct performances a couple of times a year at the school, and have also created a SoundCloud page where other students, teachers and parents can download student recordings for later listening.
"Everybody deserves music in their life," said Vizvary. "It's one of life's great joys."
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