Mike Kupnicki was born with a strong passion for music in Port Hope, Ontario 1918. As a young child he began taking violin lessons and soon the violin was everything. Throughout his life he was always learning as much as he could about it and could never practise enough. The violin was his first and lifelong love.
As he got older Mike followed in his father’s factory working footsteps, and not unlike many young men in Durham Region he got himself a job at GM. It was a good job but there was more to Mike than that. Being a musician and knowing how to play more than the violin, Mike played in many local dance bands and Ukrainian bands to earn extra money but also to keep music in his life. In the early 1950’s Mike ran and booked the popular Edgewater Pavilion in Bobcaygeon, ON. Right in the middle of cottage country it was a summertime dancehall that packed in the locals and tourists. Many touring bands spent time here and for Mike it was a great experience.
Mike knew a lot about music, performing, booking and many different instruments. This led Mike to open a music store in Oshawa, ON. He called it ALTO Music, he liked that it would be listed first in the yellow pages phone books. The first location for Alto was on Albert Street in Oshawa, and during its first week of business Mike made a whopping seven dollars. That didn’t discourage Kupnicki. As time went on ALTO Music grew in popularity and he was running a successful place to purchase musical instruments and take lessons. His family will tell you that deep down he was truly a musician first. So when people came in to rent equipment and if their show didn’t go well he’d often tell them that he would wait until next time when they make some money. He was so obliging and kind to musicians and they used to hang out in his store. He didn’t really care if they bought anything and there were so many times he’d have informal jazz sessions right in the middle of the store. The music store allowed him to immerse himself in music as well as earn a living to support his family. Eventually Alto Music moved to Simcoe Street, where Kupnicki opened two separate locations. He was now able to exhibit all of his musical skills after making this transition. Mike could pick up any instrument a customer was interested in and play it beautifully. Piano, accordion, organ, clarinet, guitar, bass and of course the violin.
Being involved in many kinds of music Mike created his own record label called Alto Records, which was used to record and produce Ukrainian orchestra music in Oshawa in the 50s’ and early 60s’. He also played on these recordings. The label produced six 78 rpm records and two albums. Mike was also known for playing at various Ukrainian weddings and eventually became the first violinist with what is now known as the Ontario Philharmonic based in Oshawa. After three decades in the business and a desire to live in Florida, Kupnicki sold Alto Music to Long & McQuade in 1986. He spent a good portion of the following decade playing with The Florida Orchestra before he passed away in 1997.
Kupnicki’s family are overjoyed about their father receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Oshawa Music Awards. They know their father lived and breathed music. He would have been humbled but deeply honoured about receiving a place in the Oshawa Music Hall of Fame. It would have truly meant the world to him.