Christmas came in April for the music family at Wellington Heights Secondary School.
The Mount Forest school’s music program received a $10,000 grant from MusiCounts, Canada’s Music Education Charity, and welcomed the first shipment of equipment on April 4.
“There were lots of tears over there,” said art department head Nichola McEwan. “I could see in the kids’ faces they were emotional about it.”
The school was one of 77 in Canada to receive a portion of the $675,000 given to schools.
To set Wellington Heights apart from other applicants, McEwan said she highlighted the contrast between the socioeconomic background of the population with the student’s sense of community.
“Even though a lot of our students don’t have a lot, we give all the time,” she said. “Our Me to We is huge. Our Warm Winter Wishes is huge. Our kids are constantly giving.”
Paired with the fact that the school’s music equipment has reached the end of its life, Wellington Heights was awarded the $10,000 grant.
“I’ve been teaching for 30 years so I know what I’ve had and what I haven’t had,” said music teacher Kim Stewart. “So I told Nichola just which ones should be in mothballs instead of being played in and that kind of thing too.”
The music program at Wellington Heights has between 70 and 80 students and both teachers stressed that for those students it’s essential.
“It might be a small amount of kids but it’s really important to those kids and I think having new equipment and having fresh things and keeping that going is going to help us keep the interest and help us keep the kids coming back,” McEwan said.
She also explained Stewart has students coming back to the school to participate in band practice even after they graduate.
“Last year our drama department put on a little skit and Kim had the band up playing and I’m sitting there watching and I’m like, ‘hey she doesn’t go here anymore,’ and that happens all the time,” McEwan said. “Kids who have been through the music program, as soon as they’re back home from college or university, they’re back in the music room with Kim.”
Stewart explained the music environment has a family atmosphere.
“I don’t like it when they leave so I’m really happy when everyone comes back,” she said.
She also emphasized that music provides an emotional outlet for her students.
“If you’re hammering math and science all the time and they come in and they have a music class and it’s just, ‘I want to play’ … and they are … not very happy, if you want to call it that, whenever we’re doing history or theory because I have to do that,” she said with a laugh.
Though the teachers learned they had received the grant in mid-February, they had to wait until the beginning of April to announce it to the public. They spent the weeks in between taking inventory of equipment and deciding what could be repaired and what needed to be replaced.
“We took one of the major things off (the list) because I wanted a baritone [saxophone] and realized it was going to eat up more than half the budget,” Stewart said. “So we can’t do that and we desperately needed a bass clarinet. No question. We needed it. So we did a wants (versus) needs.”
Stewart’s bass clarinet player, Kira Thring, a Grade 12 plus student, said she was overwhelmed by the new instruments.
“I actually cried a lot when I opened it,” said Thring. “Just because [the old one] was so difficult to play, it was in to get fixed all of the time, like always. And so when I got this one I was just like now I don’t have to worry about not having it all the time.”
She also said it’s easier to play the new equipment.
“I can hold notes longer because … you have to have a lot more air into playing the old one and the new one I can sustain notes much longer than before and it’s so much smoother and the buttons are so much nicer,” she said. “I just, I don’t even know what to say about it, I’m just so excited.”
The other music equipment purchased includes new pieces of music, new clarinets, flutes, a new bass guitar and amplifier, new mouthpieces, new skins for all the drums, conga drums and new cymbals, to name a few. The grant is also paying for repairs to equipment the teachers deemed good enough to keep.
“They weren’t huge amounts, but still that was a good couple hundred bucks out of the budget to have those repairs done, but it was still worth it to do that,” McEwan said.
Stewart said the new equipment would give the students more confidence.
“We’ve got the instruments and so they can rise to the occasion so their abilities will advance as well because the instrument’s not holding them back,” she said.
“They’ll feel better about themselves too because ‘I’ve got a new instrument, I’m important’ that kind of thing.”
Though the grant couldn’t replace all the music equipment, McEwan said she hopes it’s a starting point for future repairs and equipment.
“I think this is going to set us up and we’ll take other steps in terms of maybe getting rid of, or trying to sell, some of the really old stuff that we’re not using and use the money that we can generate from that to make other small improvements,” she said.
“I’m hoping this is like a snowball effect for us and … people are excited, kids want to be more involved and that just gets bigger and bigger.”
While the first shipment arrived on April 4, the school will be receiving the rest of the new and repaired equipment throughout the school year and should have everything before the end of June.
“So there’s more little Christmases to come,” McEwan said.
For the students the experience has been memorable.
“This was one of the first times I’ve seen new stuff come into that room,” Thring said. “Everyone was really overwhelmed just because we only have old things, so when we have this huge shipment come in of all this new stuff everyone was so excited because we had never seen anything like that before. We just don’t get that kind of funding here. So it was awesome.”