As a little kid singing in the school chorus, Steve Jones knew music would be part of his life.
Grade school music classes led to clarinet and then saxophone in the high school band, followed by training as a music educator at Central Washington State University.
His 35-year career as a music teacher at Vancouver Island University and Wellington Secondary School earned Jones the Excellence in Culture Award from the City of Nanaimo. He joins Sandra Thomson, who won the Honour in Culture Award for her work to establish the Port Theatre, in an award presentation May 4.
“I knew music was something special,” Jones said. “It was really all I did in high school – I was a band-room rat.”
After graduation, Jones attended Okanagan College near his hometown of Vernon, B.C., before transferring to Central Washington. There he learned the long-standing American tradition of marching band when he was handed a uniform early one morning.
“Then we were out in the field practising the marching and the drills,” he said.
Returning to Canada, Jones taught for four years in Port Alberni before taking a job in the music department at Malaspina University. With only 15 students, Jones also taught music to elementary school students in south Nanaimo.
“It was essentially part time. The program at Malaspina was very small,” he said. “It was just getting started.
“The first couple of years were a little crazy.”
The Malaspina – now VIU – music program produced a slew of successful musicians, including Ingrid and Christine Jensen. Diana Krall, although not a post-secondary student of Jones, played in the college’s concert band.
“We purposely scheduled band practices for after school so the high school students could participate,” he said. “Diana was one of those.”
The music teacher’s relationship with his or her students is much more emotional and personal than other educator-pupil relationships. Healthy music programs have turned inner city schools into vibrant learning centres and research supports the need for arts programs in education, Jones said.
“This is something special within the structure of the school,” he said. “It’s not a frill ... outside the three-R kind of thinking.”
Despite the positive effect on students, arts education and support is tougher than ever to secure, said Jones.
Dozens of dance bands used to play every weekend in Nanaimo, from night clubs to corporate events. Jones said he could be busy five or six nights a week.
“Students want teachers involved in what they do,” he said. “The ones who are driven and want music in their lives do that.”
Jones is still teaching and currently covering all the Wellington music classes while Carmella Luvisotto is on maternity leave. He plans to be back at VIU in the fall and will also be adjudicating jazz festivals, including MusicFest Canada in Richmond next month.
Jones, along with Thomson, will accept his award during a ceremony at the Port Theatre May 4, 7 p.m. Reservations must be made to 250-755-7501 by Tuesday (April 26) to attend.