Teacher seeks donated instruments

NANAIMO: Elementary band program starts at Park Avenue school this year.

Hugh Middleton

Hugh Middleton

A little energy and enthusiasm on the part of Park Avenue Elementary School’s music teacher has made a band program possible at the school.

Before Hugh Middleton took the job at the south Nanaimo school this fall, he talked to the principal about starting up a band program.

“We both agreed that a band program would be a good and a viable thing for the school and we made it happen,” he said. “We have a program with 45 kids in it who have never played an instrument before and [last week] they played Hot Cross Buns for me.”

While the program is going forward this year with a combination of donated, borrowed and rented instruments, Middleton’s goal is to purchase an inventory of instruments for students to use, along with a pot of money the school can use to maintain those instruments, so that the program will endure in times when families don’t have the money to buy or rent instruments.

To that end, he secured the school board’s support last week to apply for a $10,000 ‘Band Aid’ grant from MusiCounts, a Canadian charity devoted to helping keep music alive in schools.

Many children at Park Avenue come from families that are making ends meet, but if one parent loses a job or unexpected expenses crop up, paying for instruments is out of the question, said Middleton.

“That grant will solidify our program in the future,” he said.

He plans to start an after school rock ‘n’ roll club as well.

Learning a musical instrument requires people to exercise all parts of the brain at once, said Middleton.

“It makes your brain work better,” he said. “Music is one of those activities, for most of the children, that they’re very happy doing. They teach themselves once they have the fundamentals.”

Principal Karina Younk, who donated her flute, said when she initially tried to set up a band program at Park Avenue last year, she called other elementary schools that feed into John Barsby Secondary School to see if they could somehow jointly offer band, and none of them had a program.

“A lot of these kids would never have had an opportunity to take music lessons,” said Younk. “It’s a whole different language. It allows us to have passions and pleasures in all different areas.”

Jamie Brennan, school board chairman, said the district used to have a music coordinator who oversaw band programs in elementary schools across the district, but this position was eliminated in the 1980s as part of a string of budget cuts.

As a result, not all schools have band programs, he said.

“We do support music programs as much as we are able, but we rely on the energy and expertise of our teachers,” said Brennan. “For kids, it’s a great opportunity and wherever we can provide that, we will, but we’re really not in a position right now for it to be universal.”

Elementary schools don’t have purpose-built spaces for band programs like secondary school programs do and two years ago, trustees voted to open empty and boarded up classrooms at schools with no dedicated space for music teachers to use.

Middleton is still accepting donations of musical instruments. To donate, please call him at Park Avenue at 250-754-5591.

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