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The Bridge: Tip of the Iceberg

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On October 12, a handful of students and teachers from the Marcel A Desautels Faculty of Music and more than fifty enthusiastic middle school students gathered in the theatre at Hugh John Macdonald School to embark on this year’s Bridge journey. Students from grade 5-9, from all over the world and from many linguistic backgrounds, are exploring music as a universal language. The task is daunting, exhilarating, challenging, gratifying and, above all, exciting.

The Bridge kicked into gear last winter, but this year is seeing a lot of firsts. A big one for me is that I have the chance to step into the band director’s position. I’m a saxophonist—I’ve been performing around the city for several years with various ensembles, including the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra—but teaching is a twin passion for me, so connecting with these kids as they discover their musical voices is a thrill. Curtis Nowosad, who was part of last year’s pilot, is back as the Assistant, and we’ve had several other mentoring musicians in the mix along the way. Some of those are young professionals in the community, some are students in the U of M’s jazz pedagogy course. Steve Kirby and Charlene Diehl are on deck often as well.

Again this year, we meet two afternoons each week—we gather for the final class of the day on Monday and Wednesday, then spend a couple of hours together as part of the after-school Peaceful Village program. For the first few weeks, we built on last year’s core of rhythm section instruments—drums, guitars, basses, and pianos—and worked on rhythm exercises.

Then in November, we added a whole battery of instruments to the mix—trumpets, trombones, saxophones, flutes, and clarinets. At first, just learning to assemble and hold the instruments has been chaotic fun, but now we’re digging into the basics of embouchure and breath support, starting and stopping together, dynamics, and articulation.

Some fine players are already emerging. We have a couple of very good drummers who cut their teeth in last year’s program. We have a grade 9 guitarist I have dubbed our “secret weapon”—that guy can play! We have a young Nepalese boy who came to Canada a couple of years back. He plays a mean flute already, thanks to his facility on the bamboo flute. We have a diligent young clarinetist, a couple of eager trumpet players, at least one devoted trombonist, a cluster of girls who are taken with the piano, and a couple of enthusiastic singers (as well as a few shy ones who are inching toward the microphone). We also have at least three students who are a natural on any instrument they pick up.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. We’re setting our sights on developing into a genuine big band. Already, the Hugh John Macdonald Orchestra is exploring music by James Brown, Louis Prima, Cee Lo Green, and Elvis Presley. Premier performances are slated for the New Year, and enthusiasm and momentum continue to build. Watch for our name in the marquee!

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