Jazz is beginning to ricochet down the halls of Hugh John Macdonald School again as another year of The Bridge gets underway. Band director Neil Watson and his excellent sidekick Simon Christie are meeting the inner-city junior high students three times a week this year for formal classes plus after-school jam session time. Interest in The Bridge grows each year, with almost 70 kids indicating their willingness to dedicate time and effort to learning an instrument and playing in an ensemble with their peers. It’s going to be a terrific year!
Three Bridge students took advantage of scholarship support to attend the U of M Summer Jazz Camp this past August. Drummer Gusune Amki, attending for the second year in a row, was joined by pianist Kent Van and singer Raven Guiboche-Bluebird. It’s a long way, both geographically and experientially, from an inner-city junior high school to a university campus packed with high school and university musicians. All three immersed themselves in the experience, and ended the week with new skills, new confidence, and a stronger sense of being part of a community of musicians. At the final concert at The Forks, their parents were bursting with pride.
As The Bridge program continues to develop, alumni who are now dispersed amongst various high schools are beginning to return to Hugh John Macdonald to mentor current kids in the band. They have skills and encouragement to offer, but they also give those junior high kids a little more courage about transitioning to high school.
In the meantime, a new program is about to launch. CanU, an enrichment program which brings middle school students to the University of Manitoba campus, will feature a music option for the first time. The CanU Jazz Academy teaches music through the learning techniques of jazz. These bright grade five and six students will team up with students in the jazz pedagogy class—their Jazz Buddies—and learn to listen more and to express themselves more effectively in the language of rhythm.
Many of the kids in both the CanU Jazz Academy and The Bridge program were first introduced to jazz through Jazz on Wheels, Steve Kirby’s mobile concert-history-dance party project which takes music into neighborhoods that rarely hear live music. The Jazz on Wheels band was out in full force again this past summer, taking interactive concerts to several community centers and summer learning programs. The shows were great showcases for the art form, but they were also fun. Kids were dancing, singing, even getting their hands on the mic to rap.
As the kids in these neighborhoods get inspired, they begin to imagine making music themselves. These programs give them the opportunity to chase that dream, gaining the necessary skills to express themselves musically and make their contribution to the northern prairie sound.
As Vinh Huynh, the principal at Hugh John Macdonald, observed a couple of years back: there’s no fence around talent. The kids in our inner city are perfect proof of that!