The Bridge: Music for Life outreach program at Hugh John Macdonald School is back in full swing. With Neil Watson and Simon Christie back at the helm, these junior high kids are gathering three times each week to pick up their instruments and make music together. Neil and Simon are adopting an ear-centred approach: theory and basic reading skills are anchored by rousing sessions where all the kids work to master lively arrangements of popular songs—songs they often suggest themselves.
The Bridge has grown and matured since the pilot program in the winter of 2011. The band has branched out from rhythm section instruments to include saxes, trombones, and trumpets alongside piano, guitar, bass, and drums. The band performs periodically throughout the school year, for school and community events. This year they’re playing early in the season, for a conference at the University of Manitoba called “Strangers in New Homelands.”
I caught up with Wesley Hansen, a young piano player who joined the Bridge program last December, and rocketed forward so quickly that he was ready to attend the U of M Jazz Camp in August. Even though he’d only been at a keyboard for a few months, several of the Jazz Camp mentors commented on his musicality and everyone appreciated his droll sense of humour. I asked him to tell me about his experience as a developing musician:
My family is big with music, so I’ve always felt that I needed to play as well. I started the Bridge program in December 2013, when I was still in grade 8. I actually began playing the trombone, but I felt that wasn’t what I was looking for. I tried the drums for a bit, then eventually I ended up at the piano. With the first song I learned—“I Want You Back”—I stuck with it and stayed.
I went to the U of M Jazz Camp in August and really enjoyed it! I really loved how the camp was set up—and how much freedom I had, and not only in making music. In my ensemble, I got to work with Neil Watson, my instructor at the Bridge program. At first I thought it would be rough, but it was actually fun and I learned a lot. We learned some new tunes, and I began to improvise, even though it was really scary. I had a great time with my friends, and I met some new friends as well! I’d love to go back to Jazz Camp again—hopefully for the next few years!
The Bridge program has started up again at Hugh John Macdonald and I’m really excited. It seems some of the old cast aren’t able to join this year, so we’ll have to make some performances with a smaller group.
I love making music with other people—it’s really just a great time! It may be a lot of work, but it’s worth it in the end to hear the music…