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The Bridge Program: Celebrate Good Times!

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Full disclosure: it is no longer possible for me to report objectively on The Bridge program at Hugh John Macdonald School, and the music curriculum Simon Christie and I have developed. I am completely biased. Like a proud father, I think all my students are musically gifted and I desperately want to see them succeed, to experience the joy of music-making.

You see, as a musician, I know that this is one of the most powerful, life-changing (for player and audience), affirming, important activities one can pursue. Music is the oldest, most instinctual form of communication and I’ve seen first-hand its power to unite and build community. As a teacher, more than anything else, I want my students—all of them—to experience that thrill.

Which begs the question: how do I help my students hurdle the initial, rather steep learning curve? (It’s especially tough on wind instruments–big, heavy, awkward hunks of brass that require massive physical exertion just to produce a sound!) I firmly believe that putting young musicians in a position to experience early success is key to building long-term enthusiasm on their instrument. When “Strangers in New Homelands” invited The Bridge to perform at their conference in October, I jumped at the opportunity, knowing that this was a chance for my students to catch the performance bug early in the year.

“Strangers in New Homelands” shines a light on world migration and the confusion, fear, hopes, and aspirations that come with an immigrant’s arrival in a new country. The annual conference, held at the University of Manitoba, brings together researchers, academics, students, non-governmental organizations, front-line immigrant and refugee settlement workers, and government representatives from across the globe.

Our performance was scheduled for 8:45am (about twelve hours too early if you’re on “musician time”), as part of the conference opening ceremonies. In what was no doubt a daunting moment for the group, The Bridge band began the first of three songs, “I Want You Back,” by the Jackson 5. I’m pleased to report that the experience was everything I hoped it would be and more. I could feel the band relax, settle into the groove and play with more confidence as we moved into “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. By the time we got to our finale, the entire room was singing Kool and the Gang’s “CELLL-E-BRATE GOOD TIMES, C’MON!” while enthusiastically clapping along to the beat. A standing ovation from the crowd sealed the deal: this was the early success I was looking for.

That performance led to an invitation to play for a “Dinner with Chief Clunis” (an evening that brings together recent immigrants, RCMP, city councillors and the Winnipeg Police), a video shoot for the University of Manitoba, and a December performance at Hugh John MacDonald School for parents, friends and family. Enthusiasm is at an all-time high at The Bridge and the table is set for a successful second term.

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