Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

September/October 2016: Robi Botos

Preparing for Lift-Off

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Things are warming up in the band room at Hugh John Macdonald School down on Bannatyne as the Bridge Program gets started for another year. Director Neil Watson has been presiding over a growing band program in this inner city junior high school. Last year saw a lively group of young musicians connect across languages and cultures several times a week, then perform for peers and community on multiple occasions.

This year, they’ll be carefully unpacking trumpets and trombones, drumsticks and guitars, saxophones and microphones, getting ready to do it all over again—the experienced ones supporting the newcomers. All of them are gaining confidence and pride along the way, all of them learning that they belong, and that their particular voice matters.

At the south end of the city, the next incarnation of CanU Jazz is getting ready for lift-off too. Every week, as part of the CanU program offering enrichment opportunities to underserved schools, a cluster of vibrant, energetic middle school kids bus to the University of Manitoba campus for a three-hour hands-on musical experience.

With Steve Kirby at the helm and the Jazz Studies pedagogy students as the “jazz buddies,” these kids learn that they’re actually young guitarists, bassists, drummers, pianists, and singers in training—they just need to choose pop songs they love, then hunker down and figure out how to play them. Musical games, dancing, team-building, food, fun, and periodic melodrama are also part of the mix.

As Hugh John Macdonald principal Vinh Huynh once observed, “there are no fences around talent.” As we make music learning opportunities available to kids who fall outside the usual circle, we discover musical gifts, resilient spirits, and untapped capacities in these terrific young kids. As instructors and jazz buddies, we find those things in ourselves too.

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