Adopt-A-School: Academy feeds kids music and, wait, food

The school in the Downtown Eastside offers free lessons in an effort to bring music to the poorest children in the city

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It’s a Thursday afternoon and Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is about to show its two sides: the downtrodden and the beautiful.

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A small group of children led by Marlaina Vincent fight their way from Lord Strathcona Primary School and try to reach St. James’s Anglican Church, half a mile away, bypassing any of the hopeless street encampments. , homelessness, poverty, addiction and mental illness. .

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The junctions and detours eventually get this little troubadour band to the church in twice the time it should take if the streets were clear.

“It’s just not safe to go around them,” Vincent says of the camps. We would have to walk down the road. And besides, we don’t want kids to have to see it.”

After maneuvering around the encampments, they enter the church on the corner of East Cordova and Gore and in stark contrast to the urban landscape, are immersed in the sublime world of classical music.

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The St. James Academy of Music operates out of the church basement and offers classical music education to 145 students ages 5 to 18, the majority of whom live in Canada’s poorest neighborhood.

Tonight, some 50 with their scores in front of them are under the spell of the baton of director José Cerón Ortega and the silence and concentration of the children who were moving minutes before is palpable.

“One, two, three, one, two…” the notes tell them as a small group of attendees, including Vincent and Cardinal, hover around the new students, showing them where to place their fingers on their violins, cellos, violas. and double basses. produce a “G”.

Tonight is for string players, other nights are for percussion and woodwind.

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They are two-hour lessons, twice a week, free.

It’s a gift to the neighborhood, said the academy’s executive director, Sarah Godoy.

“We are here to provide a high-quality classical music education to children whose families probably couldn’t afford it otherwise,” she says.

“Given what children in the Downtown Eastside face, they deserve the opportunity to develop the skills to express themselves musically and all the benefits that emotionally, psychologically and cognitively brings.”

The program follows the model of one started in Venezuela 40 years ago when the government sent music and instrument teachers to the poorest neighborhoods.

“He transformed countless lives and Venezuela now has an international reputation for its classical musicians, conductors and composers. She inspired similar movements around the world. We were the first in Canada.”

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St. James Academy of Music was founded in 2007 by Kathleen Walker, whose daughter, Hannah, is the program director.

If their world outside this basement is sometimes a ruthless place, music offers these children a passage to a different one.

This summer there was a fire in a building where one of the seniors lived, part of a string ensemble.

“It was very traumatic for her,” says Godoy.

“We had some performances scheduled for his quartet. She came to rehearsal and she was crying. And I thought maybe we should cancel the performances because we didn’t want to put too much pressure on her.

“But everyone hugged her and then it was time to sit down and play. And so the next hour and a half went by immersed in the music and I realized that the time I spent making music and playing with others was a relief, a beautiful distraction from the terrible thing that had happened. What a gift to have the ability to do that.”

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This morning, Hannah Walker received an email from the mother of a new student who had concerns about how her daughter would respond to the program as she needed additional support in class and in group settings.

It read: “Hi Hannah, My daughter has had the best first week at St. James. She is absolutely brilliant. It’s like it’s been lit from the inside and it’s so lovely to look at. We are very grateful for the opportunity. It may sound dramatic, but I went to bed last night and thought that this program could really help us. This program saves lives.”

The academy Christmas Concert is on December 9th. Doors open at 6 pm

SJMA is applying to The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School program for $21,500 to purchase food for students to eat before lessons. Many families are struggling with poverty and providing food is a necessary help.

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Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund Society

The Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund welcomes donations from readers throughout the year to enable us to help hungry children. Donations are tax deductible and 100 percent of donations received go to grant projects to help BC children in need.

Contact: Michelle Roebuck, fund manager, in [email protected]or call 604-605-2264.

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