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Adopt-A-School: Academy feeds children with music and, she hopes, with food

Downtown Eastside school offers free lessons in a bid to bring music to the city’s poorest kids

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

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A small group of children led by Marlaina Vincent make their way from Lord Strathcona Elementary School in an attempt to reach St. James’s Anglican Church a mile away without passing through any of the street encampments that are a symptom of desperation , homelessness, poverty, addiction and mental illness. .

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The furrows and detours finally bring this little band of troubadours to the church in twice as long as if the streets were clear.

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

After maneuvering around the encampments, they enter the church at the corner of East Cordova and Gore and in stark contrast to the streetscape, immerse themselves in the sublime world of classical music.

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St. James Academy of Music operates in the basement of the church and provides classical music training to 145 students aged 5 to 18, the majority of whom live in what is Canada’s poorest neighborhood .

This evening, about fifty with their scores in front of them stand under the baton of conductor Jose Ceron Ortega and the silence and concentration of the children who a few minutes before were agitated is palpable.

“One, two, three, one, two…” he draws the notes to them while a small band of assistants, including Vincent and Cardinal, circle around the new students showing where to put their fingers on their violins, cellos, violas and double basses to produce a “G”.

Tonight is for strings, other nights are for percussion and woodwinds.

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These are two-hour classes, twice a week, free.

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

“We’re 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 are facing, they deserve the opportunity to develop the skills to express themselves musically and all the emotional, psychological and cognitive benefits that brings.”

The program is inspired by a program 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 enjoys an international reputation for its classical musicians, conductors and composers. It has inspired similar movements around the world. We were the first in Canada.

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St. James Music Academy was founded in 2007 by Kathleen Walker, whose daughter, Hannah, serves as program director.

If their world outside this basement is sometimes pitiless, music offers these children the passage to another.

This summer, a fire broke out in a building where one of the senior students lived, who was part of a string ensemble.

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

“We had planned performances for his quartet. She arrived at rehearsal and was crying. And I thought maybe we should cancel the performances because we didn’t want to put too much pressure on him.

“But everyone hugged her and then it was time to sit down and play. And so she spent the next hour and a half immersed in the music and I realized that the time that her spending time making music and playing with others was a relief, a nice distraction from the terrible thing she had been through. 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 doubts about how her daughter would react to the program as she needed extra classroom and group support.

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

The academy’s Christmas concert is on December 9. Doors open at 6 p.m.

STMA is asking the Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School program for $21,500 to buy food so students can eat before class. Many families struggle with poverty and providing food is a necessary aid.

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Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund Society

The Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund welcomes donations from readers year-round to enable us to help hungry children. Donations are tax deductible and 100 percent of donations received go to grant projects to help needy children in British Columbia.

Contact: Michelle Roebuck, Fund Administrator, at [email protected]or call 604-605-2264.


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