AT THIS year’s Pacific Northwest Music Festival, Thornhill Jr. Secondary bands will be performing for the last time as the school is scheduled to close at the end of June.
For band teacher Michael Wen, who has been teaching at the school for 25 years, he isn’t thinking about it as the last time.
“I was thinking more about the preparation of the performance and the performance itself, and it never occurred to me to think of it as the last time, perhaps on reflection I will,” he said about Thornhill Junior performing with Skeena Junior and Caledonia Senior bands at the recent Music Extravaganza.
When he began teaching at Thornhill Jr., only 16 students were in band and he built the program from there.
The school received its first invitation to MusicFest Canada in 1991 but didn’t go until 1995, he said. The bands go to Ottawa this year for their 12th time at the festival, he said. Last year in Richmond, the concert band won gold and the jazz band won silver, he said.
There’s been lots of memorable band moments. They include the first time the concert band won gold in 1996, the first time the jazz band won gold in 2001, a couple of years both bands won gold and a nomination for an international band award.
Students’ behaviour is another highlight.
“At MusicFest Canada 2009, the kids were so excited about winning the gold, when I announced it, I think we were on the bus in the parking lot. I left the bus and stood outside it was just so loud. [Students were] screaming and jumping up and down,” he said.
The jazz band being selected to play at the gala night for the music festival here in 2000 also stands out.
“This one really stuck out in my mind because it was just one of those times when all the elements came together. We had been dealing with cuts to the elementary music program – we had lost the elementary band and hadn’t yet figured out how to save it,” he said.
“I mentioned it to George Clark who was emceeing. I told him how much it cost, and being who he is, he brought up the idea to save the elementary band at the gala because he really thought in a public forum, maybe somebody out there could help figure it out.
“Donna Ziegler was in the audience and that was the catalyst for Dare to Dream. She was only in the audience to hear her nephew, who was in my jazz band.”
And the support for the music program goes beyond the families of band students. “I think there are a lot of communities across our province and country that could learn from where we live [and that] we found a way to support our kids and help them be successful in music.”