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'Hey! Guelph rocks, Guelph schools rock!'

Three Guelph high schools to combine for one online musical performance
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A massive collaboration between three Guelph high school music programs is proving the show must go on, even if it’s going online.

Students from Centennial, GCVI and John F. Ross will take part in a virtual performance of Eagles Among Us by Brian Balmages.

The performance will be filmed and edited, with the final video being available in May.

“Our vision is to have all our high school kids represented in the best way possible,” said Dan Austin, a music teacher at GCVI.

Austin said the idea came during a meeting with the other music teachers, Dorothy Vreeswyk-Kidd and Eric Froats, last year.

“Eric, Dorothy and I got together this summer a couple times online and we just said, what are we going to do going into this year?” recalls Austin, “We have a very different setup.”

With online classes, the trio realized they could collaborate within larger groups than before, prompting the idea to do a massive ensemble between the three schools.

“If we were to do this in-person with hundreds of kids on a stage, it’s a little more difficult to coordinate,”  said Austin, “We can do as many groups as we want, and it just seemed to like the time and a really good idea.”

“There are very few things during the pandemic that are positive, but we can take advantage of this situation and do something neat with it.”

As the project continues to develop, it will be supported by Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM). The virtual performance will fall under the certification part of the SHSM art program for students who are interested in pursuing a career in music after graduating high school.

“The additional part of High Skills Major is to complete these experiential learning opportunities,” said Charles Benyair, the SHSM/technological education curriculum lead at the Upper Grand District School Board.

“To get these real life experiences like this band performance, this online symphony that’s going to occur.”

With SHSM, schools also reached out to amateur and professional musicians within the Guelph Symphony Orchestra and the Guelph Concert Band to have them work with students for this performance.

“This video-making arts experience is how any arts-related career is making money right now,” explains Froats about how this project reflects the current situation for artists.

“It’s the only way you can get your stuff out there whether it’s a drive-thru museum or if it’s a light show that you stay in your car for, also with the videos, it’s people doing virtual museum tours, or artists performing online,” he continues, “All of those things that’s what these kids are really getting (from it).”

Vreeswyk-Kidd , the new music head at John F. Ross, said this is also an exciting opportunity for their kids to connect, as many of their band students already know each other. 

She adds there can be this sense of competition among music programs from different schools, and hopes this can help them collaborate in the future.

“I really like this idea, that it’s like, ‘Hey! Guelph rocks, Guelph schools rock!’” she said, “And that we kind of see ourselves as the Guelph music programs, as opposed to saying, well this school does this, and we’re better here, rather than trying to compare each other all the time.”

With over a hundred students anticipated to participate, the teachers recognize that this event will present plenty of different opportunities and challenges from technical issues to learning curves for both students and faculty.

“We’re not seeing them in person and never know exactly who’s going to be at what rehearsal at what time,” Austin admits, “but I think it was important to show the school board, our community, everybody, that music is still thriving and doing well through this.” 

“Our students are still making music, it’s just in a different way, a far from an ideal way, but it’s a different way.

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Ariel Deutschmann

About the Author: Ariel Deutschmann

Ariel Deutschmann is a feature writer and reporter who covers community events, businesses, social initiatives, human interest stories and more involving Guelph and Wellington County
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