Gulf Islands Driftwood
Voice of the Southern Gulf Islands

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New director leads Winter Song & Dance



Special to the Driftwood

Keith Ollerenshaw is conducting the Salt Spring Concert Band in rehearsal.

“As you go higher, see if you can make a thicker sound,” he encourages a roomful of young and old musicians, while guiding them up a harmonic incline with his baton.

Ollerenshaw, the new music director of the Salt Spring Concert Band, will lead the players in Winter Song and Dance, an eclectic mix of folk songs and Christmas carols set for ArtSpring on Friday, Dec. 1.

The hirsute 29-year-old jazz player pokes at a box of noodles as he explains to me how his musical journey took him to Salt Spring.

“We’re residents now. This is our second full-time year living on Salt Spring. My wife and I were working in Vancouver and commuting over,” he said.

Ollerenshaw wears two hats, as both the director of the Salt Spring Concert Band and a music teacher at the middle school. He studied jazz in Vancouver and Toronto. After graduation at Capilano College he founded the Vancouver Youth Jazz Band.

“It was three really fun years, where we went to Cap and jammed on the weekends.”

A jazz musician who studied in trombone, Ollerenshaw has played a broad range of classical repertoire in different environments. His own high school music teacher provided retrospective inspiration by offering opportunities to students that a younger Keith “took for granted at the time.” The music program brought in music legends from New York, Los Angeles and elsewhere — including Randy Brecker and Shelly Berg — to play with the students.

“Having lived in three major cities, I haven’t seen a program replicated like that,” said Ollerenshaw, with a trace of awe.

He chose his career because he wanted to follow in his teacher’s footsteps and pass on the same kind of inspiring musical direction to students and others.

“I believe a third of the school should be involved in music. Big numbers.”

In much of Canada and the U.S., the direction of musical education is in reverse, with fine arts budgets axed in pursuit of cheaper, quixotic testing targets.

“It’s definitely a provincial thing for sure, if not a federal thing right now; music is being chipped away at.”

The Salt Spring Concert Band’s performance at ArtSpring will offer a wider repertoire than a standard Christmas concert. Familiar western European traditions will segue into Russian and Southeast Asian selections. Material by Holst, Vaughan Williams and other greats will be balanced with compositions from lesser-known contemporary composers like Frank Ticheli.

“We’re trying to include multiple cultures; having said that, concert band repertoire is by its nature very Western . . . It’s based on community with a few Christmas carols. The program has 12 pieces or so from a lot of really nice composers.”

Ollerenshaw offers a big thanks to Dawn Hage, a mentor and previous director of the Salt Spring Concert Band.

“She is such a wonderful person and director,” he said, adding his great appreciation at taking the helm after her departure.

The young conductor also extends his thanks to the local musical community.

“They have just been very supportive.”

Winter Song and Dance begins at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are available through ArtSpring.

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