A sense that music is a valuable part of the learning experience and excitement about the possibilities are building at Salt Spring Island Middle School, where the program has seen fantastic growth this year under the direction of Keith Ollerenshaw.
The latest evidence of the program’s strength came at the West Coast Jazz festival in Nanaimo, where SIMS’ senior jazz ensemble competed with high school bands from around the province and came away with the gold medal on May 1. To top off the experience, each Salt Spring student who participated also received individual awards and/or scholarships to summer music camp at St. Michaels University School.
Ollerenshaw said he was not expecting those results when he asked the group to attend the festival, which is held at Vancouver Island University.
“I just wanted them to have some practice — take them on the road, play a festival. And they did amazing,” Ollerenshaw said.
The West Coast Jazz festival is an affiliate of MusicFest Canada, the arbiter of the national-level competition. SIMS band members played jazz standards and were adjudicated by two renowned musicians: Juno Award-winner Ken Lister and drummer/band leader Kelby MacNayr. Winning the gold medal means the ensemble has now qualified for the 2020 national competition in Calgary.
In the individual categories, Salome Cullen won the award for most outstanding drummer of the festival, although stacked up against high school level competitors. Other honours received were: Avery Charles, St. Michaels scholarship and Tapestry Music Award; Ewan Holmes, soloist award; Finnian Lee, St. Michaels scholarship and soloist award; Kai Stenstrom, soloist award; and El Thompson, St. Michaels scholarship.
Ollerenshaw acknowledged the awards are nice to have, but said more importantly, the experience shows what the middle school is capable of when it comes to music.
“As a community, we should be really proud their work and excited about what’s to come,” he said, adding, “The students should be really proud because they worked really hard, but there’s still a lot to do. There’s always more growth.”
SIMS’s music program has received strong support from parents and students over the past year. Ollerenshaw said there’s a buzz that’s reminiscent of past times of strong leadership under teachers Bruce Creswick and Mitch Howard, who both died.
“I’m trying to match the standard that teachers like Mitch and Bruce established,” Ollernshaw said. “This feels like we’re headed in the right direction.”