VSO maestro Bramwell Tovey helps kids make music in the Downtown Eastside

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      Speaking from a pulpit, world-renowned conductor Bramwell Tovey turns to British slang to convey his joy.

      The music director of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra was at the St. James’ Anglican Church to announce a community partnership  on Monday (June 3). A Vancouver Downtown Eastside house of worship, the church is home to the St. James Music Academy, a school that provides free music lessons for children and youth from low-income families in the neighbourhood and other areas.

      The British-born Tovey was recalling the first time he saw the work being done by SJMA sometime in 2011. It was part of a chain of events that led to the partnership in which the VSO is providing more opportunities for the young and underprivileged to discover their full potentials.

      “We have a word in England called gobsmacked,” Tovey said at the perch. “I was gobsmacked by what has been achieved here.”

      He was fulsome in his praise about this place that “echoes the sound of music”.

      “I was inspired,” Tovey said. “And I was blown away.”

      While many VSO musicians are already involved in mentoring kids at the academy, the largest arts performing organization in Western Canada will share its musical and educational resources with the academy, its students, and families.

      These will take the form of presentations by Tovey and VSO assistant conductor Gordon Gerrard, access to VSO rehearsals, scholarships at the VSO School of Music, attendance by kids and their families at VSO concerts, and VSO performances at the academy.

      In an interview before the formal announcement of the partnership, Tovey indicated that the VSO is thrilled.

      “It’s not only something where we give but as an organization we can receive,” Tovey told the Straight. “We are receiving a tremendous amount of great energy from this. And we’re learning about what is that enables music to become a part of these kids’ lives.”

      In brief remarks before attendees, SJMA board chair Tom Durrie noted that music is “truly amazing and miraculous”.

      Minutes before the event, Kathryn Walker, executive director of the academy, explained in an interview that the SJMA’s partnership with the VSO will provide students opportunities “to really see the height of musical excellence and what that looks like in an orchestra”.

      “It’s bringing together these two different communities and saying, ‘Let’s make music. Let’s share the joy of music making’,” Walker told the Straight.

      Before the announcement, members of the SJMA junior choir performed two songs, filling the church hall with their angelic voices. After the speeches were done, Tovey took out his baton and led the academy’s youthful orchestra through three numbers.

      The first two were arrangements of Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, and a Russian folk song.

      The third came from the music sheets of the VSO itself, the score for "In the Hall of the Mountain King" by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg.

      Clearly impressed by the talent, Tovey had one crisp word after the final note: "Yes!"

      It was a sort of validation of his confident statement in his speech that someday, one student from the academy will become a member of the VSO. It was a declaration that was welcomed by hearty applause.

      Among the proudest at the event was Janna Sailor, a professional violinist who is also in-house conductor of the SJMA orchestra.

      “They’re great to work with,” Sailor told the Straight. “They have great energy. They play with a lot of heart.”