Be In The Band Has Kids Rocking

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Photos by Owen Maxwell

While so many people have dream jobs, there's very few options to get started young. The RBC Bluesfest Be In The Band program however, not only teaches kids the ropes of playing music, but gives them a taste of stardom too.

"I would have moved a mountain to get the chance to play at something like the Bluesfest when I was that age," said Matt Chaffey, Band Coach and member of The Split.

Started in 2009 the program ran out of the Glebe Community Centre, for a three month program run by local musicians. The camp ended with not only a concert to their neighbourhood, but a set at Bluesfest as well, leaving the kids wanting to continue after.

"Musically, their progress over a fairly short time can be astounding and the program has a way of building confidence and leadership for the participants that is undeniable," said Program Manager Alan Marsden, who's run the program since 2009.

Years later the program has grown from three bands at the GCC to 14 locations, as many as 30 bands and upwards of 125 children in total. One of the biggest changes has been their expansion into the school system, where a bit of vetting picks the right kids for the opportunity.

"They suddenly realize that music can be a major part of the rest of their lives," said Andrew Thomas, music teacher and program contact for Fisher Park Public School. "It teaches them that dreams can come true if you are willing to work hard for it."

While learning their instruments is rewarding, the best part is working together. "Learning how to make them all work together is the most rewarding, and having Matt help us all make it work together," said Jack, one of the young guitarists in this year's program who played the guitar with his mouth in the middle of his school showcase. "Playing with everyone is just a lot of fun."

As a music teacher, and self-proclaimed "roadie and sound tech" for the kids, Thomas also sees the program as a way to take music out of the classroom. "A lot of school instruments get shelved after grade 12, the last day of high school was the last time I played trombone," said Thomas. "The few of us who taught ourselves guitar, bass or drums, are still playing today decades later."

Part of what keeps the kids so enthused is the instruction from local artists like Chaffey that prove they can follow it as a career if they want to. "I can quickly find the strengths and weaknesses and I like to move fast so by the end of our first session we have a strong foundation to build the show around," said Chaffey.

While many bands continue after the program as Jack suggested his band would be, the long-standing benefits are found in the individuals. "We believe that they then have skills to put together their own groups and make music on their own terms," said Marsden. "Some go to University to continue their music education, and some go the pure band route."

Being able to play the festival stage though is no small novelty though for these kids, giving many students the motivation to push just as hard on their own. "These kids go from practicing their instruments alone in their bedrooms to playing one of the most important music festivals in North America," said Thomas, who believes the program leaves students with the same values he tries to instill on his students. "To want to develop a higher level of musicianship and commitment to improving, to listen to others, to work cooperatively and to want to practice.

You can catch the Be In The Band showcase at RBC Ottawa Bluesfest on Sunday July 16 @ The Black Sheep Stage from 3:55 to 7:10.