Vanderhoof’s music students no longer have a concert band teacher this school year — nor a functioning band program — so far, the school district says.
The Nechako Lakes school district has been looking for a replacement since the beginning of September, when the last band teacher secured a position in Vernon and left shortly before school opened, said Eugene Marks, School District No. 91’s director of instruction.
“Had we had a little more advance time, we would have been able to secure a teacher,” Marks said. “That close to the start of the year, the number of people who are available and willing to come to our communities is a limited number.”
While each school has a program that includes singing, rhythm, and other musical aspects, the past band teacher had ran a successful program for a number of years in Vanderhoof, the only community in the school district — which includes Burns Lake, Fort St. James, and Fraser Lake — that had a functioning instrumental band program, he added
This year at the high school level, the program would have included two concert bands — one for grades 7 and 8, and another for grades 10 to 12 — as well as a component for elementary school students, Marks said.
Though the position has been posted since Sept. 10, the search continues, he said.
“We haven’t close the door,” Marks said. “If we find a suitable applicant, we would be looking to begin them as soon as possible.”
He explained that the district continues to contact major university partners that have music programs.
“Our advertising has been extensive; it’s been Canada-wide,” Marks said. “We made personal contacts with post-secondary institutions that have music programs, for them to contact their recent graduates.”
He added, “We’re hoping that at Christmas time when a couple of the education schools graduate students, we’ll be able to attract some applicants.”
The current full-time teacher posting calls for 50 per cent in band and music, as well as 50 per cent in substitute teaching work in Vanderhoof — which is one of the challenges for the district’s search, Marks said.
“We have a small number of students in band,” he said. “Many music teachers want to teach full time music.”
He added, “It’s our hope that it’ll eventually be able to grow to a full-time music position…just that the number don’t warrant that at this point.”
Another challenge lies in the school district’s employment standards that require certified teachers, Marks said.
“If we’re unable to find certified teachers, we can go with a non-certified teacher, as long as we get approval from the teacher regulator branch for a letter of permission,” he said. “We have spoken to a few individuals who would express interest in working on letters of permission; however, those didn’t work out.”
In April this year, Vanderhoof’s senior concert band had qualified to attend the 2016 MusicFest Canada – an invitation-only competitive event showcasing young musicians across Canada — in Ottawa after its success in Prince George’s Fanfare Festival, the Omineca Express reported in May.
In addition to the senior concert band, which achieved silver plus at the Prince George event, Vanderhoof’s three other bands had also performed well, with the Grade 5 band earning gold, the Grade 6 band earning silver, and the Grade 7/8 band achieving silver plus.
Some Grade 12 students have continued their musical performing practice by participating in the Northern Orchestra (NO), though they joined the group last year.
Saba Rancier, who had played flute in band and now plays violin in the orchestra, has joined the group by invitation from her teacher Gordon Lucas — NO’s artistic director.
She had attended all of the orchestra’s concerts with her parents in the past, as they love classical music, she said.
For Peaige Loewen, playing tenor saxophone in band and now participating in the orchestra as a flute player, she has joined due to her passion in music.
Hoping to continue her musical studies in Prince George, Loewen wants to study music therapy — helping people with traumatic experiences through music, she said.
For Sara McBride, the recently-departed teacher is only one of her music instructors — who have previously taught her singing or piano — that have left Vanderhoof for a different community, she said.
McBride played baritone saxophone in concert band, and now plays clarinet in the orchestra.
“I love music,” she said. “This is the last bit of music we can get.”
For Gordon Lucas, Northern Orchestra’s artistic director, the school district’s effort in the band teacher search is questionable.
“They value hockey, baseball, sports, and science,” Lucas said. “Public education is no longer capable of sustaining a quality music program.”
He added, “At this particular point in our cultural decline, i would not support music in the public schools; it should be done privately because of the lack of value that educators put in music.”
Vanderhoof’s secondary school music program has recently received $15,000 from the Nechako-Kitamaat Development Fund Society towards the purchase of musical instruments — approved by the society’s board meeting in early September.