Jazz training for community kids

Mahnoor Yawar
A&E Reporter

Humber students may be glad to sleep in on Saturday mornings, but there’s no rest for the wickedly talented.

The Community Music School at Humber’s Lakeshore campus is celebrating 35 years of providing accessible music education during weekends to young people in the Greater Toronto Area.

“We aim to provide music training for everyone, not just for (those going on to) professional careers,” said Catherine Mitro, founder and director of the program since its inception in 1980.

Mitro had been teaching music since before she enrolled in the Humber Music program in 1975. It was in her third year that she was struck by the idea to teach jazz to children.

“There’s a certain pride and independence required (in music education),” she said. “Improvisation, especially, provides the opportunity to use your own voice.”

Children as young as three attend the program to develop their sense of rhythm and melody. The program is developed within the traditional Orff and Kodály methods of early childhood musical education before transitioning into jazz instruction.

Jane Fair teaches Junior Jazz I, where 10 to 12-year-olds get their first experience playing as part of a complete jazz ensemble.

“They take piano lessons (on the side), so when they come here, they take a second instrument like the saxophone,” she said.

Daniel Guerette, 18, has been attending the program ever since he asked his parents for a drum kit at age three.

“The program has helped shape my style. Jazz isn’t a very popular genre these days, but the harmony is involved in every other form of music,” said the Etobicoke School of the Arts senior who was accepted to Humber but hopes to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston this fall.

Classmate Lucas Dan, 17, who plays piano with Guerette in the Improv Ensemble group, said the community school gave him his first experience playing with a band.

“This is the best youth program for jazz players in Canada,” he said.

The program has opened a lot of doors for the young pianist, who is touring Europe this summer before moving to New York City to enroll in The New School in the fall.

Guerette and Dan play in the advanced improv ensemble guided by Kirk Macdonald, who has been involved with the school for almost 15 years.

“This is the first thing I did with Humber,” he said. “Cathy (Mitro) and I had done some summer workshops together, and she asked me if I’d be interested, and I said yes.”

He said his daughter joined the program when she was six and is a second-year student at Humber now, so he feels a particular attachment with the Community Music School.

“It was refreshing for me to work with younger kids because most of the teaching I did was at an advanced level,” he said.

“They’re just really eager to learn, very bright, very talented and you get them at a time where you can really make a difference.”

Macdonald said he was attracted to the program because he grew up with great mentors who changed his life.

“I’ve always felt grateful for having had that myself (as a young musician) and wanted to be available to do the same thing for other people, to give something back,” he said.

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