by Lucy Benwell, Executive Director • Kelowna Community Music School
We begin our story in 1976, when several music-loving parents were in search of an established string program for their children. This search culminated in the birth of the Kelowna Music Society in the living room of founder member Marjorie Denroche and classrooms soon began to grow in school buildings and churches across town. Founding father Denis Letourneau began the work of building a strong student body, one of whom went on to teach at KCMS and continues to do so today. Denis is still very active in the local music scene as violinist and former concertmaster of the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra among other musical ventures.
In 1990 the KCMS family finally settled in their present home on Dehart Avenue where they have been ever since, nurturing their charges by offering programming in a wide range of musical disciplines. The growth and sustainability of KCMS over the years can undoubtedly be attributed to its family-friendly atmosphere. Artistic Director Jessica Crawford is very well-placed to share many stories during her 13 years at KCMS. “I started at KCMS in 2008 as a piano teacher, fresh out of University. I was immediately struck by the strong community and how the instructors always put their students’ education first and foremost. Whether coming in on weekends to do extra lessons or staying late to mark theory exams, our Faculty are dedicated to giving the highest quality of music instruction. It has been a gift to watch our students grow over the past 13 years, from young beginners in our fun preschool music groups to accomplished musicians performing with the OSO! Working here as an instructor and now also as Artistic Director, I am still in love with the family feel of KCMS.”
Executive Director Lucy Benwell has had the privilege of meeting many who have come through the doors at KCMS since she joined in 2013. “I grew up in the UK where I studied and performed for many years, before moving to Canada in 2011. The combination of a legal/administration background and my years of experience in the music world afforded me the opportunity to work at KCMS on both the administrative and academic sides. I have met many wonderful people on faculty, staff, our Board and of course the students and their families. We also enjoy strong relationships with many of our extended family members in the performing arts community in the valley, province wide and beyond. When I started my musical journey, the sense of belonging was sudden and apparent and I see that in many of our students. It has been a pure joy to see (and hear) personal and musical growth over time and witness in others what I felt as a fledgling musician.”
As parents themselves, both Jessica and Lucy have seen their own children enjoy the benefits of music, watching them develop skills in harp, piano, guitar, percussion and music theory. Lucy’s son is now studying to become an audio engineer and his studies in piano and theory at KCMS have been a vital foundation to set him on course for this exciting career.
The KCMS family has a large Faculty of highly trained musicians, all committed to excellence in music education and supported by a dedicated administration team. Students range from young children to older adults and the focus is on helping them achieve their personal goals – whether taking an advanced piano exam, learning violin for the first time or developing their relationship with their school band instrument, either as a beginner or when dusting it down following many years apart. Whether achieving high-level goals, playing just for fun or somewhere in between, lessons are offered in a variety of instruments including violin, viola, piano, cello, voice, guitar, harp, clarinet, flute, saxophone and trumpet. Subject to health restrictions, affordable group programs are also available, including choir, string ensembles, musical theatre, sight singing and dictation and theory.
Just like any family, KCMS has seen many challenges over the past eighteen months. Group lessons were cancelled in March 2020 and all teaching went online. However, in-person teaching began gradually in June of last year, building through the 2020/21 school year. Sadly, most groups are still not operational, but the school is hoping for the best while planning for the worst so that disruption to any programming can be minimized. Says Lucy, “Despite the necessary changes in operations through the pandemic, we have seen a steady stream of enquiries and students can’t wait to get back to lessons. The sheer dedication and tenacity of our teachers has known no bounds as they have worked hard to continue sharing their wonderful gift in new and innovative ways.
My administration colleagues (Jessica Crawford and our office administrator Lori Bourgeois) have worked tirelessly to maintain a steady course through this very difficult time. Our volunteer Board of Directors have been an invaluable resource throughout the pandemic, walking alongside us as we navigate each unexpected turn of events. The work of those behind the scenes is crucial to the success of the operation and very much appreciated”.
Music is an oft underrated force; it brings us together, reduces us to tears, soothes in stressful times and transports us to faraway places in our memory. Music is everywhere: movies, commercials, spa days…that car driving past from which emanates a tune you recognize, can’t quite place and will be in your head for the rest of the day. Learning those lines for a play can take days, but we can have song lyrics down within an hour and how do pre-schoolers learn the alphabet so quickly? We forget why we went into a room, but can recall the words to a 1986 chart topper without thought. It is commonly known that music enhances our personal, social and emotional wellbeing, but wide-ranging research also demonstrates the profound effects on the brain and body. While we may not be aware of it, our brains must work to make sense of the relationship between one note and the next. Just by listening the structural, architectural and mathematical properties of music create quite the workout and it follows that learning an instrument can only serve to enhance our cognitive capacity.
Our bodies also benefit – aside from the obvious and unexplained desire to dance to a certain pulse, the physiological effects include reduced blood pressure, improved sleep, mental alertness and memory.
Kelowna Community Music School has, for almost half a century, been pivotal in making music in our community and will continue to do so for as long as possible. This cannot be done without community involvement whether it be taking lessons or giving support through volunteerism or donations.
More information can be found at the website www.kelownacommunitymusicschool.ca. Join our family and help us celebrate!