By Darren Lum
Published Jan. 15 2019
Stuart Baker Elementary School music teacher Drew Hewitt is already envisioning a holiday concert number next year with more than two dozen ukulele players strumming an uplifting tune thanks to a successful application for a $2500 national grant.
Awarded by the non-profit organization Music Canada Cares the grant is part of the Three R’s Music Program initiative which includes rescuing instruments restoring instruments and reuniting them with students.
The organization is an affiliate of Music Canada (Sony Music Entertainment Canada Universal Music Canada and Warner Music Canada). According to their website Music Canada Cares is “focused on highlighting the extraordinary benefits of music to society. We are dedicated to advancing the quality and effectiveness of music education in the public-school system engaging the public in support of music education and celebrating the value of music and those who create it.”
Hewitt who informally asked his students what instruments they wanted to play is thankful to Music Canada Cares for the grant which will allow the group to purchase the new ukuleles. He said from his various teacher placements he was impressed by the SBES students’ enthusiasm for music.
“I’ve never seen a group of students so passionate about it. I think it’s phenomenal. We’re so blessed that such a new organization has fulfilled and enhanced our music program the way it has” he said.
Hewitt who first learned to play the guitar from his grandfather in Grade 6 cannot imagine a life without music which he said enhances and enriches his life.
“I just found there wasn’t a way to express myself like the way music allowed me to especially in school. A lot of it was academics and that’s all important and great but music fosters community. It brings people together. It’s a language that is about feelings and those things aren’t at the forefront of curriculum talking about self regulatory skills” he said. “Bringing people together and expression creativity. A lot of these kids their favourite thing to do is play but seldom do they get an opportunity to play with a purpose and intention and have something tangible at the end [of it] and say ‘Hey look this is what I created today.’”
The school is planning on buying enough ukuleles for two classes. Hewitt was deliberating on models and quality which will determine the quantity. He has discussed a group purchase with Abbey Gardens and that may also influence how many can be purchased with the grant.
Hewitt applied for the money in autumn. He said he was first made aware of the grant opportunity from the school’s principal Karyn Linton Marra through the school council chairperson Robin Dillane who found it originally.
Children usually get shy while performing Hewitt said. However at the past pre-holiday concert the participating students seized the opportunity to express their joy through song.
“We did some carolling and their voices were louder than most teachers. They love it. They’re enthusiastic about it. It’s just amazing and wonderful to see so giving them a chance to do that is a gift for us and for them” he said.
Hewitt said getting the ukuleles will add pitch instruments to the school’s collection which only includes drums and basic instruments.
Starting young is important for the students’ learning process. It eases the transition to more advanced playing in middle school and high school.
“Now we can start going to the music staff and [learn about] reading notes as far as bridging that into intermediate [level of music] where they start on band instruments. It’s going to be their first time seeing and playing and performing pitched instruments in Grade 4. What I’d like to do is bridge that gap for them and hopefully make that a lot easier transition.”
Choosing the ukulele was based on it’s physical size being easier for children to handle and also how it can be used as a foundation for learning guitar which is popular.
“I figured with Haliburton being a rural area everyone loves a guitar. It’s kind of a preliminary step into that instrument” he said.
He has always appreciated what music meant to him growing up and hopes to share that connection with the students at SBES.
Hewitt believes fostering an appreciation for music at a young age is important.
“Music really allows you to connect to yourself and the world around you through a language that is so unique. Among many other things. It’s everywhere you go. It’s used for community. It’s used for bringing two people together. If I travel across the world I may not know how to speak their language but as soon as I play an instrument they can drum along. It’s a way of communication that’s … universal” he said.
Hewitt knows the area well having grown up in the Highlands. He graduated from HHSS in 2013 and was also a graduate of Minden’s Archie Stouffer Elementary School. While at HHSS he was a member of the male choir and the jazz ensemble. Hewitt is a graduate of music composition from Wilfred Laurier University and has a teacher’s degree from Queen’s University.
Hewitt returned home to teach to give back.
“I felt like they provided me very strong roots for what I wanted to pursue. I felt like it was fair to give that back to those who gave it to me and I wanted to give others that opportunity as well” he said.
The first-year teacher has long-term goals of improving his professional standing to better serve his students.
He was blown away by the students at his past year’s concert in December and is excited for next year with the opportunity to add the ukuleles.
“This year was just voices. Who knows what next year will bring” he said.