If gods of music do exist, they have given Elaine Thomas and Ryan VandenBussche a spiritual seal of approval.
The duo met with a reporter recently at Erie Music to promote the musical side of their charity ‘Stix’N’Pix’. Developed by VandenBussche – a Delhi native and former NHLer – Stix’N’Pix’s aim is to get kids in need involved in hockey and music.
During the meeting, Jerry Doucette’s 1977 classic ‘Mama Let Him Play’ came blasting over the store’s speakers.
“Give that boy some freedom, let him move around,” Doucette sings. “Don’t get in his way, you’ll only bring him down, Mama won’t you let him, let him play some rock and roll.”
“We have kids who are artsy and kids who are athletic and those are two opportunities to express their creativity and their physical talent,” said Thomas. “When you look at a community, those are two areas that, unless you have financial ability, often there’s a closed door.”
Having worked in the education system, Thomas saw first hand the importance music can have on a young child and yet, Ontario’s school system has cut its programs to the bare bones.
“(Instrumental music) no longer exists in elementary (and) because of the change of the credit system in secondary, I watched our instrumental music programs diminish in size,” she said. “The opportunity for kids to have access to learning an instrument, which would give them a lifelong pleasure and passion, is really closed up.”
That’s where Stix’N’Pix is looking to fill the gap. Thanks to money raised at a recent gala event featuring former Toronto Maple Leafs captain Wendel Clark and Hockey Night in Canada host Ron MacLean, all students approved will receive one-on-one music lessons at Erie Music for 30 weeks free of charge.
Last year was the program’s trial run, it attracted 27 students, many of whom continued with lessons afterwards. Stix’N’Pix and Erie Music were able to work out a deal that sees the charity charged a reduced rate for sessions.
“That’s 27 kids that never had the chance to get into the musical game and have an instrument in their hands,” VandenBussche pointed out. “To have an opportunity to grow that number is exciting.”
Stix’N’Pix volunteers are also looking at ways to bring music lessons to families who may not be able to get to Simcoe on a regular basis.
Just like the First Shift program that helps outfit kids head to toe in hockey equipment and provides six on-ice sessions for $199, there is no pressure for the child to continue with their lessons.
“It’s just like hockey, you don’t know if you want to play hockey until you try it and it’s not a big time commitment,” said VandenBussche.
“At least they get to try something and if they don’t like it they don’t have to come back.”
Children can bring any type of instrument they wish to the lessons, even drums, which weren’t able to be accommodated last year.
“We weren’t able to take drum students last year because we had such a long waiting list for the student base that we had,” said Erie Music’s lesson coordinator Helen Thompson. “Now we’ve hired another drum instructor so we’re able to accommodate a few drum students.”
While a principal at the former Port Dover Composite School, Thomas watched as children within the building’s elementary section gained valuable playing experience before crossing the facility into high school. That’s not always the case for elementary graduates within Norfolk County these days.
“The (current) Grade 9 program is an open level (class), so kids are coming in knowing nothing,” she explained. “That’s a barrier to their continued participation because they’re going to be in the same class as kids who’ve taken piano for 10 years. I look at the opportunity to really discover an instrument, learn an instrument as having that skill for life.”
Anyone looking to fill out an application can visit Erie Music (12 Norfolk St. South, Simcoe) or log onto stixnpix.com.