A new partnership between the Haliburton County Music Exchange, Haliburton County Folk Society and Camexicanus is turning cast-off guitars into musical foundations.
The music exchange, headed by Tom Oliver, provides County kids with refurbished instruments for free; Camexicanus stepped in to help with the next step.
“They have the instrument, but the question is how do they learn how to play it?” said Camexicanus director Greg Sadlier.
Each week at the Haliburton County Museum, a group of eight masked children hoists guitars and practice chords written out on a whiteboard beside them. Teachers like Darian Maddock, a Grade 12 student at HHSS, explained how to position their hands to make different sounds.
“As we see with the pandemic, the challenge of providing programming for local youth, what this means is that there are real live kids that are learning real musical skills,” said Sadlier.
Remi Hayward, who is learning from Maddock, said she hopes to be able to play the folk tune Down by the Bay by the end of the lessons.
Kids like Hayward are taking part in the program’s first edition, a nine-week teaching course meant for kids with little to no musical experience. So far, said Sadlier, it’s been a success.
Kids frightened to come to lessons initially now race up the stairs to pick up their instruments.
“They’re excited to be with their friends,” Sadlier said.
In an email, Chantal Innes said her children enjoy the lessons so far. “They say how they like all the teachers because they are super funny!” she wrote.
As COVID-19 restrictions still limit some extra-curricular activities across Ontario, Sadlier said it’s important for kids to have an outlet besides school. “This is a safe, positive space where kids can come and learn something new, try something and be with other kids.”
Oliver, of the Music Exchange, said the lessons are a logical extension of his practice of giving out instruments he’s fixed up.
“If you’re giving away guitars, it would be great to give away lessons as well: one without the other isn’t the full thing,” he said. While he’s only been running the instrument renewal program for a year, he said there’s always been a supply of guitars from people across Haliburton who don’t use their instruments. “I’d be willing to bet there are 100s, if not 1,000s of guitars that haven’t been played for years,” he said.
Sadlier said music itself can offer rich rewards.
“Beyond the sheer enjoyment of it and the various interest these kids have, music is a fundamental building block in child and youth development,” he said.
They aim to provide lessons in Haliburton, Minden and Wilberforce as well as developing a band component, which Sadlier said will offer older kids a chance to showcase their learning.
“That’s particularly important for high school students who may want to take their music to the next level,” he said.
Sadlier hopes the program can expand to cover the entire County, with bases in Haliburton, Minden and Wilberforce, as well as offering private lessons too.
No matter what, all lessons will remain pay-what-you-can.
They’re largely supported by sponsorships, with community members providing instruments or pitching in for the cost of lessons. Currently, the Haliburton County Folk Society funds the program’s group lessons.
“The more ability that we have, the more kids we can reach across the County,” Sadlier said.