Sarah McLachlan school expands

A Kensington-Cedar Cottage teen calls attending the newly expanded Sarah McLachlan School of Music "a great opportunity."

"You get to meet all these kids who have lots of raw talent," Elizabeth Barry said Oct. 27, when the school celebrated its opening.

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"My mom, she probably wouldn't like [me] having choir and voice lessons twice a week when she'd have to pay lots of money," Barry added.

The 13-year-old, who attended a summer camp in the school's old digs in space borrowed from a church, thinks the new facility on East Seventh Avenue just west of Main Street is "great."

The school started with 145 students and 7,500 square feet. Now it can accommodate 280 students with 16,000 square feet of permanent space that includes a "sound lab" with computers and keyboards and a student lounge.

According to Ann de la Hey, executive director at the Sarah McLachlan School of Music, the school now has soundproof rooms and space to expand. McLachlan created The Sarah McLachlan Foundation in 1999 with the aim of opening a music school for inner city youth. Together with Arts Umbrella, she launched a free after-school music program in 2002.

Last year, the Wolverton Foundation, a private family foundation that started in 2009, purchased on behalf of the school the building that previously housed the Sugoi sports apparel factory. The city kicked in a $100,000 infrastructure grant and made sure it was properly zoned.

The school opened Sept. 26. "Some children were intimidated by the splendour. High school students were amazed," de la Hey said. "And what I've noticed over these last few weeks is to have an incredible space like this for students, it makes them feel valued, that they have potential and that we believe in them."

The music school recruits students from nine feeder schools on the East Side each spring. Last year it allowed 10 per cent of students to enrol from other parts of the city. "Every week we get emails from parents saying my child loves music, I can't afford [lessons]. It's throughout Vancouver," de la Hey said.

Dona Wolverton, a longtime advocate and patron of the arts, decided a couple years ago that she wanted to support a participatory music program that was free for youth. The Sarah McLachlan School of Music was the perfect fit.

McLachlan said music was a profound part of her life growing up. "And to think that there are children out there who don't have the opportunity to learn music, to me it's a travesty," she said. "When I looked at what was going on in Vancouver and I saw a lot of music programs being cut, it seemed like the obvious choice."

The school has a waiting list for enrolment but hopes to launch a community percussion ensemble in January.

crossi@vancourier.com Twitter: @Cheryl_Rossi

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