When I was 11 years old, my mother thought it would be a good time for me to take up private music lessons.
I had already sang in a number of school and church choirs, and had group musical instruction on the pain-inducing recorder –– back when public schools afforded such things –– but I had never really studied on an instrument I could call my own.
So in my immeasurable youth, I chose to learn the guitar, and later the flute, and walked to my lessons twice a week to a tiny private studio located upstairs in a run-down building in a busy Toronto neighbourhood.
That music school became a home away from home, and my instructors, especially my guitar teacher, mentors. As I look back, their enthusiasm for teaching, and making it fun, kept me out of a lot trouble.
Not only did music help me through those awkward teen years by giving me something I could accomplish in an artistic way, I can now say I played at Toronto’s famed Massey Hall.
OK, it was with my school concert band, but I also made many friends through music, and even met people from around the world while travelling abroad, thanks to my guitar.
We already know that the arts, and music in particular, is imperative to a child’s learning.
Studies show that exposure to music makes children smarter: it stimulates movement, cognitive development, and reasoning skills necessary for learning math and science. It also helps with reading, and is “spoken” in a universal language that helps with communication and socialization.
Here in Vernon, there is a place where not only children, but all ages, have the opportunity to study music in all its forms. However, that home is currently being threatened –– by an aging foundation.
The historic Smith House atop East Hill, built in 1908 for prominent mill owner S.C. Smith and his family, which later served as a nun’s residency, has been home to the Vernon Community Music School since 1982.
However, with age not only comes wisdom, but some noticeable cracks in its foundation wall, thanks to East Hill’s notoriously shifting clay-base soil.
Extensive repairs are not only needed to its foundation, which will mean lifting the house, but the porches, and exterior walls will also need to be repaired.
It’s a huge and expensive job, with projected costs totalling $305,000.
The school’s staff, students and non-profit board all have their own theories as to why saving the Smith House is important, so why should it matter to the community to save this aging home?
Well first, we know how important heritage is to keep a community connected to its roots. And anyone who has been inside, or walked by the Smith House, knows what a beautiful building it is and what kind of magic is made by the music that wafts through its halls.
But just as important, it’s a place many people have called home –– from teachers, parents, volunteers, to thousands of students, aging from infants to 80-plus –– since it first opened its doors.
Some of those students have gone on to become symphony performers, solo artists, and teachers themselves.
Some have become academic stars, scientists, artists, writers. Many have become parents, who in turn have sent their kids to study music.
The school currently has an enrolment of 677 coming from all parts of the North Okanagan and as far away as Salmon Arm, Kelowna, Nakusp and Williams Lake.
All have walked up those weathered steps into one of Vernon’s oldest living treasures to play a part in keeping history, and music, in this community alive.
And they continue to show their support for their home, by holding a stream of fundraising events, along with The Sound Foundation Capital Campaign appeal, to keep singing and playing in their beloved home.
If that isn’t a solid endorsement, then just walk inside, and enjoy the music.
Kristin Froneman is the arts and entertainment editor for The Morning Star.