Most of us are keenly aware of the problems of homelessness, addiction, mental illness, and poverty that plague the residents of our city’s Downtown Eastside. However, the images that populate the media are typically of struggling adults, belying the fact that many families with children live in the neighbourhood.

One of those families is the Walker family, parishioners of St James. A couple of years ago, Kathryn Walker, the mother of five daughters, noticed that one of the things that remained inaccessible to many of the neighbourhood children was music training, the instrumental lessons many of us were privileged to receive. At Kathryn’s urging, a group of St James parishioners began to explore the idea of providing affordable musical instruction to neighbourhood children, with the result that the Saint James Music Academy was born.

Opening its doors in September 2007, the Saint James Music Academy will enrich the lives of Downtown Eastside children through music, giving them the opportunity to explore their creative potential, gain self-confidence, get an academic head start, and develop good relationships. The Academy will provide affordable, high quality music instruction in piano, guitar and violin to approximately fifty students in its first year, along with a choral component which will involve all students.

Children outside St. James’ on Vancouver’s East Side who hope to enroll in the church’s Music Academy

St James Church will be providing teaching space to the Academy. The parish’s support of the Music Academy is a continuation of its 125-year tradition of excellence in music and commitment to its neighbourhood. The Academy working group and newly-formed board of directors are excited at the prospect of making a difference in the lives of Downtown Eastside children. Jim Ion, the principal of nearby Strathcona Elementary School, is also excited about the Academy and says, “I believe it will greatly enrich the lives of our students living in the Downtown Eastside. What a brilliant opportunity for inner city children who might not otherwise have a chance to participate in a high quality music education.” Mr. Ion has personally pledged a significant sum to the Academy.

The first fund-raising event for the Saint James Music Academy will take place on December 10. The Saint James High Mass Choir will be joined by the Abendmusik Vesper Choir in a service of Advent Lessons & Carols at 5:30 PM at St James Church,

303 East Cordova Street, Vancouver
. The proceeds of that evening’s offering will benefit the Academy. All are welcome.

For more information about the Saint James Music Academy, contact its Acting Executive Director, Gerald Harder, at 604-685-1172.