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Marching to their own beat

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A recently reborn music school is enjoying the sweet sounds of success in teaching kids about a different style of music.

The Prairie Community Youth School of Pipes and Drums Inc., which operates out of Freight House at 200 Isabel St., is now in its second year of operation under its current name. The school was opened to provide inner-city youth with opportunities to learn the craft of playing instruments such as the highland bagpipe, pipe band side drumming, and tenor and bass.

Leading the charge is executive director Ken Boath, who has 42 years of pipe and drum experience. A former cadets music instructor of 30 years, Boath decided to head up the new school so he could pass on his passion for music to a younger generation.

"I figured there was a need for a program for civilian kids, especially in our neighbourhood. The kids don’t have the same advantages, or are afraid to join cadets for whatever reason," Boath said.

"So I opened the school at the Freight House... to develop a music school for kids."

Boath and the school’s other executive members have spent a considerable amount of time ensuring the school receives the financial support it needs. One of those fundraisers is Shandra Bast, who works tirelessly to secure money for the program.

"We go after grant funding," Bast said, adding she is also in charge of a meat draw, and CIBC organizes a book drive to help the school.

The end result is a low-cost program which teaches kids how to play music without having to dig too deeply into their own pockets to pay for it.

"Our school is built on the premise that the school absorbs most of the cost," Boath said.

"We try to keep the costs extremely low or minimal. In some cases we’ll even absorb the cost of their practice instruments if the proof is there they don’t have the financial means."

Boath said the school takes a somewhat regimented approach to teaching young people. It’s an approach which demands respect from both teachers and students, and rewards dedication with prestigious positions in the school’s bands, he said.

"The pipe major’s position, which is the lead person, is one of the students. Even when I play in the band, I follow under their domain," he said.

"We teach leadership through this style of training... You have to earn, through experience, knowledge and dedication, the right (to be in) those positions."

That tactic seems to be paying off. The school participates in every band competition it can, including the Winnipeg and Selkirk highland festivals, and the results have been mostly positive. This past year, it produced three grand supreme champions.

"That means the students would have accumulated the most amount of points in all the competitions for the entire season to be the best in their grade," Boath said.

It’s also part of the criteria to eventually go from student to teacher, since Boath feels being a teacher provides special insight which can inform an individual’s own musical skills.

The school runs from September to mid-May, and has an open-door policy for newcomers. Boath said they encourage interested parties to come by for the day, see all the instruments, and then make a decision if, and what, they want to play.

Boath hopes the school can eventually be seen as a beacon of opportunity for local youth.

"The big dream is the school establishes itself firmly in the neighbourhood and lets kids know they could achieve things, through music, they didn’t think they were able to," he said.

"Music is a great enhancement, it has been in my life."

Practices run every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Door 1 of Freight House.

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