by Yasmine Shemesh
“The amazing thing about Saint James is — well, there’s a lot, actually — is the fact that it’s so much more than a music school,” said David Vertesi, bassist for Hey Ocean! and co-founder of #SingItFwd, the benefit concert raising funds and awareness for Saint James Music Academy (SJMA).
Located in the heart of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, SJMA offers classical music lessons for inner-city children, along with meals, ongoing social support, music therapy and after-school care, at no cost to students’ families. Through encouragement and education, the academy provides positive structure, a chance to build self-esteem and a safe place to go for young individuals whom otherwise may not have access to such opportunities.
A musician himself with a passion for youth arts, Vertesi and his wife, Ambrosia Humphrey, were looking for a way to become more involved with a local charity. At the suggestion of a friend who was volunteering at SJMA, the couple went down to the academy and immediately fell in love with the organization.
“There’s something so beautiful and inspiring about these people, in their own community, who have come together to improve life for their kids,” Vertesi said. “[SJMA] has become almost like this unofficial community centre, and that’s, I think, why it’s important to support them in the work that they do. There’s a ton of work being done on the Downtown Eastside to support a really disenfranchised population, but spending a lot of time with the kids, I think, is just as, if not even more, important because they are the next generation and we have to break that cycle. And these programs are the kinds of programs that do that.”
#SingItFwd, held last night at the Vogue Theatre, has raised over $100,000 since its inauguration in 2011, with 100% of the proceeds going towards SJMA. Now in its fourth year, the annual event has attracted some notable artists, such as the Sheepdogs and Dan Mangan, and this year was no different with a stacked roster that included K-os, Bear Mountain, Dear Rouge and, of course, Hey Ocean!.
Part of what makes #SingItFwd so special is its direct involvement with the students of SJMA, both on and offstage. The children participate in a video series with the bands (available to view on the benefit’s website) and then collaborate with the musicians at the concert, creating a one-of-a-kind performance as well as a meaningful experience that adds to the positive framework that SMJA is built upon.
“Standing on stage at the Vogue in front of 1,300 people and having them all applaud for you and cheer for you is a pretty powerful moment and I think we take for granted how important those moments are,” Vertesi explained. “A moment where someone says you’re doing a good job. As simple as that. And that happens for so many of us, some moments in our lives where our parents or our peers or our friends say that you’re great at something or you should feel proud about what you’ve been doing and I think that something that’s seriously missing from a lot of kids lives. We really just want to contribute to the work that Saint James is doing.”
If you’d like to make a donation to Saint James Music Academy, please visit their website.
Published online at www.vancitybuzz.com, January 2015