Reflecting on the past 40 years, Powell River Academy of Music founder Don James remembers the motivation for its beginning.
“Initially I was so intrigued with the professionalism of an English boys’ choir from Kings College in Cambridge. I thought I would round up some boys and see if we could duplicate it,” says James.
Powell River Boys Choir was formed in 1974 with 24 members.
“Embedded in my mind was that any 10- to 12-year-olds, if properly trained, could sing like professionals,” he adds.
His point was proven as the choir won numerous awards in its fledgling years. At a prestigious choral festival in Wales, Powell River’s choir was in the top four finalists.
“I thought, ‘okay we’re doing things right,’” says James.
Sisters of the boys wanted to sing as well so Powell River Girls’ Choir was formed, followed by a mixed choir. In 1981, the executive committees of the three choirs, inspired by James’s vision to create a community music school, formed Powell River Academy of Music. Academy Chamber Singers and Chor Musica men’s choir came later.
In 1987, the academy found at home in the former barracks across from Timberlane Park. Nine years later, to accommodate its growth, the academy moved into the former JC Hill Elementary School on Kemano Street.
International Choral Kathaumixw, the academy’s signature event, was first held in 1984 and continued every year until 2020 when it was cancelled due to COVID-19.
Carols by Candlelight is a large part of pre-Christmas festivities in Powell River. And a sold-out cabaret held in the spring has different musical themes.
In March 2020, like everything else, the academy was shut down due to the pandemic and it was not until September that things started up again.
“We have really good protocol,” explains administrator Carrie Lanigan, “including arrows on the floor and hand sanitizer, everything that will make everyone feel comfortable to come here.”
Children’s choirs sing and individuals take various instrument lessons, and instructors all wear masks. Adult choirs have a mix of in-person and Zoom attendance.
Student enrolment is down 37 per cent from a high of 1,300 pre-COVID with ages ranging from six months to 85 years. One full-time and two part-time employees support 33 full and part-time faculty members.
Currently the academy is looking toward a more normal schedule including Kathaumixw from July 5 to 9, 2022, according to Keith Matterson, who became president of the society board in January.
“We want to get back to doing all the fun stuff from other years: Carols By Candlelight, Academy Concert Series and Spring Cabaret,” says Matterson.
Plans call for an open house and 40th anniversary celebration in the fall to welcome back lovers of the performing arts.
“So much is still up in the air,” adds Matterson, “but we have to start planning for when things do loosen up.”
He says he is excited about having a return of a full component of students and “noisy hallways.”
Music director Walter Martella was a member of the first boys’ choir. He is looking at a series of neighbourhood concerts from Lund to Lang Bay and some specific multi-day festivals.
“We also need to have some recitals for students and parents with videos for year-end,” says Martella, adding that he wants to get back to concerts with audiences in the fall. “We need them.”
“I’m looking forward to fulfilling the pent-up demand for arts and culture,” says Matterson. “It’ll be a great day, not just for the academy but all performers whether it is their job or a hobby.”
Terry James, whose son was in the first boys’ choir, says she believes the pandemic could be “a bonus for the arts as people realize how much they miss live performances and not to take them for granted.”
For more information, go to powellriveracademy.org.