By Eric MacKenzie, North Shore News
Photo by Mike Wakefield, North Shore News
A long-running tradition for the Montroyal elementary community carried on this past week with its annual winter concert put on by primary-grade pupils.
Led by Grade 4 students, this year’s adaptation of The Nutcracker featured matinee and evening performances on both Tuesday and Thursday, with entirely different casts taking the stage each day.
Although the annual winter showcase cedes the spotlight to Montroyal’s fourth-grade performers, it’s a school-wide effort to pull the event together – younger students singing throughout the production, intermediate students in extracurricular music programs adding to the entertainment as well and dozens of parent volunteers helping behind the scenes.
It’s been a challenge for some schools to keep music and art programming as part of regular class time but Montroyal students have been fortunate, as the winter concert – as well as the spring show put on by students in Grade 5 to 7 – is part of their regular curriculum.
“It’s a huge benefit to them, because you’re tying in music and dance and drama and literature as well,” said music teacher Janet Hill, who has been guiding the performances since she arrived at Montroyal 18 years ago. “So, there’s a big literacy component through this as well. And it’s all done during class time.
“We’re really fortunate this school has had a music teacher running a music program for almost 30 years, if not longer,” Hill continued. “It’s quite something and it’s supported by the parent community and teachers here.
“The kids love their music program.”
Hill has a rotation of a few holiday-themed productions that are meant to keep all of the performing students – and their parents – engaged in the performances from start to finish.
“I went to a lot of Christmas concerts where I’d see kids stand up and sing one song, and then they’d be not seen again for the whole rest of the hour,” Hill said after a Wednesday rehearsal. “I felt that parents would probably rather come and see a show where they got to see their kids for a full 30 minutes.”
That means even Montroyal’s youngest students were busy learning a half-dozen songs this fall to prepare for the recent shows. For them, it’s an introduction to the school’s culture of the winter and spring theatrical performances being major events on the Montroyal calendar.
“What they do in the classroom a lot of the time gets forgotten. It is these big things that bring them together as a community,” said Carol Sartor, chair of Montroyal’s parent advisory council, adding that the communication skills and confidence students develop by participating in the productions are significant.
“I think more schools really need to be encompassing more of the fine arts and music that we keep losing and we’re asking parents to now pay for. You’ve got band and strings that are paid programs, but this is all encompassed in her curriculum, which is incredible.”
Hill said there’s “no way” the shows would be possible without the “massive team” of people helping bring the performances to the stage, or without the enthusiasm of students.
“Last year, out of about 50 kids in Grade 7, 48 auditioned for a part (in the spring show),” she said. “So it’s got this momentum.”
Work has already begun with intermediate students on their spring recitals. Much like the students who worked to bring The Nutcracker to life this week, they’ll surely give Hill a reason to be proud, too.
“The satisfaction comes when the kids learn about themselves – that they can get up in front of an audience, they can start a project and finish it,” she said. “They learn to get over their nerves and stage fright. That, to me, is really rewarding because every student is involved, every single one.
“When kids come up and say, ‘I was really happy I was able to do that, I didn’t think I could do that,’ that makes me really happy.”