Penticton non-profit works to make music inclusive for everyone

'Music makes me shine'

The gift of music does not come cheap but the Penticton Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts offers a priceless service to those who want to learn.

Through its bursary program the non-profit organization provides free or reduced-cost tuitions and even the loan of an instrument.

“The whole goal is to remove whatever obstacles are in the way,” said academy executive director Catherine Jones. “Music is for everybody, no matter what their economic or other conditions are.

“Everybody has musical ability and I think people think of music lessons as exclusive, but they’re not. It truly is for everybody.”

At any one time, PAMDA has as many as 20 instructors working with 300 students from five to 85 years of age at their upstairs location at the historic Leir House or online.

Eleven-year-old Minerva Carlos has been taking voice lessons through the bursary program since she was five years old.

During this time, her mother Norma Bravo has seen an unbelievable emotional growth in her daughter.

“She is a different girl,” said Bravo. “Besides her singing, it’s self confidence, it’s memory. She’s always interested in what the story of the song is. She is motivated.

“The bursary is good. We truly wouldn’t be able to sustain it all these years. My daughter just wouldn’t be able to be here.”

Added Minerva, seated with her voice instructor Mia Harris, “This is wonderful. When I get on stage I’m really nervous, but when the music plays I just calm down and I can let myself go and sing freely. I love it.”

Jones recalled another young student the academy helped through its bursary program.

The young girl had just moved to Canada with her family who are struggling with her older brother’s major medical issues.

“This little one, she was so shy and didn’t speak the language and she’s been taking voice lessons for years,” said the executive director. “Now, she is eloquent, she’s confident, she knows who she is.

“She said to me, ‘Music makes me shine.’ That’s coming out of a child’s mouth, you have to say yes to that.”

The bursary has also helped developmentally challenged individuals including a man who wanted to learn the violin.

“He really didn’t have anything so he borrowed a violin and he was trembling, I mean it,” said Jones. “He was just very socially uncomfortable, but he was also so thrilled he was able to do something like this.”

The academy is very much dedicated to reaching individuals who have all kinds of challenges and will even arrange online lessons for those not-yet ready for in-person sessions.

According to Jones, another man to whom music was so important was a street person who came into her office one day.

“He lived on his bicycle, he was completely homeless but he never missed one of his lessons,” said the executive director.

To get financial help, students only have to apply to the three-member board committee.

“The bursary will pay for whatever you think you need,” said Jones. “We try to make it as respectful as possible. It’s extremely non-intrusive and all you have to do is say you need it.”

In addition to the bursaries, the organization also provides scholarships to help its more advanced students continue their musical education.

Money comes from different sources including the upcoming BLOOM, a fundraising concert celebrating the music of Penticton.

Featuring some PAMDA staff and friends, the show is Tuesday, March 28 at the Cleland Community Theatre as part of the Ignite the Arts Festival.

This story first appeared in the Penticton Herald, republished as part of the Local Journalism Initiative.

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