Flautists Kianna Shwaluk and Yuma Bailey are at Carihi Senior Band practice before many students are even out of bed Monday morning

Carihi band trips not all about the music

High school band getting a first-hand look at East Coast history this spring

More than an hour before the first bell rings out at Carihi Secondary, there’s already at least one room full of high school kids focused on digging into their studies.

They’re obviously tired, but who wouldn’t be if they had to be up that early on a Monday?

“Wednesday is always a bit better than Mondays,” jokes Phillip Cassidy, who oversees the school’s band programs. “But they are here and they’re ready and we get some work in, that’s for sure. I mean the fact that this many show up on Mondays tells you something, I think.”

The room is packed, but it wasn’t always.

“When I got here a couple years ago, we had 29 kids altogether,” Cassidy says. “But now I’m not sure I could get more in here if I wanted to.”

The school has a senior band, a junior band, a jazz band and a pit band. Sure, there are some overlaps, but the enrolment in the music programs, it’s safe to say, has significantly increased since his arrival.

Maybe it’s because Cassidy is bringing something to the music program other than just his trombone talent and his ability to wave a stick in the air. He’s bringing his enthusiasm, his energy and his desire to “not have these kids just put down their instruments when they leave.”

He’s also, as of this spring, bringing them across the country and back.

Right now, Cassidy and his students are raising money and practicing their skills in preparation for what he hopes will be the first of many Carihi band trips to the East Coast of Canada.

“I’m from Nova Scotia, so this is really just my attempt to get myself back home any way I can,” he says with a laugh.

He’s obviously joking, but there’s a grain of truth behind it. You see, when he was back East – he relocated to Campbell River in 1994 – he worked as a tour guide for Nova Scotia Tourism, and he’s always been a huge history buff. So when he took over the band program at Southgate 20 years ago, he thought he could use that background to his advantage and give his students something more than just “how to play that thing.”

So in Southgate’s last year as a high school, he took the kids on a similar trip they’re saving and practicing for right now – a week of exploration, music and history of the other side of our country.

“I grew up in a house that’s older than Canada,” he says, adding, “out here, a 50-year-old house is a character home,” with another chuckle. “So being able to show kids that is really powerful for them – to show them there’s another whole side of Canadian History and have them be able to learn about it first-hand is really something special. Yes, we’re having four or five concerts, but we’re also hitting 10 museums.”

In fact, the second night of the trip they are literally sleeping as a group in the chapel at Fortress Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island – one of the most extensive fortresses ever built in North America and one of the key sites in the long battle between the British and French that formed what would become Canada.

Oh, and later they’re getting a tour of the Bluenose II at the Atlantic Fisheries Museum from her captain, Phil Watson – who just so happens to have been Cassidy’s lab partner when he attended Acadia University. They’ll also be having a hotdog barbecue on the shores of the Bay of Fundy while they watch its 86-foot tide come in or go out and having a dinner in a 350-year-old pub.

And then less than two weeks after returning from Nova Scotia, Cassidy and his grade nine students will be packing up again for a quick three day jaunt across the border to Seattle.

That trip, too, contains more learning than performing, as they will perform at both an elementary school in Tsawwassen on the way down and one in Seattle itself, but will also be taking part in a band clinic with a university clinician, seeing a musical, the Space Needle and touring both the world-renowned EMP Music Museum and the Science Fiction Museum before returning home.

So when you see these kids out and about raising money for a band trip over the next six months, or so, know that they’re not just saving for a vacation or shopping trip.

And if you’d like to help in some way, contact Cassidy at phillip.cassidy@sd72.bc.ca and ask him about the “good old fashioned Christmas caroling” the kids will be doing this holiday season and order one for someone you love to help support their cause.