Bernie Hops (left) and Bob Wardle sing with students at Central elementary.

Bernie Hops (left) and Bob Wardle sing with students at Central elementary.

Singing for the pure joy of song

A community school singing program has been building momentum for six years under the leadership of Bernie Hops of Chilliwack.

Dozens of elementary school kids across Chilliwack are spending their lunch hour singing once a week.

They get together to belt out classics like Take Me Out to the Ballgame, This Land is Your Land, and Zippady Do Da.

But it’s not singing lessons, it’s just singing for the sheer joy of making music.

A community school singing program has been building momentum for six years under the leadership of Bernie Hops of Chilliwack, along with dedicated volunteers like pianist Tony Bestebroer and Bob Wardle.

There are three schools with avid singers participating, and eight others considering joining in, said Hops.

“It can foster a lifelong love and appreciation for music,” he said. “It also has the added benefit of helping the children with their words and improving their reading.”

It’s been gratifying to watch the young kids show up because they want to be there and they want to sing.

“But you know we’re all getting older and a little more tired,” he said of the program founders.

“We could use some help, some new blood from the community to keep this good thing going.”

Chilliwack Academy of Music is pitching in financially this year to support the growing singing program, with help from funding from 89.5 The Hawk. They’re in year three of a funding program and part of the $10,400 grant is going toward the purchase of 72 lyric books as well as piano books for the singing kids’ program.

They’re also going to coordinate the volunteers to help it expand.

“I knew this was something we wanted to be involved with,” said Chilliwack Academy of Music principal Graham Yates.

Two aspects of the program were appealing, he said. One is the downtown connection. Schools that have embraced it include Central, Bernard, and McCammon elementary schools.

A group called the Fin-tastic Singers at Central grew out of the weekly singing sessions, with a name to echo the theme of their school teams, the Central Sharks. They proudly sang at seniors’ homes, at a Mother’s Day tea, and more.

All three participating schools are concentrated in or near the DT and the singing will certainly help those who can’t afford private or group music lessons.

“The Academy wants to bring music to everyone,” said Yates.

“The second thing is that without strong music programs in the schools, there will be fewer who will want to take music lessons after school.”

That’s their bread and butter, but it’s also crucial for the Academy to assist in this way as a form of community outreach to manifest the aims of their mission statement.

Now it’s a matter of getting enough volunteers to continue and expand the program.

“We want them to learn under Bernie,” said Yates.

Although it’s not a technical program with formal music training, everyone’s got to start somewhere.

It makes the kids happy to perform,” said Hops.

“Sometimes they get to visit seniors’ homes. They’re well behaved, there’s no bullying. They love it.”

Volunteers, adults or high school seniors who love to sing and/or play an instrument that could accompany the singers, are welcome to call the academy at 604-792-0790.

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