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Home Arts A few tickets till available as Hamilton Music Collective celebrates its 15th anniversary

A few tickets till available as Hamilton Music Collective celebrates its 15th anniversary

A decade and a half of transforming lives through music

Astrid and Darcy Hepner changing the music landscape in Hamilton

Astrid and Darcy Hepner’s lives have always been immersed in music. For Astrid as a young woman in Cologne Germany, the recipient of a top-notch musical education, and at one time, part of an all-woman jazz-funk band the Grooving Vibe, she dreamed of making it in the Big Apple. For his part, Darcy came from a distinguished Hamilton music family. Parents, Lee and Patricia Hepner were both prominent and accomplished members of the Hamilton Music Community. Lee was the conductor of the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra and a Music Professor at McMaster University and Pat was the founder of the Mohawk College Music Program.

Astrid and Darcy met when she won a scholarship to the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music and he was Department Head and Founder of the Selkirk College Music program in Nelson BC. Fast forward two years, and they were married in Cologne and in fulfilment of both their dreams, moved to New York.

There, Astrid performed in jazz clubs around town and then entered the recording business working for the jazz label Blue Note and rubbing shoulders with the likes of Norah Jones, Wynton Marsalis, Van Morrison, Sir Simon Rattle, Al Green and Anita Baker. Darcy was recording and touring with artists like Blood Sweat and Tears, The Temptations, Buster Poindexter and playing Broadway shows.

Then came the birth of a daughter and something called 911, and Darcy’s hometown beckoned with the promise of a new start and a less hectic lifestyle. Darcy took a posting with the music program at Mohawk College. “We wanted her (Daughter) to grow up in a house with a garden and a bicycle and a dog.” Astrid recalls.

Settled in Hamilton, soon the creative urge returned for the couple, and Darcy formed a big band which included Astrid and they eventually played over 150 shows at the Corktown Tavern and in so doing improved the gritty reputation of that venue.

The beginnings of Hamilton Music Collective

The couple’s first educational initiative was Jazz in the Hubs, initially involving Mohawk Students. It was the success of this initiative that led to the formation of the Hamilton Music Collective in 2008 and its signature program—An Instrument for Every Child (AIFEC). The Collective started with performances by the band in elementary schools, which the kids loved. At that point says Astrid, came the realization that there was more that could be done with music in schools, “ We witnessed the excitement that providing these hands-on musical experiences created and we realized that this was an opportunity that we had to build and expand on. —-  Because what good does it do to get a child excited about something knowing that mom and dad would never be able to afford costly music or instrumental education?

Hamilton businessman Larry Paikin opened some doors for Astrid into the philanthropic community, which led to a meeting with another Hamilton entrepreneur, Paul Lloyd. Lloyd said, if you ever come up with a project or program that puts musical instruments into the hands of Hamilton’s underserved children, this is something I’d really like to support with a substantial donation.”

An Instrument for Every Child starts

And that was the beginning of An Instrument for Every Child. Astrid researched some music education programs aimed at children at risk, and after a year the program got started, first with a single class at King George School on Gage Avenue North.

The program provides musical orientation in the first year, including introduction to musical styles–developing musical literacy through singing, playing, moving, performing, and listening to guest performances. Students also learn how to use and care for musical instruments properly, become familiar with acceptable audience behavior, and develop the ability to work cooperatively with others.

In the second year they get to pick an instrument they want to play. That instrument will be loaned to the child for the next three years, which will take them through to grade 4.

With the success of the King George School pilot the program grew, adding more and more sponsors and expanding to into two additional schools in 2011. They program also attracted local media attention which helped bring more patrons aboard. Musician Tom Wilson staged a series of concerts that raised $100,000. The Trillium Foundation jumped on board. By 2014, the program was in 7 schools involving more than 450 students.

Moving to the Gasworks

Gasworks, home of the Hamilton Music Collective

The next big step came when Carl Joosse, son of John and Ellie Voortman purchased the historic Gasworks on Park Street with the intention of turning into a community Centre. When he heard about AIFEC he told the Hepner’s “You are doing exactly what I had envisioned for this building and you are doing it so well. So rather than us re-inventing the wheel I want to offer you our building so that your programs will be available to even more children and youth in downtown Hamilton. “ That provided not only office space but now a performance venue as well.

In 2015 AIFEC had reached its goal of expanding to 10 schools that year and by 2020 the program had increased to 16 schools, at the same time, partnerships and financial support continued to expand.

Success story

Since the Hamilton Music Collective launched, it has provided over 9000 children with FREE music lessons by professional musicians on the instrument of their choice. The program has created sustained employment opportunities for local musicians. HMC has built strong partnerships with organizations throughout the City and beyond. Our program gives local musicians an opportunity to mentor young, diverse, aspiring performers while strengthening the Hamilton Music Industry and increasing community access to music experiences.

Attend the 15th anniversary celebration

Now to celebrate its 15 anniversary,  The Hamilton Music Collective is staging its annual fundraiser in style fundraiser featuring Darcy Hepner’s 14-piece R&B All Stars with Vocalist Mary McKay. The gala takes place at the Gasworks and spills over into a grand tent! Tickets are still available but attendees need to move quickly. Each ticket purchase of $200 will include a $100 charitable receipt.

Get tickets

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