Some Bridge students from the 2011 pilot project from left to right: Norina, Josh, JJ (standing), JC, Andrew, Steve Kirby, Dagmawit

Efforts Made Possible by Recent Contributions – Most Notably From David Asper

Strong community support combined with the vision and creativity of Steve Kirby, the director of Jazz Studies at the University of Manitoba, has enabled the Marcel A. Desautels Faculty of Music to dramatically extend the reach and power of a program Kirby has been dedicated to for eight years. 

The Bridge: Music Learning for Life is an outreach project that brings music instruction into Winnipeg’s under-served neighborhoods, inspiring at-risk students to find positive ways of expressing themselves and helping them feel connected to the community at large. It is a trailblazing program dear to Kirby, who grew up in a tough St. Louis neighbourhood. 

“When Steve and Anna-Lisa [Kirby] described the rationale for the program I knew immediately that I wanted in,” says David Asper, who recently contributed $25,000 to the program to purchase instruments and support immediate program costs. “This is a bridge that leads to an enriched community, and we need more of them.” 

“The Bridge program is strongly linked to the mission and vision of the Marcel A. Desautels Faculty of Music to become a national and international centre of excellence with a commitment to community involvement,” says the Faculty’s dean, Edmund Dawe. “As one of the most fundamental forms of human expression, music can play a vital role in education and in the development of a compassionate and nurturing society.” 

A substantial gift from Michael F. Nesbitt, Chairman of Montrose Mortgage Corporation and a long-time supporter of the arts, allowed the program to operate a pilot project from January to June, 2011. 

“As I sat waiting for some 120 students to attend the first session of the Bridge Program last January, I was curious,” Nesbitt said. “I’m sure the students were as well, and skeptical, but within a few minutes I witnessed one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life as the auditorium came alive to the power of music.” 

Between 75 and 100 students participated in the pilot project at Hugh John Macdonald School. Of those, more than half a dozen of the older students showed such accomplishment that they performed with Steve Kirby’s Jazz on Wheels band during the summer, and spent a week with their peers at the U of M Summer Jazz Camp. 

“The most astonishing thing about the Bridge Program,” Kirby says, “is the learning curve for these kids. They’re wide open to everything, and don’t know what they can’t do, so the sky is the limit. They just kept exceeding our expectations.”

This year’s Bridge, which now includes formal classroom time as well the after-school Peaceful Village program launched last month. The students, primarily Grades 7-9, represent a wide range of ethnic and linguistic backgrounds; most have no prior musical instruction. The Bridge gives them an opportunity to learn basic skills on an instrument, to make music together, and even perform for their peers. 

It has been proven that students who have undertaken music instruction later excel in their chosen areas of study because of the particular dynamics of music learning. By investing in students who otherwise have little access to music instruction, the Bridge Program is investing in the future of this city and the creative minds of the next generation. 

On Friday, September 30, the Winnipeg Foundation also announced its support for the Bridge program with a $15,000 grant. 

“The Winnipeg Foundation is a strong supporter of the arts in our community; programs like The Bridge are very consistent with our vision of ‘a Winnipeg where community life flourishes’,” said Foundation CEO Rick Frost. 

Other donors include The Thomas Sill Foundation, the Central Neighborhood Development Corporation, Doug Harvey, and several other individuals. 

More about The Bridge: Music Learning for Life:

The Bridge Program supports an on-site Band Director and Assistant, along with Jazz Studies students from the Marcel A. Desautels Faculty of Music, in offering musical programming to children and youth. Jazz Studies director Steve Kirby mentors the Bridge program staff and Jazz students to ensure a high quality experience for all involved. Students who achieve a high level of musicianship are invited to perform with Jazz on Wheels, with the long-term goal of creating an inner-city musical experience performed by inner-city musicians. 

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For more information please contact Heather Madill Jordan, Marcel A. Desautels Faculty of Music, at 204-619-4242 ([email protected]).