Chris Herard has a scant twenty minutes to spare between back-to-back-to-back rehearsals and performances. Calm and quiet-spoken, Chris is the centre of a whirlwind of students and colleagues bustling around with a constant stream of questions, laughter, and musical instruments in the lively music room at Bishop Carroll High School. It’s only Thursday, and Chris has already run the Calgary JUNOS Youth Showcase of over 500 talented young performers, and hosted 3000 students for two full days of the Alberta International Band Festival. I catch him just before he leaves for a woodwinds rehearsal and a three-day tour as a member of the Heebee Jeebees a cappella quartet.
When asked why he volunteered as artistic director for the JUNOS Youth Showcase, Chris reveals an immense passion to engage youth through music. “We have some world-class kids, and I wanted to highlight them,” he says quietly. “Kids aren’t just learning Beethoven anymore, my idea was to show kids doing what kids do best. [This week], I got to help 3500 kids have a great music experience. I want to impact as many kids through music as possible. That’s why I teach.”
“Making harmony actually brings us into harmony with one another.”
~ Chris Herard ~
Listening to Our City showcased 542 of Calgary’s best young performers, nearly all under the age of 18, at the beautiful new Bella concert hall. Performances ranged from nationally recognized string and piano trios, to the 80-member Alberta International Festival Honour Band, to the acclaimed Young Canadians and the Calgary Stampede Showband, “many-time world champions and one of the best bands on the planet,” smiles Chris. Turns out that he played in the Stampede Showband as a youngster, and sang for seven years in the award-winning Calgary Boys Choir, who also performed at the concert.
Chris wanted to showcase the diversity of youth talent in Calgary, to bring the whole music community together in celebration. There was toe-tapping vintage country by Maddison Krebs, and Charlie Mingus stylings from the JazzYYC’s Youth Lab Band. As for the enchanting rhythm set from the young Langevin World Drum Club, “where would you ever get to hear these [grade 5-9] kids unless you were a parent with a kid in the program?” asks Chris. The Red Cards jazz combo and Kate Stevens, all students at Bishop Carroll High School, entertained the crowd at intermission.
What was his proudest moment at the concert? Without hesitation, Chris says, “The First Nations youth choir, drummers and dancers who opened the show. This is the first time that over one hundred First Nations kids have performed in such a big showcase in [a venue like] the Bella. We had 40 families from Morley [reserve], four schools [Holy Spirit, St. Timothy, Bishop Grandin, and St. Stephen], the elders…I’m very proud of CCSD [Calgary Catholic School District] for their support.” He pauses, and then adds, “Also, and this isn’t well known, but this is the first time in history that these First Nations musicians allowed us to notate their music for this performance. It’s usually passed on orally.” Chris and I sit quietly for a moment to let that sink in.
I ask Chris why he invited local sensation Michael Bernard Fitzgerald to headline the youth showcase. “The JUNOS host committee considered someone big like a Paul Brandt or a Jann Arden. But Michael is so great about engaging, he believes everyone should enjoy and make music no matter what their skill level. And to me, this concert is more about the future.” I mention that I was impressed that Michael turned around several times to sing directly to the Bishop Carroll choristers backing him. Chris lights up. “You should have seen his face when he sang to them! It was just so joyful. The kids, they won’t forget this experience.”
Chris maintains that music has an impact far beyond the young music-makers. “Music makes great people,” he states. “People make great music, and music has a great effect, but music really makes great people.” He recalls a conversation with a friend about how music brings out the best in us. “Making harmony actually brings us into harmony with one another.” Chris lauds the music community. “Any time I also have the chance to celebrate the community of parents, and music teachers—who are the hardest working people I know—I want to do that.”
Then he beams. Patti Pon, president and CEO of Calgary Arts Development, was in attendance; she was so impressed that she proposed that the legacy piece of the JUNOS host committee could be to support an annual youth showcase. “Music has such impact far beyond the walls of our classrooms,” concludes Chris. “I just wanted to show Calgary that.”
—Tamara has a daughter who is thrilled to be in her first year with the Bishop Carroll Chamber Choir and will always remember rocking the Bella with Michael Bernard Fitzgerald at the JUNOS youth showcase.