Students were just getting back into the rhythm of in-person music class after two years of pandemic-induced restrictions when, on the morning of Friday, Feb. 25, 2022, 10 guitars were found to have been stolen from the music room at Rideau Heights Public School.
“It was very difficult to process,” explained teacher Robb McKay. “We were just back to where we’ve got a music program where we’re sharing things again, right? We haven’t been able to do that for a long time. And so, the kids are excited. They’re all ready to go, and just weeks into being able to do this, we lose half of our capacity.”
Music as ‘a vibrant part of school community’
Music, among other subjects like sports or visual arts, can be a classroom experience that offers a different sort of haven than home room for many students, especially for students living in the Rideau Heights neighbourhood, especially for students dealing with instability within their home lives.
“Music isn’t every kid’s passion by any means,” said McKay, “but the thing is, we’ve always got sports going, and it’s really important for me that we offer things that hit other styles of being, as well. And it’s not to say that the kids who do sports can’t also really get into music… But I think the main thing is that we offer something that lets everybody see themselves in our school.”
To be given the opportunity of finally sharing space and sound together in the music classroom, only to have it taken away again through theft of instruments is, “very upsetting for the students and teachers alike,” McKay expressed.
The theft felt like a violation and invasion to the sanctuary that the music classroom offers to students, McKay detailed.
“Somebody has been in our space. We cherish this place, we come here every day, and we work really hard, especially the last couple of years, to make it a place that we still want to be… The things that make school good are the people and the opportunities that we provide for each other, and music, I like to think, is a pretty vibrant part of our school community,” he said.
A generous outpouring of donations and support from the Kingston music community
Jolene Knowles, Principal at Rideau Heights Public School, shared that, despite this incident being an ongoing investigation with Kingston Police, there has since been an incredible outreach from the Kingston music community and the community at large.
“Our staff and students are so very appreciative for the quick and generous response we have received from the Kingston community,” said Knowles in an e-mail communication. “We have just recently celebrated that music classes were reinstated after being on hold for almost two years due to the pandemic. Sadly, to have much of our equipment taken made for yet more challenging times. The community has been so generous; individuals like Jay ‘Smitty’ Smith and many others, have stepped forward to offer kindness and support, their talent, and the replacement of many instruments.”
Local musician, Rideau Heights alumnus, sparks community donation drive
Jay ‘Smitty’ Smith, whom Knowles mentioned in her communication, said that he heard of the theft through a social media post.
“Rideau Heights Public is where I went and graduated from. I was also one of the first students to be a part of what would become the music program there,” Smith shared. He expressed that the music program at Rideau Heights P.S. was a formative part of his development as a life-long musician. “I used to bring my drums to school. One of my teachers was a trumpet player and another teacher would have us sing along while she played guitar as a class. It was the first time there that they had [that kind of musical engagement with students].”
Smith, who has been a part of the Kingston music scene for over 25 years, shared that when he heard of the break-in, he felt it was important to help his alma mater in whatever way he could. “I saw my guitar player and friend, Jamie Babcock, made a post that he was donating a guitar to the school. Since I have 5,000 people on my Facebook, I’ve been a professional musician my entire life, was part of Limestone Music, and have been collecting for 30 years, I had a stockpile of things I wasn’t using. So, I spoke with [Limestone District School Board Trustee] Tom Gingrich, he came and picked [my donation] up. I also picked up a new acoustic from Gary Traynor at Limestone Music today and [donated it to the school].”
For those who would like to contribute to the ongoing collective donation, Smith encourages folks to visit Limestone Music, and/or buy gift cards to donate to the school so they can purchase what they need.
“I grew up in Rideau Heights and I know all too well what it’s like to not have anything at all,” he disclosed. “Having a guitar, drums, or a bass is and was a privilege. [Music] is what got me through as a teenager. It gave me something to do that I loved and made a career out of. Music is my life, and I know that these kids need to make music.”
‘Our hearts are warmed knowing that we will be able to offer this incredible program again very soon’
Donations such as Smith’s are giving hope to both students and staff at Rideau Heights P.S., and will allow them to quickly get back to making music together again. “This outpouring has enabled us to rebuild our music program and these valued community partners have helped ensure it will be better than ever,” Knowles added of the community outreach. “Our hearts are warmed knowing that we will be able to offer this incredible program here at RHPS again very soon. We know the value of music and the joy it brings our students. A sincere thank you to all who have reached out, donated, and offered their love and kindness our way. It will not be forgotten — in fact, it is just what we teach our students, and we call it the ‘Rideau Heights way.'”