Was it divine intervention when Knox Past Students Association Toronto chapter provided their alma mater with musical instruments a few years ago?
The answer is definitely “yes” when the question is posed to school principal, Rev. Dr. Gordon Cowans, who believes in a higher power.
Since its formation two decades ago, past students in the Greater Toronto Area have been consistent in supporting their alma mater through gifts of books for the library, computers for the lab and scholarships. However, it’s the financial resources to boost the school’s band that has stood out.
“Given our limited budget, this is not something we could have done on our own,” said Dr. Cowans.
For the third straight year, the musical ambassadors performed at the Toronto alumni association’s 20th annual reunion gala last Saturday night in Markham.
“In 2011, when the chapter invited me to attend this event, I asked them if we could find a way to bring along some of our musicians to say this is our gift back to you and we want you to see how your investment is paying off while impacting positively on the lives of the kids,” said Cowans. “I wanted to show this chapter that what they did mattered a great deal to us.”
A total of six members attended the gala and that number increased by two in 2012. This year, 11 members and four teachers came from Jamaica for the gala.
“The wave of excitement that this musical outfit has created is palpable and playing musical instruments and singing has helped to enrich the quality of our students’ experience,” said Cowans, who has been the school’s principal for the past 20 years. “What we are doing is educating our children and finding new pathways for their future and by extension creating new avenues for Jamaica’s development.”
The night before the gala, the school’s signature band and soul singers appeared at a concert organized by two-time Juno nominee and 2012 Harry Jerome Award winner, Jay Douglas, who visited Knox College for the first time last year while vacationing in Jamaica. The proceeds accrued went to the school’s music program.
“These young people are the lions of the future and they deserve our support,” said Douglas, who has been residing in the Greater Toronto Area since 1963.
The visiting band headed by music teacher, Alrick Wignal, included Jovane Blagrove, Ashley Brown, Romell Clarke, Aldaine Goodall, Larnelle Letts, Luke Miller, Treze-Gaye Smith, Orlando Stephenson, Amelia Wellington, Kaneil Wisdom and Oneika Young.
“This is quite an experience playing with the band in Canada,” said Young, a Grade 10 student who aspires to be a media practitioner. “I started playing the tenor sax last August and fell in love with the instrument.”
York University music student, Chardan Howe, has spent three months in Jamaica over the last two years helping to enhance the Knox students’ music skills.
In addition to showcasing the band at its annual gala, the past students association honoured co-founder, Sheila Peart-Robinson, Dr. Jean Purchas-Tulloch and Sheryl Simms.
A 1969 graduate, Peart-Robinson completed her training at Church Teachers’ College seven years later and taught for several years before migrating to Canada with her family in the late 1970s. She has been an income tax auditor with the federal public service for the past three decades and the past students association public relations officer.
Based in Washington, Purchas-Tulloch is an educator and linguist with a PhD in African Studies & Research. Simms graduated from Knox in 2002 and is the dance, drama and theatre arts instructor at the Jamaica school.
The co-ed institution, whose alumni include former world sprint champion, Donovan Bailey, has an enrolment of nearly 1,350 students.