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35 colourful years with Mr. I in Coquitlam

Yurgen Ilaender will mark a milestone anniversary next year at Place des Arts.

How does Mr. I keep up his energy while teaching music to more than 150 kids each week?

“Vitamin B and lots of naps,” the 62-year-old Centennial secondary graduate joked last week during an interview at Place des Arts, where he has been on faculty for nearly 35 years.

Mr. I (aka Yurgen Ilaender) is a fixture at the Coquitlam venue and is known throughout the region for his Musical Rainbow program — an intensive course he developed for early-childhood musical training.

Mr. I starts off his students young — at the tender age of three — in the red level. Next comes the yellow level, also a 45-minute class once a week, to guide kindergarten pupils. Green, blue and purple follow for students in grades 1 to 3 — each lesson lasting an hour with no more than 10 participants. And at completion, grads get their rainbow diploma.

His sessions offer much more than elementary schools, he said. While they are learning the basics, his group is practising melodies by Bach and Beethoven. “It’s about building the whole musician, not just reading and writing music. I also want them to learn to play the recorder and other instruments, to sing and to perform in a recital at the end of the year.”

“My job is to inspire the children and to be ready to explore their musicality,” he said.

A German native, Mr. I started teaching at the Maillardville facility in 1982 after the person he was substituting for took another job. With a diploma from Vancouver Community College (with additional training from UBC, University of Calgary and University of Washington), he created his Musical Rainbow based on the Kodaly and Montessori concepts. Under those streams, children set their own course while the instructor acts as an advisor on such techniques as sequence, rhythm and movement. “I’m there for gentle, positive teaching. I want them to express themselves through sound in a playful environment.”

And his method works as more than 50% see the full program through to the end. Once they reach nine, many go on to study privately with faculty members at Place des Arts.

Others have also gone on to find success professionally, he said. His graduates now include a New York-based violinist, a sound engineer for Bryan Adams and piano teachers at PdA. He corrals some of his other alumni for his Rainbow Singers choir, which entertains and records educational music CDs. “The main thing I do in the class is inspire the kids,” the Maple Ridge resident said, “and I hope this becomes a music foundation for their lifetime.”

• Space is open for Mr. I’s red and yellow classes, starting in January. To learn more about his Musical Rainbow program, visit To register for his classes at Place des Arts, call 604-664-1636 or go to And for a free mp3 Christmas song from Mr. I, email him a; add Christmas song in the subject line.