If there's one thing Eddie Trovato deserves, it's to take a bow at next week's year-end music concert.
And probably a big sigh of relief.
That's because the music director at Coquitlam's Gleneagle secondary this year took about 200 high school students in choir and band on a journey they'll likely be talking about years after they graduate.
Since September, the concert and jazz bands and concert choir and vocal jazz ensembles have not only explored a wide range of repertoire, from Disney tunes to African folk songs - some of which will be performed at their June 9 final show - but they've alsosung and played before audiences for the school fall and Christmas productions, at festivals and, for the first time, at the national Music Fest Canada that was held last month in Richmond.
For that 39th annual event that saw some 10,000 young musicians from across the country, Gleneagle's vocal jazz ensemble clinched a silver award in the choral/vocal jazz division (with singer Jacquie Bolster winning an honour accolade) while the senior jazz band took a gold in the instrumental jazz category (with drummer Kyle Araki taking the honour prize).
It was sweet victory, especially since Gleneagle was the only Tri-City school to grab national recognition.
Still, it didn't top what Trovato and his young musicians did two months earlier.
During the March spring break, 86 students raised $2,000 each to travel to Cuba on a musical and cultural exchange at two fine arts schools in Matanzas, an area about 32 kilometres west of Varadero that's known for its poets, culture and Afro-Cuban folklore.
The Gleneagle students broke the ice first by handing over $40,000 in musical instruments and supplies as well as personal hygiene items and soccer cleats. "We had everything from piccolos to tubas. There was even a timpani set," said Trovato, a professional percussionist who had a connection with the school from 2006 when he took Terry Fox secondary students to Cuba.
Funding for part of the trip came from a gala dinner, dance and silent auction in February that featured the sounds of Gleneagle's jazz ensembles and Rumba Calzada, a Latin jazz and salsa favourite from Vancouver.
Grade 12 student Steven Black, 18, said he was overwhelmed with what he saw in Cuba. "To see this fine arts school in such poor condition and with equipment that was, really, not in that good shape, and the music they play was such a contrast," he said. "They are such amazing musicians, so talented and so welcoming. It really touches your heart to see just what they can do with so little."
He added, "It just shows you that you don't need to put a laptop in the hands of every student to have them do well because they have the drive.... It was such a happy place."
Jeff Huggins, who is also 18 and graduates this month, said the language barrier was easy to overcome as some of the students had rudimentary English; mostly, they communicated with hand gestures and musical games. The experience "really makes you think how difficult it is for them and how much you take for granted at home," he said. "They were extremely happy."
Both Black and Huggins credit Trovato for making their final year a success, music-wise. Huggins is the lead singer in the promising pop/rock band called The Knots, which last year was named B.C.'s best teen band after a five-month contest sponsored by YouThink and Tom Lee Music.
Being under Trovato's guidance in choir for two years "has given me a chance to sing different music. He is a great teacher and has helped me with tonnes of things, especially performance," said Huggins, who will study music at Vancouver Community College in September.
As for Trovato's next step, he plans to bring some Cuban fine arts students up to Coquitlam next year to continue the exchange. "Hopefully, we can get them up here in the winter so they can see the snow," he said.
The Gleneagle year-end music concert is June 9 at 7 p.m. in the school's multipurpose room. Tickets at $5/$2 are available from music students or by calling 604-464-5793.