When the Richmond Music School first began in 1980, it operated out of a single portable classroom on Sea Island.
Thirty-eight years later, the school resembles a full-fledged conservatory, with an annual calendar that features a concerto concert, scholarship competition, and ensemble concert.
Former principal Patricia Rolston has been the mind behind many of the school’s current events and programs.
“They’re all mine. Everything. Nothing has been done that hasn’t been out of my head,” she says.
Since arriving at the Richmond Music School in 1989, Rolston has started numerous initiatives that give young students a glimpse of what it would be like to perform as a concert musician.
One of these is the annual Concerto Concert, where students are given the opportunity to play as soloists alongside professional musicians.
“They (the concerts) are all contributing to making these kids who they are,” Rolston says.
After 29 years as the principal, Rolston is now stepping down, due to health issues and a need for more rest.
While the school has changed leadership, it will continue to serve the community through music, says new principal Grace Chami-Sather.
“Music is a universal language that brings the people of the world together and improves their cognitive capacity,” says Chami-Sather, an educational consultant who has teaching experience in Lebanon, Oman, Greece, Canada, the United States, and the United Arab Emirates.
“Moreover, it is a cultural artifact that carries a deeper understanding of the collective feeling of the original society.”
Chami-Sather has taught numerous subjects, including English, Arabic, piano and music theory. She also has written a children’s book that promotes literacy.
Throughout her diverse career, Chami-Sather has found a way to incorporate music into her teaching, even if the subject wasn’t related to music.
“Whether I was teaching languages or math or arts, music was my universal tool. Each country I lived in offered me an opportunity to grow professionally, teaching school subjects and English as foreign language through music.”
Chami-Sather has also used the piano to train budding teachers, and as a tool to create a bond between these instructors and students.
The piano has been a central part of her life, both inside and outside the classroom.
For three consecutive years, Chami-Sather achieved the highest score in the Middle East for the Trinity College of Music piano examination.
At age 17, she also had the opportunity to play for foreign ambassadors in Lebanon, where she grew up.
Now, Chami-Sather hopes to give students the knowledge and opportunities she had as a young musician.
“We (will) create opportunities for our students to travel, win scholarships and be discovered as talents in the world and at home,” she says.
In addition to giving students more opportunities to perform, the new principal also hopes to create new programs, such as classes for adults and classes devoted to music history.
“History sets the breaking grounds for the future. Reviewing the history and lives of composers would lead to a better understanding of compositions and the meaning of creating music that suits the needs of (the) times and cultures.”
Looking ahead to the upcoming school year, Chami-Sather invites the public to visit the School’s tent during the Richmond’s Culture Days on Sept. 30, located at the Richmond Cultural Centre.
While the Richmond Music School has grown in size and programs, its primary objective remains the same.
“The vast majority of them have become, I hope, music lovers, and will go to concerts and make music a part of their lives forever,” says Rolston.“If that happens, then I have accomplished my goal.”