Oliver Jones, Yannick Nézet-Séguin join effort to save Villa Maria music program

More than 100 of Quebec's leading musicians — including pianist Oliver Jones and conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin — are appealing to Villa Maria College to reconsider axing its private music program.

Open letter of support signed by more than 100 local music teachers, performers, composers

Roni Juran is one of the Villa Maria College students helping rally to save the music program. (Photo by Maureen Marovitch)

More than 100 of Quebec's leading musicians — including pianist Oliver Jones and conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin — are appealing to Villa Maria College to reconsider axing its private music program.

An open letter drafted by the Committee to Save the Villa Maria Music School calls the school's decision "unacceptable," and "one more sign of the slow yet alarming trend that is eroding the province's renowned musical instruction programs."

The letter is signed by 129 figures from Quebec's music community.

Villa Maria, a private high school in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, announced in January that it would cancel its private music program at the end of the academic year due to low enrolment.

Luna Sebbar, left, and Lou Bernadet are among those students coming together to try and save the private music lessons at Villa Maria. (Photo by Maureen Marovitch)

The parents committee has been lobbying to save the program, saying that students already taking private music lessons are heartbroken.

"I got involved because when I had to break the news to my daughter, she was inconsolable," said parent Peter Mercuri.

His 15-year-old daughter, Giuliana, has been taking private voice lessons through the program for three years.

Mercuri says the program has been a great experience for her.

"The teachers who are involved in the music school are spectacular. They aren't just training our children on an instrument or teaching them to sing. They are giving them confidence."

He said the parents committee started reaching out to prominent Quebec artists and supporters of the arts in an effort to rally support for music education and show the school's administration that they weren't giving up.

Maya Bendavid, another Villa student, working on a placard for next month's protest. (Photo by Maureen Marovitch)

"We, one-by-one, reached out to every single one of these people who are involved in music, theatre, dance, anything cultural here in Montreal," he said.

"It was a beautiful experience to see all of these people take such an interest in saving the private music school."

The school's administration told CBC in an email on Saturday that the decision "was a very difficult one, which was not made lightly."

The school emphasized that students would still be able to participate in the orchestra band program and an extra-credit wind and percussion orchestra course offered after school.

But the school reiterated its position that the decision to end the private music school program was final.

Maureen Marovitch said the parents committee's aim was to "show concretely to Villa that there is a strong interest in continuing music education." (Photo by Maureen Marovitch)

Another parent, Maureen Marovitch, told CBC that the committee's aim was to "show concretely to Villa that there is a strong interest in continuing music education."

She said more than 200 students are affected by the changes and that they are planning a protest on April 7th.

Students have already begun working on placards and posters. Marovitch said they were "optimistic" the effort will convince the school to change its stance.

About the Author

Marilla Steuter-Martin

Marilla Steuter-Martin has been a journalist with CBC Montreal since 2015.