Students were barely getting back into the rhythm of in-person music lessons after two years of pandemic-induced restrictions when, on the morning of Friday, February 25, 2022, 10 guitars were stolen from the music room at Rideau Public School in the Heights.
“It was very difficult to process,” said teacher Robb McKay. “We had just come back from having a music program where we share things again, right? We haven’t been able to do that for a long time. And so, the children are delighted. They’re all ready to go, and just weeks after we’ve been able to, we lose half our capacity.
Music as “a dynamic element of the school community”
Music, among other subjects like sports or visual arts, can be a classroom experience that provides a different kind of refuge than the home room for many students, especially for students living in the Rideau Heights Neighborhoodespecially for students facing instability in their home life.
“Music is by no means every kid’s passion,” McKay said, “but the fact is, we’ve always been into sports, and it’s really important to me that we offer things that affect kids as well. ‘other styles of being. And that’s not to say that kids who play sports can’t really get into music… But I think the bottom line is that we offer something that allows everyone to see each other in our school.
Having the opportunity to finally share space and sound together in the music classroom, only to have it taken over by instrument theft is “very upsetting for students and teachers alike,” McKay said.
The theft was felt to be a violation and invasion of the sanctuary the music class offers students, McKay detailed.
“Someone walked into our space. We cherish this place, we come here every day and we work very hard, especially in the last two years, to make it a place where we always want to be… Which makes the school good, it’s the people and the opportunities that we have to provide for each other, and music, I like to think, is a pretty vibrant part of our school community,” he said.
A generous wave of donations and support from the Kingston music community
Jolene Knowles, Principal of Rideau Heights Public School, shared that while this incident is under ongoing investigation with Kingston Police, there has since been incredible community outreach. music in Kingston and the community at large.
“Our staff and students are very grateful for the quick and generous response we received from the Kingston community,” Knowles said in an email. “We have just celebrated that music lessons have been reinstated after being suspended for almost two years due to the pandemic. Unfortunately, much of our equipment has been taken for even more difficult times. The community has been so generous; individuals like Jay ‘Smitty’ Smith and many others volunteered to offer their kindness and support, their talent and the replacement of many instruments.
Local musician, Rideau Heights alumnus, sparks community giving campaign
Jay ‘Smitty’ Smith, who Knowles mentioned in his communication, said he heard about the theft through a social media post.
“Rideau Heights Public is where I went and graduated. I was also one of the first students to be part of what would become the music program there,” said explained Smith. He said the music program at Rideau Heights PS was a formative part of his development as a lifelong musician. “I used to bring my drums to school. my teachers was a trumpeter and another teacher made us sing while she played guitar in class. It was the first time they had there [that kind of musical engagement with students].”
Smith, who has been part of the Kingston music scene for more than 25 years, shared that when he heard about the burglary, he felt it was important to help his alma mater in any way possible. “I saw my guitarist and friend, Jamie Babcock, post a message saying he was donating a guitar to the school. Since I have 5,000 people on my Facebook, I have been a professional musician all my life I’ve been in Limestone Music and I’ve been collecting for 30 years I had a stash of things I wasn’t using So I spoke with [Limestone District School Board Trustee] Tom Gingrich, he came and chose [my donation] at the top. I also picked up a new Gary Traynor acoustic at Limestone Music today and [donated it to the school].”
For those interested in contributing to the ongoing collective giving, Smith encourages people to visit Limestone Music and/or purchase gift cards to donate to the school so they can buy what they need.
“I grew up in Rideau Heights and I know very well what it’s like to have nothing at all,” he revealed. “Having a guitar, drums or bass is and has been a privilege. [Music] that’s what got me through adolescence. It gave me something to do that I loved and made a career out of. Music is my life, and I know these kids need to make music.
“Our hearts warm knowing that we will be able to offer this incredible program again very soon”
Donations like Smith’s give hope to the students and staff of Rideau Heights PS and allow them to quickly get back to making music together. “This outpouring has allowed us to rebuild our music program and these valued community partners have helped ensure it is better than ever,” Knowles added of community outreach. “Our hearts are warmed knowing that we will be able to offer this amazing program here at RHPS again very soon. We know the value of music and the joy it brings to our students. A sincere thank you to everyone who reached out hand, donate, and offer their love and kindness in our own way. We won’t forget — in fact, that’s exactly what we teach our students, and we call it the “Rideau Heights Way.”