For Jeff Saunders, instilling a love of music to Prince Rupert’s youth isn’t just a job – it’s a passion.
“For me it’s just the best feeling in the world. I can think back to when I was in their shoes, learning how to play music, and how exciting it was to track your own progress and see yourself grow,” said Saunders, who took on the role of teaching band and social studies at Charles Hays Secondary School at the start of the 2013 school year.
“To know that I am carrying on in that tradition of music education is very exciting … you look at someone like Peter Witherly in town who has spent all those years in music education and I get a tremendous sense of pride knowing that I am carrying on in that great tradition.”
Jeff is the oldest of three children, with a younger brother and a younger sister, but it was his parents that introduced him to the music that would play such a pivotal role in his adult life.
“I grew up around music. My parents had always played music for me from a very young age and they made it very accessible for me. They were always willing to put me into music lessons and, luckily, I went to an elementary school that had a band program and a high school that had a reputable band program. From there it just really took off,” he said.
“My parents have been nothing but supportive and inspiring.”
While music is his passion, Saunders didn’t initially think it could be a career. Even as high school graduation approached, his career path wasn’t lending itself to music.
“In my Grade 12 year I knew I wanted to be a teacher, but I hadn’t made the connection that I could teach and carry on with my passion of music. I was looking at history, geography and social studies, which I also teach at Charles Hays, but I decided one day after talking with my dad that I just need to pursue music as the focus,” explained the Vancouver Island University graduate.
“I played clarinet in high school, but took jazz guitar in university. In terms of how many instruments I play, it’s around 10 but they are at various levels. With the guitar and clarinet I am much more versed than with the trombone or the trumpet, but I can play them to a certain extent.”
Although he was raised and graduated in B.C., Saunders’ first teaching job required he leave the province he called home. In fact, it took him pretty much to the other side of the world.
“I was living in London, England when I found out that I had got the job in Prince Rupert. I was supply teaching, which is basically teaching on-call all over London … a lot of the school that I taught at were in south and east London and the kids there certainly have a tough life. There are a lot of refugees and more socio-economic problems, but it was definitely rewarding and I learned a lot from it,” he said.
“It forced me to really look at my teaching practice and what I was doing in class-management, in my pacing during the lesson and it really forced me to sharpen those skills.”
Saunders arrived in Prince Rupert following a bus tour of Europe and a week back in Nanaimo. Fresh off the bus from both Europe and Digby Island, Saunders said he was immediately embraced by his new home on the North Coast.
“I was instantly welcomed with open arms. I met the administration at Charles Hays, I met some other teachers and went over to another teacher’s house for dinner to meet some other members of the community … everyone is just so hospitable. I felt really welcomed and I still feel really welcomed. It’s just a very friendly place and I feel very happy here,” he said, noting the sense of community was something he was naturally drawn to.
“My parents instilled in me that it is important to get involved in your community and make a positive change for the place you live in. Since arriving in Prince Rupert, I’ve really noticed there is a strong sense of community here and it was quite easy to get swept up into that.”
Between playing in the community band and helping foster the musical talents of Prince Rupert youth, Saunders is helping ensure a bright future for music on the North Coast. And he has some words of wisdom for anyone who wants to make music a career of their own.
“To aspiring musicians, I would say be willing to keep an open mind about all types of music,” he said.
“People get locked into one certain genre or style or instrument, but in order to become a master musician these days you really need to be able to do it all. Explore as many avenues as possible.”