McGill Music and Arts School prepares A Christmas Carol


Arts education is an integral part of a child’s education in Europe, but when Martha Laarman moved here from Holland, she noticed a considerable lack of it and started the McGill Blvd.  Music and Arts School.Juanita DeVos helps her daughter Zoe and Claire Deis-Hudak adjust a mask for their upcoming production of A Christmas Carol. Photo By Richard Amery

“Our goal is to  provide music and arts education at affordable prices,” said Laarman, who, since forming the school in 2007, has seen enrollment grow from nine students to just over 100.

“We have students from ages 4-94, well not just 94, but it isn’t just kids,” she continued adding while the school  is located  at 260 McGill Blvd, in the basement of the Maranatha Church,  students don’t have to be affiliated with the church to be part of the program.

“In Europe, where I’m from, this is normal.  All of the students go to music lessons after normal school hours. But when I moved here,  I found that wasn’t the case, ” continued Laarman, the school’s  piano teacher, adding  the non-profit school also offers a variety of different arts related classes in the same location from eight different teachers, so parents with more than one child don’t have to run all over the city  getting them to lessons in different locations.
“There is nothing negative about  music and art,” she said.

Students, who also include adults , can take half hour music lessons or more involved two hour lessons in fine arts and drama. Music students all take part in the Royal Conservatory program.
The school  does try to produce a play each year — this year it will be Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol,’ which takes place, Dec. 10.

 Drama teacher  Juanita DeVos has been teaching  drama for 12 years and worked with Salamander Theatre For Young Audiences in Ottawa before coming to Lethbridge and joining the  McGill school. But for now she is busily helping put together the production of ‘A Christmas Carol.’
“I like the idea of surprising children with their own creativity,” DeVos said adding creativity is important in many aspects of modern life.

“Look at the sciences, you can’t make new chemicals without being creative and mathematics is very creative as well. To create a building, you need to be creative. There are many  other facets of scholastic life that benefit from creativity,” she said adding she is letted her cast of six students aged 10-14, including two of her own children, run wild with their creative ideas for this production, from costuming, creating masks and staging.
“In Dickens’ time, the arts was seen as being for the rich and the poor people suffered because of it. With cuts to arts programs today, this  is why  this story is so relevant today,” she said adding proceeds from this dinner theatre production will be going to support McGill School.

She decided to put on “A Christmas Carol,” at the request of her Grade 9 son, Willem, who had always wanted to be in it. Now he and the other cast members each play seven different characters, including all taking a turn as Scrooge.

“Scrooge changes with every time he meets a  ghost, so  that is represented by having a completely different actor playing him each time,” DeVos said, helping one of her students put together a mask with a glue gun and paper.


“We‘re showing the kids how to do things on a shoestring. We have paper maché masks and shadow puppets made out of cereal boxes. We’re showing them that creativity doesn’t have to cost a bundle,” she added, noting acting is more than just about memorizing lines.

“We’re teaching them to be creative. They substitute words they feel more comfortable with.  I’m teaching them  to do more than jusClaire Deis-Hudak and Willem DeVos test out shadow puppets for A Christmas Carol. Photo by Richard Ameryt memorize a bunch of lines, but to actually understand them. Because acting is more than just memorization. That way just teaches them to memorize and how to be an automaton. And they get enough of that already. At the very least I want them to walk away from this  knowing their ideas have meaning,” DeVos said, adding the production has been a collaborative effort between her and the cast.

Because each of the cast plays so many character, costumes are very simple, with set pieces and masks denoting the different characters.

“ It wasn’t  a play people auditioned for, it’s a play for anybody who wanted to  be in it,” she said.
‘A Christmas Carol’ takes place Dec. 10 at  the McGill Blvd Music and Arts School in the Maranatha Church.
Dinner is served at 6 p.m., with the play beginning at 7 p.m. or you can just come for the play and dessert intermission.
 The school is also presenting their annual Christmas concert, Dec. 11 at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the same location.

The Playgoers of Lethbridge are also presenting a reading of A Christmas Carol at Southminster United Church, Dec. 10 at 7:30 p.m. with all proceeds of the $10 tickets going to the Interfaith Foodbank.

— By Richard Amery, L.A. Beat Editor
A version of this story also appears in the Dec. 8 edition of the Lethbridge Sun Times
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