Sarah McLachlan Plants the Seeds of Tomorrow
By Corrine Dayman | Photo Kharen Hill | Interview by Sandra
There’s nothing quite like settling in and talking with one of your closest friends. She understands your highs and lows, has seen you cry those unforgiving tears, supported you as you faced your deepest uncertainties, and stood by your side as you came out on top. It was reminiscent of this when I had the privilege of speaking one-on-one with multiple Grammy award-winner Sarah McLachlan. One of Canada’s finest female entertainers and globetrotting activists, Sarah is no stranger to using her celebrity for the greater good. Touching lives and planting seeds of hope, Sarah’s latest collaborative efforts fall nothing short of inspirational. Growing up in Canada with a vast array of musical influences and experiencing first-hand the tremendous positive impact that it had on her own childhood, Sarah and her talented team of visionaries have brought back a sense of hope and belonging to the under-served children and youth of the Vancouver area. Addressing the need for access to music programs that had been cut from the public school system, The Sarah McLachlan School of Music was born, in her words, “to give kids the opportunity to find their voice and to find their sense of self through music.” The singer-songwriter admits that the idea for the school was “slow in coming.” It was at the age of twenty-one, during a trip to Thailand and Cambodia with a Canadian non-profit that McLachlan “opened her eyes” to all of the luxuries and opportunities to thrive in the arts that she had been given.
It was at that moment that she took a step back and asked herself, “What can I do to give back?” Years later, though she identified plenty of charitable options that would benefit from her donation, Sarah wanted to find a ay “to have a real impact.” The answer was in the music. With thoughtful recollection she explains, “Music has given me everything.” And with that, “I knew, in some small way, I could do something myself.” A fruitful nine-year partnership with arts education centre the Arts Umbrella helped build the infrastructure and curriculum for the program. Realizing her vision’s relevance and viability, Sarah’s school graciously bid farewell to this brilliant experience and evolved further, moving into a larger facility, generously donated by the Wolverton Foundation. This move allowed the school to spread its wings while continuing to provide a safe and nurturing environment and delivering top quality music instruction at no cost for at-risk and under- served children, youth, and adults.
A performer by trade, McLachlan put into action a formula, which combined her rich musical career with the experience of a team of talented educators. “I love teams. I love everybody bringing their own unique perspective and abilities to a project. Part of the success of our school is bringing the right people on board, bringing together people who have the mindset and the understanding of what it is we are trying to create. It’s a chemistry.” An uplifting environment for under-served children and youth who have an interest in music, The Sarah McLachlan School of Music has become an outlet for individuals who “have long since been labelled.”
“Regardless of how they have been branded at home or at school, they get to leave all of their labels at the door and be unencumbered,” says Sarah. With its vibrant and loose curriculum, the School allows students the opportunity to explore their interest in video production and band ensemble while offering up many genres of music, including classical, world music, jazz and pop. McLachlan believes that it is important to “give kids music they are already connected with,” because it engages them in the program and supports what they choose to learn through individual and group lessons.
While the after school program operates on an honour system, parents are required to fill out an application form and are encouraged to be engaged on an ongoing basis. Students must commit to regular attendance in their daily school routine in order to experience the full benefit of the facility. Working with 14 elementary and senior schools in the area, Sarah’s team has successfully created a culture of respect and inclusiveness, which the staff and students uphold in the community. The School’s 5 Pillars are strong reminders of how to conduct oneself in life, with a core focus on community, connection, collaboration, creativity, and confidence. Each student is valued individually, “giving kids the opportunity to find their voice and to find their sense of self through music.”
In McLachlan’s words, the result for the students is an “engaging and emotional output that creates a beautiful community that might not exist for them before.” A lifelong singer-songwriter, Sarah discovered how powerful music is at an early age. She fondly recalls the communal aspect and how it “has always been a connecting point.” These sentiments are what she now hopes to pass on to the students who pass through these doors. A feeling that “I am connected and I have a place here and I have value here.” Sarah believes that these powerful influences can help “set students up for success in every other part of their life.” There is no doubt that Sarah is excited about the future and possibilities that lie ahead for the school. With the success of the Vancouver location, Sarah has plans to replicate the model and its culture in other major cities. With the help of sponsor support, a viable resource is brought to those seeking a unique musical experience to call their own.
On a personal level, McLachlan feels a sense of accomplishment and pride in what she has built. As a woman in business, she has been lucky to not have encountered many set backs in her career. As a mother and entertainer, she identifies with the power she has been given as a role- model to her new and existing fan base. “I feel that power and I feel that responsibility. I love that something I created can reach out and affect someone’s life in a positive way. That is such an amazing affirmation” At this point in her life, Sarah remarks that life “keeps getting better and better.” “I love the wisdom and understanding that comes with getting older and the recognition and the importance of cultivating really strong and healthy relationships with your female friends, with your partners, and your kids. That’s everything. Being kind to yourself, and forgiving yourself and looking at every day as a new adventure.”
Sarah bids me a final farewell, planting a final seed for me to ponder “Life’s not half done. If things go well, I’m only half-way there. This is a great second act and I’m just excited for the future and everything that may come.”