It all started with a piano — or rather the need for one.
“We were a group of local piano teachers and we needed a quality instrument for concerts and recitals, so we decided to fundraise,” said Joanna Schwarz, founding president of the Howe Sound Performing Arts Association (HSPAA), which celebrates its 20th anniversary this month. “So, I was an accidental president.”
But for seven of the 16 years she was involved with the HSPAA, Schwarz led the fledgling organization as it worked toward attaining that new piano for the community, and also on developing Squamish musicians.
“We focused on local talent,” she said. “We organized regular shows and put that money in the pot towards the piano. In those early days we invited the Capilano College Singers to perform and they generously donated their time and the choir to our cause.”
Things started to come together for the growing association.
“We had two sold-out shows from Norman Foote, and our sponsors were very helpful,” Schwarz said. “Bit by bit we built up the bank account and we had $6,000 when we applied for a grant from the Vancouver Foundation and they matched our funds. We then did a huge fundraiser with Squamish Rotary and Piano Six, and we raised $23,000 — but it still wasn’t enough.”
That’s when the Tiampo family, who had been developing in the community, according to Schwarz, stepped in and quietly donated the remainder.
“It happened in July, and I can remember thinking ‘It’s Christmas in July,’” she said.
Although the piano was housed at Howe Sound Secondary School for years, it now resides at St. John’s Anglican Church.
“That need was the foundation that got our Concert Series going, and having professional and internationally acclaimed performers come to play in Squamish,” she said.
The HSPAA worked on many youth events such as Star Search (which it took over from Giovanni Amenta in 1993) and the Festival of Canadian Arts with talented youth and adults. Eventually the organization branched out to form the Howe Sound Adjudicated Music Festival, with professional evaluation and performances each year.
“We regularly send the top youth to the provincial festival,” Schwarz said. “Our students have done very well.”
In addition, each year the HSPAA donates a bursary to a Howe Sound Secondary School graduate who is going on in the arts. The AME program (Access Music Education) has so far distributed $18,000 to students who need help to pursue their goals in the performing arts, according to Schwarz.
Schwarz has just returned to Squamish after retiring and taking time to travel, but she is back at the HSPAA again, helping out where she can.
“It is a younger board now,” she said. “They are so keen to make things happen in the community. I’m happy to see something I started still going so strong and branching out into the community.”
Aaron Purdie, who has been president of the organization for two years, said the HSPAA still focuses on local talent, but is re-imagining itself from a “grassroots perspective.”
“When the organization started out, there was not a lot going on musically in Squamish,” he said. “Now, places like the Brackendale Art Gallery bring in fantastic performers, and Live at Squamish puts on big shows, so we want to focus on our mandate, which is to promote, assist and develop all forms of performing arts activity in the community — and help our young performers be the best hey can be and shine all that much brighter.
“So, now when we have professional performers come in, we invite them to offer master classes, and because of that, local musicians have been able to work with these incredible professional artists.”
As the HSPAA refocuses on developing local artists, Purdie said the group plans to rebrand, complete with new logo.
“We’re looking forward to promoting our local talents,” he said. “I would love to see some of these talented kids that are just going into music programs come back to Squamish and knock our socks off with an impressive performance.”
The HSPAA kicks off its 20th season on Sept. 22 with the music of Debussy performed by Sarah Hagen and Pro’ject Sound at St. John’s Anglican Church, accompanied by images from the Squamish Valley Photography Club.
The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are $25 for adults, $20 for seniors and free for students and children, available at Billie’s Flower House or at the venue.
For more info, go to www.howesoundarts.ca.