Rotary club supports music and outdoor education with fundraiser

SCCHS music students perform in a jazz combo at Burger Fest, June 3.

By Matthew Liebenberg

A successful fundraising event will benefit musical training for high school students and outdoor education for young children.

The Rotary Club of Swift Current hosted the 2nd annual Burger Fest at the Chinook golf course, June 3.

The event was a relaxing outdoor experience on the clubhouse deck with live jazz music provided by students from the Swift Current Comprehensive High School (SCCHS) music program.

“We had lots of great comments that people really appreciated the venue,” Rotary Swift Current President-elect Patrick Richards said. “We’re very happy that the weather was kind, because everybody really enjoyed it.”

The event raised close to $3,000 and these funds will benefit youth in various ways. The club provides financial support for the annual Rotary Jazz Retreat at Cypress Hills and it funds the Swift Current Early Years Family Resource Centre summer preschool program, which will make it possible for children to enjoy an outdoor experience at the Sage Creek Prairie School. Funds from Burger Fest will also go towards a few college scholarships for students.

He noted that Rotary Swift Current applies for grants from Rotary District 5360 as part of the funding support for the Rotary Jazz Retreat and the scholarships.

Rotary Swift Current started the Burger Fest last year as a new event after previously hosting Lobsterfest for many years.

“Rotary is excited to be doing these things for the community,” he said. “We’re hoping to do another fundraiser this year so that we can expand some of our service efforts.”

SCCHS band director Aaron Thingelstad said the Burger Fest was a great opportunity for students to perform in the public.

“One of the big things about learning to be a musician is getting out and performing,” he noted. “We haven’t had that opportunity for the last few years. So it’s been great partnering with the Rotary Club of Swift Current and getting this Burger Fest going. The students get an opportunity to play some different repertoire in front of a nice appreciative crowd and test all their hard work on the public.”

The students performed in smaller jazz groups, called jazz combos, at the Burger Fest. This was different from their regular format.

“We usually do a big band format where we do old-time swing and things like that,” he said. “We wanted to do more of a jazz club atmosphere. So we split them up, based on their instrumentation. Each combo had the same instrumentation and some of the rhythm section is doing double duty. … It’s a mix of levels and abilities, and just an opportunity for all the kids to try soloing and play more traditional jazz club style music. It’s all part of their jazz education.”

Thingelstad and choral director Brianna Dennehy coordinate the SCCHS music program. There are 160 students in the band program for the 2022/23 school year and about another 60 in the choir program.

“Some of them do crossover as well,” Thingelstad said. “A lot of kids are in choir and in band as well. So we have three concert bands, two jazz bands, a concert choir, vocal jazz group, and a chamber group. We’ve had a strong program for many years and lots of community support. We’ve been really lucky to have the support of the community and keeping music alive in the city.”

Rotary Swift Current has been supporting the annual jazz retreat for close to 20 years and as a result it became known as the Rotary Jazz Retreat a few years ago.

“We’ve all been grateful for the support from them,” he said. “It’s been a great partnership for many years.”

The senior jazz group, senior vocal jazz ensemble and an auditioned chamber ensemble participate in the retreat at Cypress Hills resort each February. It is an intensive experience for students and important for several reasons.

“It gives us an opportunity to get away from the city into a beautiful facility and atmosphere where the students get to connect, bond and do some team building,” he said. “We bring in accomplished jazz clinicians from around Canada to work with the students for three days. Students take part in master classes, lessons, full rehearsals, and other activities that bring forward their musicianship, and get us ready for our spring performances and our festivals that we compete in around the country.”