Smithers jazz players entertain crowds on the streets in Havana.

Smithers jazz players entertain crowds on the streets in Havana.

High school jazz players perform in Cuban tour

Fifty-one Smithers Secondary School senior concert and jazz band students toured their music through Havana recently.

This was their second performance tour in Cuba in three years. said Michael Doogan-Smith, the music instructor at Smithers Secondary School, and their first tour was such a success that a second was a no-brainer, and plans are already unfolding to go again three years from now.

The idea came from a few colleagues of Doogan-Smith’s, who had taken some of their students to Cuba in previous years.

“The more information I got the more I thought this would be a viable educational alternative to our students and it’s been an absolutely fantastic experience, both trips,” Doogan-Smith said.

The three goals in the program is to link people in the world with a common interest, to give an honest portrayal of each other’s country and to encourage cooperation. Within that, they try to expose the students to Cuban culture, and history. Music, of course, is an integral part of that.

“We are exposed to a number of Afro-Cuban workshops,” Doogan-Smith said. “The Cubans perform for us, we perform for them, and everyone ends up having a dance afterwards.”

All the students, and the parents too, were taught the salsa, as well as partner dancing, he said.

“Dance, and responding to music, is so strong in Cuban culture,” Doogan-Smith said.

They also took home some Cuban music pieces and are already practicing them, he added, preparing for their year-end show on June 15th where they’ll share what they learned.

Some of the highlights included being the opening act at a jazz club, and having lunch and performing with the jazz band Novel Voz, Cuba’s premier vocal jazz ensemble.

“That was a great experience as well,” Doogan-Smith said. “It’s just a jam packed week of Cuban culture and performance opportunities.”

It’s something for the younger students to look forward to, he said, who will have the opportunity to go in three years. Fundraising efforts will surely begin soon, and he thanked everyone involved before with the $42,000 they raised over two years, bringing the cost down for the students and their families so they could go.

Hawkair, and Central Mountain Air were very generous with flights, and the Bulkley Valley Credit Union was also instrumental in making this trip a success.

“They helped the students out … couldn’t have done it without them and the community,” Doogan-Smith said.