School program inspires Port Dover’s next guitar heroes

·3 min read

The kids in the guitar club at Lakewood Elementary in Port Dover first picked up their instruments only a few weeks ago — but you wouldn’t know it to hear them.

On a recent Wednesday morning, the rookie musicians were strumming the Beatles’ classic “Let It Be,” confidently shifting from one chord to another with some gentle encouragement from their teacher, local musician and performer Dan Fewings.

“It has helped me. It’s gotten my fingers to be stronger, to naturally go to the chords,” said Grade 8 student Darren Lubbers.

The guitar club started in February after Lakewood teacher Joe Archer approached local musician Tony Duclos about how to give kids — some of whom were being bullied at school — something “uplifting in their life.”

Duclos, who runs the annual Birdtown Jamboree music festival in Norfolk County, was eager to help. Working with Erie Music in Simcoe and Guitars for Kids, a Cambridge-based group that donates instruments, Duclos delivered five guitars, with tuners and capos, to Lakewood.

Birdtown Jamboree also covered the cost of eight weekly lessons from Fewings, a retired high school music teacher.

“We support teachers who are trying to teach their kids something without the equipment to do it,” Duclos explained. “If one or two students carry on to become part of a band or whatever, that’s exactly what we want to see.”

The club now has six members — seven including Archer, who is learning alongside the kids — with six more students eager to join as soon as the school can find some more guitars.

“My hope is these (students) get empowered so much that I can bring in six more kids, and I oversee it, but they mentor (each other),” Archer said, adding that learning to play together has been a good challenge.

“We screw up together, we laugh at each other, but we help each other learning the chords, too,” he said.

Fewings marvelled at the improvement in his young students over five short weeks.

“They want to be there. They hold each other accountable. It’s neat,” he said.

“When you’ve got kids that express an interest in it, if you can turn somebody onto music, that’s the whole point.”

Xander Archer, in Grade 7, has enjoyed learning a new instrument with Fewings’ help.

“We learn a lot from him each day,” he said. “I can’t believe how fast I can move the chords. I like it when he reinstructs me so I know what to do different.”

The kids are “meticulous” when it comes to practicing, said Joe Archer, who regularly spots club members strumming their guitars and hanging out between classes.

Duclos and Fewings say they would happily expand the program to other elementary schools in Norfolk, and Lakewood student Easton Deland said those kids should check it out.

“If they’re interested in guitar and interested in learning, this would be great,” said Deland, who has been inspired to take music classes when he gets to high school next year.

That’s music to Duclos’ ears.

“You learn a few chords and start playing a few songs, and maybe they’ll join the music program. And that’ll change somebody’s life,” he said.

Lubbers is also excited to keep playing in high school — but he admits to an ulterior motive.

“Girls love guys with guitars,” he said with a grin.

J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator