Zeena Al-Jumaili had taken piano lessons only once before.
The soft-spoken 13-year-old was introduced to the instrument while she was living in Dubai, waiting to come to Canada with her parents, young brother and two sisters, one older and one younger.
Zeena and her family were leaving behind their home country of Iraq, hoping to find peace and stability. Her parents wanted to come to Canada.
After nine years in Dubai, the family of six moved to Vancouver in 2015. Then they moved to Burnaby before landing in Pitt Meadows in 2016, when Zeena and her siblings settled into their new lives.
Zeena is in her first year at Pitt Meadows secondary and loves everything about it. The aspiring gynecologist said her favourite subjects are gym, because she loves sports, and socials, because of her love of world issues.
Her younger sister Mina, 7, goes to Highland Park elementary.
Both girls are sitting in the Bergthorson Academy of Musical Arts waiting to start their piano lessons after receiving a bursary along with their older sister, Fatima, 14, who has chosen to study guitar.
Rob Hornsey, executive director of the music academy, along with Josine Eikelenboom with the Maple Ridge Music Society, are providing the three new residents to the city with musical lessons of their choice.
The idea started with Eikelenboom, who discovered the society had a financial surplus going into the new year.
The Maple Ridge Music Society presents a series of six chamber music concerts each winter in the music room at Westacres, a 20-acre farm owned by Eikelenboom, that is also her home. The venue has an international reputation and attracts musicians from not only across the country, but around the world.
“We have very little overhead costs, of course, we keep the concerts in our house, we have a piano, when musicians have to stay overnight, they stay with me,” said Eikelenboom, who said all her income is from ticket sales.
“Sometimes [the musicians] decide even to volunteer. We had a festival this summer and it cost us hardly anything because they said, ‘No we’ll do it for free this time,’” she said.
She decided she wanted to do something meaningful with the extra money and after meeting with the committee, they decided they would give the money to Hornsey, executive director of the Bergthorson Academy of Musical Arts, to do something interesting and innovative.
“For us it was to make available a bursary for people, for students, for young people who want to study music, but don’t have the means,” said Eikelenboom.
Hornsey decided he wanted to give music scholarships to children of families trying to make a new home in Canada.
“As a way of welcoming them and letting music be part of what connects them to Canada,” he said.
He also decided to add another $1,000 from a memorial fund set up in his late wife’s name, Judith Bergthorson.
Then he got in touch with the Immigrant Services Society of B.C. to see if they could recommend a family who would welcome the opportunity.
Carolina Echeverri, site manager at ISS of B.C., recommended the Al-Jumaili family immediately for the program. The girls’ parents often volunteered at events with ISS and had previously mentioned that they wanted to put their girls into music lessons.
“I’m so happy that they are able to come here. This motivates the kids also and the parents. They have a dream to put their kids in these kinds of classes and so it’s very nice,” said Echeverri.
Each girl has received four months of one-on-one music lessons at Bergthorson Academy, one half-hour every week and the loan of a Yamaha digital piano and a guitar to practise with at home. When the four months run out, Hornsey said that they will assess the situation and see if there is additional funding to allow the sisters to keep up with their lessons.
Zeena and Mina both love the piano.
“It makes me really happy,” said Zeena.
“Music can explain a lot of stuff. That’s what I enjoy. If you’re happy and you are sitting and playing music, it can show that you are happy or if like if you are sad and play a sad song it can show that you are sad,” she said.
Hornsey would also like to sponsor the family for an evening of music at one of the Candlelight concerts held at Westacres.
But, ultimately, he wants to award more bursaries to children new to Canada.
“To try and create opportunities to put live music into people’s lives and into the community,” he said, adding that any donations would go into the Bergthorson Community Music Education Performance Society of B.C., a non-profit organization where 100 per cent of donations will go towards the cause.
“We just thought this was a fabulous way to help families that are new to Canada, families that are maybe trying to get established. It is difficult to have enough money to take care of ends, never mind music lessons,” he said.