A new music school has opened in Port Alberni for musicians and artists both young and old.
The Vancouver Island Conservatory of Music & Arts opened in the former KFC building on Redford Street earlier this summer. Instructor Sevilya Hendrickx-Rai says she strives to see students develop their musical and artistic skills through the highest level of education.
“I’m a child of classical musicians,” said Hendrickx-Rai. “So it really runs in my blood.”
She said she first asked her parents to buy her a violin when she was five years old.
“I’ve always been mesmerized by concert halls,” said Hendrickx-Rai. “That’s how it all started.”
Hendrickx-Rai was born in Central Asia and her parents moved to Moscow when she was six years old. She studied the violin and piano in Moscow up to age 21, after which she moved to the Netherlands and started playing the viola.
She said she became interested in the viola while she was working with a jazz ensemble in Moscow.
“We had one guest in the audience,” she said. “He came up to me and asked if he could borrow my violin. He played with the violin and it was so beautiful. Then he picked up his own case and opened it up and it was a viola. He played just as beautiful. That particular day—I still remember it. I wanted to be just like him. I wanted to play on two instruments as good as he could.”
She graduated from the Royal Conservatory of The Hague in the Netherlands with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in viola. She describes her education as “very diverse,” starting with a “conservative” education in Moscow.
“Classical music is huge [in Moscow], it’s very cultural,” she said. “It’s a completely different style [in the Netherlands]. You get lots of freedom. You really can express yourself in your own way—there are no expectations in terms of style.”
She ended up in Canada after she married a man from Port Alberni.
“First we were travelling between the Netherlands and Canada for a very long time,” she said. “Then the pandemic happened. We decided to settle down.”
Hendrickx-Rai has been teaching music for about seven years, starting while she was at The Hague. She got a few requests from people asking if she could teach in her free time.
“I definitely feel the need to share my knowledge,” she said. “I’ve seen so many different classical music and art institutions. They’re all great. But I wanted to make something my way. I want [kids] to receive a proper education, but I don’t want them to be uniform. Everybody is very unique and has their own learning pace.”
Hendrickx-Rai says she has “big dreams” for the conservatory in Port Alberni, but this will require some government and community support.
“It’s going to be a very long and difficult journey—it’s not going to happen overnight,” she said. “Port Alberni is a very young community. There’s never been a big music school here before.”
There are other music schools in Port Alberni that offer private lessons for different instruments, but Port Alberni has never had a conservatory that offers practical training, academic study and professional development for those considering a career in the creative arts.
For now, Hendrickx-Rai is offering private music classes for both kids and adults. She teaches three instruments—piano, violin and viola—and also offers some visual art classes with pastels and watercolour. She focuses on a “broad education” and teaches her students the history of music and art.
“If you only concentrate on the technicality, you’re never going to be able to reach people’s hearts,” she said. “That’s the purpose of art.”
She offered a few group classes over the summer for young children, but prefers working one-on-one with students.
“Once we get bigger, I would want to have an orchestra for kids,” she said. “There is nothing better than playing with your colleagues.”
In addition to teaching, Hendrickx-Rai still performs. She took part in a concert tour in the Netherlands at the end of August, playing at The Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. The hall is one of the world’s renowned concert venues, said Hendrickx-Rai, acclaimed for its excellent acoustics.
She will also be performing at the brand new Amare Concert Hall in The Hague, and sometimes works with the Nanaimo Symphony Orchestra on Vancouver Island.
Anyone who is interested in conservatory activities or classes can follow Vancouver Island Conservatory on social media, visit www.viconservatory.com, call 778-419-2132 or visit the conservatory in person at 4102 Redford Street.