Conservatory opens second branch in West Shore

The Victoria Conservatory of Music has opened the first satellite location in the school’s 52-year history, which is big news for the music school but even bigger news for budding musicians in the West Shore.

Finding a suitable location to pair with the conservatory’s main branch downtown has been on the radar for more than a decade, according to Stephen Green, dean of music for the conservatory. Once the demand for music lessons in the West Shore had been established, the five-year search for a second location began.

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The conservatory found its new landing spot in the Westhills area on Lakepoint Way, in the new YM/YWCA complex. The Victoria Conservatory of Music — Westhills now stands as a newly built, 3,000-square-foot space, with four classrooms, three studios and about 20 instructors.

“There has really been a solidification of that community during the last five years,” Green said. “Lots of people are going out there to live, so we thought it was time.”

The main conservatory (on Pandora Street) has been in operation since 1964. In recent years, it has tinkered with its programming to be more in line with the current musical environment. With many moving parts, however, and much established protocol, progress does not come quickly in the downtown headquarters.

The biggest benefit of the new Westhills building, which is roughly one-10th the size of the main conservatory, is the clean slate, Green said. The school opened its doors for the first time on Tuesday, and will celebrate again with a grand opening on May 14.

Tailor-made programs and classes in both the contemporary and classical-music fields — some of which are presented free of charge for the month of March — are designed to meet growing demand in the area.

“We didn’t make the assumption that whatever works in Victoria will work out on the West Shore. It’s a different community with lots of younger families, lots of younger working families, so it’s important that we also speak to their needs and help them wade into what music is all about.”

The schedule of programming at the new conservatory was created to appeal to young families in Langford, Colwood and beyond, many of whom might have little experience with what the Victoria Conservatory of Music offers.

That played a role in offering one-off sample classes and lessons free of charge for the month, Green said.

Many classes are suitable for infants, toddlers and young children, but teens will be attracted to contemporary songwriting, arranging, theory and voice lessons; even classes for budding DJs are offered. Green hopes there is truly something for everyone.

“There is a large population out there that is a bit cut off, and it is very difficult for them to make the trip to the main location,” he said. “We identified that there is a critical mass out there, so we made the investment.”

The conservatory backed up its talk with action, at a cost of roughly $500,000, Green said. That is no small amount, given the financial hurdles many not-for-profit institutions are facing at the moment. There is pressure in opening a dedicated new location, but also flexibility, he added.

“We typically offer areas of instruction and instrumental discipline that you’ll never find in a typical music school that is for-profit. They tend to go with what is selling most, because they have to make a profit. We just have to try to break even.”

Information on the free music classes being offered at Victoria Conservatory of Music — Westhills through March is available at vcm.bc.ca/westhills. The conservatory is at #210-1314 Lakepoint Way. For information, contact 250-386-5311.

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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