At the entrance of the church there is a collection of abandoned wet boots, and the squeals and shouts of their former occupants can be heard ringing through the hall. The building is packed with kids taking part in the youth choir organized by Danielle Savage and the Savage School of Music.
Making my way through the polite chaos, I spot Danielle at the keyboard and head over to her. I learn that I’ve arrived during a break from their rehearsal, when the singers take a break and run wild, getting some energy out before they sit down and concentrate on singing again.
Danielle Savage, unperturbed by the whooping and playing, tells the 30 or so wild things it’s time to settle down again, and just like that, the chorus is all seated again and ready to sing. The first song the kids tackle is a classic that made it big on the charts before any of them were even a twinkle in their parents’ eye: Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
“I want to expose them to different stuff,” Savage said, “and make it fun, too.” After Journey, the kids tackled a Josh Groben tune “You Raise Me Up,” and even got into some classical stuff as well. She brings in different kinds of music to play for the choir, to give them a taste of many different types of the smorgasbord of sound that is out in the world.
Savage was born into a musical family. Her parents, who emigrated from Portugal, put all kinds of different instruments in her hands when she was a kid. From the age of five, she has been singing and playing piano along with her brother who learned accordion and sister who played piano. Savage was the only one of the three to keep going with music, which became a central love in her life.
“Anything musical, I was in it in school,” said Savage. The love of music wasn’t something put on her by her parents, it was something innate.
At one point, love turned into labour when improper technique on the piano, which she practised three hours a day, led to tendonitis. As a result of the injury, Savage had to reduce the amount of time she spent in front of the keys, which inspired her to pursue a career in teaching. Danielle now runs the Savage School of Music, or SSM. The business moved to Nakusp with her and took off here.
“We moved up here and it went ‘boom!’ I’ve got four or five times the clientele I did on the coast,” said Danielle, “which is insane.” Piano, voice, guitar and drums are all part of her teaching repertoire.
The Savages moved to Nakusp nearly two years ago, which was a big adjustment for Danielle. Not only was she born and raised on the coast, she loved the time she spent in New York City in 2003 working with inner city kids.
New York holds a special place in her heart not only for the work she was doing, and the greatness of the city itself, but also because her husband Craig proposed to her at the top of the Empire State Building.
Friends were sceptical that Danielle would be able to make it in the Kootenays, but she and her family are very happy to be here and feel it is where they are meant to be.
Getting young people excited about music and art is part of what she feels she is meant to be doing here, too.
“I see there isn’t as much emphasis on the arts in the public education system,” said Savage. “I don’t think people realize just how much the arts can do,” she said, pointing out that learning the arts helps with hand-eye co-ordination, and makes your brain work in new and different ways.
Savage didn’t find much support in school for playing music, so now she wants to make an environment for young people that encourages them to go ahead and love music.
“If they’re not going to get that in school, I want to give that to them,” she said. “Not everyone has the same experience in a band class.”
The choir will show their musical chops to the public in June, and might also perform on Canada Day as part of the 120th Birthday celebration.