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Musician Van Meerbergen starts School of Rock for youth

Six-week Arts Whistler program teaches 11- to 18-year-olds how to create a band as part of spring arts classes
music maker Erik Van Meerbergen (left) is helping teens who want to form bands through an innovative program at Arts Whistler. PHOTO submitted

This is one for the kids who wanna rock.

Attention all hardworking young musicians in garage and basement bands — how would you like an arts centre at your disposal?

Arts Whistler has created School of Rock, two six-week programs (for age groups 11 to 14, and 15 to 18) for bands and individual musicians who want to launch themselves as performers.

Musician Erik Van Meerbergen is teaching the program. He has built a career in music in Whistler, playing at venues around the resort and has competed in Whistler Music Search, the annual competition run by The Crystal Lounge.

"I'm going into it with the idea of recreating the classes that helped get me started in music," he says.

Van Meerbergen explains that the idea came from his volunteer work at last year's Whistler Children's Festival.

"I was asked to hold down the stage for the up-and-coming emerging artists. There were a lot of youth coming out from Whistler, Pemberton and Squamish. They were playing and they were enthusiastic and took it seriously," Van Meerbergen says.

"They had a lot of potential but not many places to practise."

Van Meerbergen says he gets a lot of on-stage practise time at the various Open Mic nights around Whistler, but for underage musicians this is more difficult as they need to leave by 9 p.m., just as the night is beginning.

"I saw an opportunity. I thought School of Rock was a nice way to give kids with a lot of potential to move in the right direction with it and help them hone their abilities," Van Meerbergen says.

The workshops run on Mondays, from April 10 to May 15, at the Maury Young Arts Centre (MYAC). The cost for all six weeks is $180 for Arts Whistler members and $210 for non-members.

The age 11-to-14 sessions run from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., and age 15-to-18 sessions from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

"It's really a more-the-merrier kind of thing. I'm hoping to get enough kids taking part so that we can get a couple of bands together for each age range. I'd be happy to get eight or more in each class," Van Meerbergen says.

He says Art Whistler has also made available the stage in the MYAC, which will allow several bands to share the space at the same time.

Arts Whistler spokesperson Jillian van der Geest says The School of Rock program is one of several new offerings in the arts council's spring list of classes.

"We're looking to branch out and focus on the performance side of the arts," van der Geest says.

"This is a good step into it. Also, it is a bonus that it is youth programming, which can be difficult to find in this town. Being a part of a band is an exciting thing. Erik is so enthusiastic and I think he is good with that demographic.

"Previously experience isn't necessary, but if you're looking to make a band just come in! We show what it takes to be a professional artist in Whistler."

As well, old favourites Chicks with Picks are back for beginners and intermediates, along with other new arts programs.

"Similar to School of Rock, we are offering an adult program, Art of the Jam, for those who are looking to take the next step and perform in Whistler. There is such an impressive music scene here," van der Geest says.

In terms of visual arts education, there is a portraiture class taught by Angela Mueller for intermediate to advanced artists. For introductory artists is the return of the Art Lab, a drop-in night.

Other courses include an introduction to incense making and an introduction to pyrography (wood burning).

"I recommend that those interested sign up quickly, the classes are already beginning to fill," van der Geest says.

Other day sessions and workshops will be announced shortly as part of the summer Art on the Lake program.

Van der Geest adds Arts Whistler is always looking for artists interested in teaching their craft in a workshop setting.

For more information on Arts Whistler classes and to sign up, visit

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