A group photo of kids in a school band, posing with their instruments.

Honour groups program a symphony of success

By: Heywood Yu March, 2024

In the land of living skies, a unique symphony transcends the boundaries of music to instill resilience and discipline, as well as forge friendships among the province’s young musicians. The Honour Groups program, orchestrated by the Saskatchewan Music Educators Association (SMEA), stands as a testament to the transformative power of music in the lives of youth.  

The Honour Groups program, open to students from grades 9 to 12, is an annual musical event that offers an exhilarating three-day experience for aspiring band and choir musicians in the province. Participants connect with fellow young musicians across the province. Over two-and-a-half days of intensive rehearsals, their skills are refined, culminating in a vibrant concert on the final day, guided by world-class conductors from around the world.  

Sharon Bates, a band teacher for over two decades and long-time board member of the Saskatchewan Music Educators’ Association (SMEA), has been coordinating the Honour Groups since 2019. Bates describes the program as a platform for students to build confidence while refining their musical abilities.  

She describes instrumental bands and choirs as “the ultimate team sport”, in which the social and collaborative dynamics are important to youth. Each young musician in the ensemble contributes to a shared goal, underscoring the significance of effective communication and teamwork. As a result, students are challenged with the unique opportunity to play or sing with an unfamiliar group.  

“There are new ways of learning when you play an instrument with a group that you’ve just met,” says Bates. “It does build some resilience and helps with their problem solving.”  

Students, especially those from smaller communities, who are used to practicing in smaller groups, benefit from the exposure to larger ensembles. The Honour Groups not only broaden their horizons, but also provide students with the opportunity for more specialized instruction. 

A participant in the program, Aidra Angelstad, a talented percussionist based in Humboldt, was encouraged by her former band teacher Bates to audition. She enjoyed her experience last year and returned to the program this year. “It’s such a privilege to work with professional conductors and the musicians that are brought in to teach sectionals.”  

Aside from the opportunity to sharpen their musical abilities, students experience the joy of sharing their passion with other participants. Camaraderie and bonds are forged with like-minded individuals who have a passion that extends beyond the realm of music.  

Bates says, “Relationships are always the most important thing when you’re teaching or working with students. My favorite thing is watching the kids work and learn to play together. It’s the group effort involved that is pretty amazing.”  

Angelstad echoes these sentiments and says, she enjoys making new friends and working with other musicians. “It was amazing how the band came together and created beautiful music that resonated with me afterwards. It is an amazing experience. And it’s extremely well organized and a wonderful opportunity for high school musicians.”  

The Honours Groups Program is offered by SMEA, which receives Annual Global Funding from Sask Lotteries Trust Fund for Sport, Culture and Recreation.