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HMC’s something borrowed 

The Halifax Music Co-op’s instrument library finds a use for those school band instruments collecting guilt and dust in your closet

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For more info on how to contribute to the library, visit

In 1872, Irish conductor Patrick Gilmore led a mammoth ensemble of 2000 instrumentalists to commemorate the end of the Franco-Prussian war, a spectacle that was at that time the largest gathering of musicians in recorded history. In a cavernous basketball court-turned-concert hall on Barrington Street, the Halifax Music Co-op has fewer players, but its mission is no less ambitious.

"When it's something someone is passionate about and they've always been told they can't, and you give them the ability to explore that, it's unbelievable what people are capable of," says John Bogardus, HMC's executive director.

By removing many of the obstacles to playing classical music, with pay-what-you-can membership fees and affordable lessons, the Halifax Music Co-op has been in the business of resuscitating forgotten ambitions since its earliest days. And while elsewhere in Halifax excitement mounts over the opening of the Central Library, the Co-op is working on a library of a different sort, written in dented brass and dusty wood.

Recognizing the biggest barrier to making music is often getting something to play it on, the Co-op has set its sights on an instrument library, conducting both an instrument drive and an Indiegogo campaign to make that dream a reality. "There are so many people who can't even lay hands on instruments," says Bogardus. "It shouldn't be about that. If you want to play music, go ahead."

The Co-op's campaign isn't only for its own sake—part of the proceeds of the campaign as well as any surplus instruments will go to Sistema NS, a fledgling north end Halifax-based organization providing free music education to local youth. Though still in its pilot stage, the organization already has 19 students and hopes to add another 40 by next September, drawing in part on support from the Co-op. Loran Morrison, executive director of the program, says she's yet to have a single student lose interest: "Music is for everybody, is what I'm currently being reminded of by these students."

As a new organization, Sistema is dependent on its supporters. That instrument sitting in the back of the closet may be just taking up space for you, says Morrison, but in the hands of a young person it means another budding musician playing and performing music. "You can watch the instrument come to life," she says. "Better that than collecting dust."

But learning to play an instrument can be intimidating, which is why the Co-op fosters an environment in which it's impossible to strike a sour note. Remembering her own audition—in which she says she "butchered" the piece she played—Holly Winter, a member and teacher, confesses she was terrified. "But they still said, 'Come on over, we'll teach you, it'll be great.'" Before she started with the Co-op, back when it was the King's College Orchestra, Winter admits that she never had the courage to call herself a musician, but now says, "the Co-op does a great thing—as soon as you walk through the door you're a musician because you've decided to be. Whatever you can contribute is valuable."


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