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Gift and program support young Sooke musicians

Harmony Project Sooke students shine
Harmony Project Sooke students recently performed at the B.C. legislature. Harmony Project Sooke runs a stings program for viola, violin, and cello for students in Grade 2 and up and a drum line program for grades six and up. (Contributed – Harmony Project Sooke)

Play it forward, with strings attached.

Isla Pugh, an 11-year-old student at Sooke Elementary School, has received a violin lovingly refurbished decades ago by Ellen Himmer, an accomplished cellist and member of the Sooke Philharmonic Orchestra and the Victoria Chambers Orchestra.

Pugh, her twin sister, Etta, and cousins Emerson and Alannah form a quartet of musicians formerly known as the Sooke Elementary String Quartet that lists their proudest moment so far as the time they played for Premier John Horgan at the B.C. legislature.

RELATED: Harmony Project Sooke holds first virtual concert

Their new name, the Wolfgang String Quartet, the four talented young classical musicians have performed at the Greater Performing Arts Festival and will compete in the Musicfest Canada Nationals this month.

All four students are involved with the strings program of Harmony Project Sooke (HPS), a non-profit society that provides musical instruments and instruction to children in the Sooke area.

Himmer said she was moved to donate the violin after seeing the four perform in a church service.

“These kids are good,” she said.

“When I was eight, my grandmother left me a piano in her will, and my elementary school had a cello I could use for free,” Himmer said. “So began my musical training.”

Although Himmer said her parents had no musical knowledge or interest and no money for lessons, people noticed her talent, and she always had free lessons.

She won the Congress of Strings Summer Scholarship, which runs for eight weeks at the University of Michigan, on two occasions.

“It was a wonderful program featuring a different conductor each week for the string players, conductors like Eugene Ormandy, Alfred Wallenstein and Josef Krips,” Himmer said.

She also had private lessons, took part in small chamber groups and frequent faculty recitals before receiving a full scholarship to Duquesne University, which partnered with principal players from the Pittsburgh Symphony.

“Then I got my dream job as principal cellist travelling with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet for three years,” she said. “It was a job for me and a dream come true to play and travel.”

Himmer moved to Sooke in 2001 to establish a music studio where she taught piano, violin, cello, and music theory.

“Now, having retired at age 75, I am happy to pay it forward and give Isla my violin. Folks were so kind to me growing up that I very much wish to return the favour.”

Harmony Project Sooke runs a stings program for viola, violin, and cello for students in Grade 2 and up and a drum line program for grades six and up.

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