Vic High band takes rhythm on tour

Members of Vic High’s R&B band will travel to Ottawa as part of a whirlwind trip back east marking the band’s 20th year in existence.

Vic High R&B band members Taliya Seidman-Wright and Leo McKee-Reid take a break during rehearsal.

Vic High R&B band members Taliya Seidman-Wright and Leo McKee-Reid take a break during rehearsal.

Taliya Seidman-Wright has memories of standing in the mirror as a little girl belting out Martha and the Vandellas’ Heat Wave, while her mom’s CD played in the background. So it’s no wonder the 16-year-old Vic High student is thrilled she’ll get to meet Martha Reeves herself next month, and maybe get a chance to perform on stage with the Motown legend.

“I grew up listening to her music. I can’t even believe we’re going to be meeting her,” Seidman-Wright says.

She and the fellow members of Vic High’s esteemed R&B band will travel to Ottawa in February as part of a whirlwind trip back east marking the band’s 20th year in existence.

“In 1990 I was told at the school I could do anything I wanted,” says band director Eric Emde. “I was looking for something that would cover about all mainstream aspects of high school (music) performance programs.”

With that, the R&B band was born.

Emde’s model – which includes the main band, a rehearsal band, and a smaller professional ensemble known as The Midnights – set the bar high for high schools looking to introduce a thorough R&B program.

In the Ottawa area, there are four schools who’ve started R&B bands in recent years. Emde says some great publicity North America-wide for the Vic High program in 2006 helped spur more like bands.

“There was a documentary done on our (R&B) program in 2005. It was a concert we did with Martha Reeves and the Vandellas,” he says of Motown High (also known as Sounds of Motown). “Martha  just kind of adopted the program, which is fabulous. … But it’s been five years. She’s kind of missed a generation of the band.”

The Vic High band, along with Reeves and their fellow high school R&B counterparts, will perform at the National Arts Centre of Canada. The students will also take part in workshops hosted by Reeves.

“Because it’s the 20th anniversary, we’re doing a lot of stuff from my first year: Martha, Otis Redding, Patty LaBelle, Wild Cherry, Wilson Pickett, Brian Setzer Orchestra. The kids love this stuff,” Emde says.

The trip is funded by the Society for Educational Visits and Exchanges (SEVEC). The exchange will see students from Ottawa’s Holy Trinity Catholic high school come visit Victoria in May.

Emde says he’s not surprised that students glom on to these decades-old songs. “They have great lyrics, a positive, upbeat rhythm, melody and harmony.

“One kid said to me the other day, ‘There’s nothing memorable from my generation. In 20 years, I’m not going to remember anything current. All the good stuff came from your generation,’” Emde says. “I think that speaks to how passionate they all are about the music.”

Seidman-Wright, who sings in the R&B band, echoes that sentiment.

“It’s nice to be around people who are all passionate about music, not just the top 40 pop,” she says. “This program is worth all the rehearsals and all the hard work because it’s so much fun, and it’s such good music.”