Raptor coach, Arkells ensure band plays on

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A Mississauga Catholic school has received a shipment of brand-new musical instruments, courtesy of Toronto Raptors’ head coach Nick Nurse and Canadian rock band the Arkells.

Arkells’ lead singer Max Kerman caught wind of St. Aloysius Gonzaga Secondary School band members’ version of the Hamilton, Ont.-based band’s song “Years in the Making” and was so impressed he contacted his good friend, Nurse, who joined them on a video call to announce The Nick Nurse Foundation and Entertainment One Music would be making the $25,000 donation to the school’s music program.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Julia Jung, a music teacher at Gonzaga. “It still blows me away because it’s not like we won a contest, or we applied for a bursary or something. It was just such a nice and positive thing to come out of such a challenging, difficult time.”

After schools shut their doors due to COVID-19, to keep high schoolers engaged Jung arranged for her band students to put together a rendition of “Years in the Making.” The cover was sent to Kerman, who contacted Nurse.

A big supporter of the arts, Nurse showed off his guitar skills when he joined the Arkells on stage at a concert in Toronto after winning the NBA championship last year.

Kerman was present with staff and a few students at the school to receive the instrument delivery in mid-August and though Nurse was still in the NBA bubble in Florida at the time, he Facetimed the staff and students to make sure the shipment arrived and to say congratulations. The school was also elated to see Nurse, the NBA coach of the year who recently signed a multi-year contract extension with the Raptors, sporting the Gonzaga Music hoodie during one of the teams’ playoff press conferences.

“My students were so thrilled,” said Jung, who helped arrange for the sweater to be sent to him in the bubble. “There’s a new order right now and the students want to get them because they’re the Nick Nurse hoodies.”

Staff say the donation could not have come at a better time. With in-person music classes suspended due to COVID-19 restrictions on playing instruments in groups, students will be practising at home and the new order has allowed for each band student to have their own instrument for the semester.

“They’ll take it home and it won’t come back and forth,” said Jung. “During this time, they’ll use it at home and then when the semester or their courses are done, they’ll bring it back. We’ll get it cleaned and it will be quarantined for a bit while other instruments are assigned to the next batch of students.”

Gonzaga music teacher Mark Spisic is grateful for the donation and says the experience has meant so much more to him and the 350-student music program than getting new instruments.

“The thing that stuck out to me is how these high-profile people such as Max from the Arkells and Nick Nurse felt that it was important to share their time and their money and their love of music with us,” said Spisic.

“I thought, wow, that’s great we’re getting a bunch of new instruments and we could use it, but the fact that those people were so accessible to us and for Julia specifically when she was going through the process, really touched my heart.”

Staff and students in the school’s music program are engaging in a mix of both online and in-person education and hope to continue to find ways to showcase their talent and their new instruments throughout this less than usual school year.

“We’re going to try to do some more virtual performances because we always have a Christmas and a spring concert and we don’t want to put a pause on that altogether,” said Jung. “We’ll just have to come up with new solutions on how it’s going to look this year.”