Peter van Ooyen
I came from a musical family and was given lessons on the piano and the violin at an early age. This led me into music education as a career. Growing up in Michigan, I graduated high school in 1968. The conductor of the orchestra at the college which I attended taught violin and since I took lessons from him, I also played in the college orchestra while still in high school. I also was a member of the city youth orchestra. When I graduated from university in 1975, there was a position being offered at Surrey Christian High School in Surrey, BC. I decided to venture out to the west coast thinking I would only stay for a couple of years but after teaching full time for two year, I stayed until 1985 in a part time capacity while I attended the University of British Columbia to obtain my masters. I continued teaching in Surrey part-time, establishing a Band program and also took a part time position teaching at Vancouver Christian Secondary School (near Grandview and Boundary)where I founded and taught a string program as well as a band program. In 1988 there was an opening to teach full time in strings in North Vancouver. The assignment was comprised of three elementary schools and Argyle Secondary. Argyle, which didn’t have a string program, had decided one year before to begin a string orchestra and that was also part of my first position in North Vancouver. At Argyle, I built the program from only one student who had enrolled, to 27 in three years but, I could see the writing on the wall. Only one elementary school was available to feed into Argyle for the string program so the possibility of building the program any further seemed remote. The band programs, on the other hand, most often drew from four or more elementary schools. There were advantages however. A number of French Immersion students from the east side of North Vancouver could attend Argyle and there were young people in French immersion that played stringed instruments. Because I saw that there would not be much growth due to a limited feeder system I took an opportunity to teach a one-year opening at the college level and direct a community orchestra in the States, I was granted a leave of absence after the 1990 school year and returned for the 1992-3 school year. During that time the School District had decided to drop the elementary strings and band program however a fee method of funding was established (paid for by the parents). My new assignment was to teach band and strings in 7 schools and no high school. Two years later Roger Wekker (strings teacher) left Handsworth Secondary School and Victor Weins came in for a short time. I was assigned to Handsworth starting in the 1994 – 95 school year. I taught strings to one orchestra in Handsworth and Band and Strings in six elementary schools.
Handsworth Secondary School
When I started at Handsworth there was a small group of grades 8s through 12 in one string class on timetable who had various levels of proficiency. To give the more advanced kids an opportunity to progress and to build the program, the following year I started the North Shore Youth Orchestra in the evening (extracurricular). I invited the most advanced students to join and brought in others from around North and West Vancouver. After a year, a second level was added followed by a third. After its fourth year in operation, I had enough of a support structure at the high school that the Handsworth String program grew to three levels: Junior, Intermediate and advanced Chamber Orchestra and all on the timetable. I was also able to secure the string teaching position in the feeder schools which helped with increasing the enrollment in Strings.
To read all about Mr. van Ooyen’s time at Handsworth and how he developed the Stings program purchase a copy of Hearts, Minds & Souls from our Bookstore.