Special guests lend star power to Clayton Heights Christmas concert

Award-winning jazz vocalist Denzal Sinclair and the Skid Row CEO join Clayton Heights Secondary's music department on stage Wednesday.

Canadian jazz vocalist Denzal Sinclaire rehearses with the Clayton Heights music students in preparation for an upcoming Christmas concert.

Christmas concerts are meant to be uplifting, but this Wednesday, the Clayton Heights Secondary is taking the concept to a whole new level, thanks to some special guests.

With an award-winning Canadian jazz vocalist and a motivational speaker sharing the bill along with 250 band students, the Clayton Heights Music Department Holiday Celebrations Concert definitely won’t be your average school concert.

Special guest Denzal Sinclaire is a leading jazz vocalist, recording artist, pianist and composer who’s earned multiple Juno nominations, a 2004 national Jazz award for Best Album, and has released three albums. His singing has been compared to Johnny Hartmann and Nat King Cole.

Motivational speaker and author Joe Roberts – “the Skid Row CEO” –  will also be part of the festivities.

Roberts was a street kid and drug addict who turned into a successful businessman.

By coincidence, Clayton Heights music director Paulina Pekova has connections to them both.

She went to McGill University along with Sinclaire and her husband Campbell Ryga, an award-winning jazz alto-saxophonist, and they’ve stayed in touch.

Sinclaire, who’s got an upcoming performance in Victoria, is flying out early to rehearse and perform with the Clayton Heights students.

“That really shows you everything that he’s about,” says Pekova, “that he would take time out of his busy schedule and hang out with a bunch of teenagers, and show them the possibility of success that’s available through music.”

Sinclaire will perform a number of songs with the Grade 9 band, the jazz band and the concert band.

Pekova was researching addiction and mental health topics for a Pro-D Day at her school, and, she says, “The name ‘Joe Roberts’ kept popping up.”

She didn’t manage to track down one of his books in time for her presentation, but she didn’t forget about the self-help guru.

While traveling with her family through Rogers Pass over the summer holidays, she saw a man pushing a shopping cart, behind followed by a motor home, who was being filmed.http://raven.b-it.ca/portals/uploads/cloverdale/.DIR288/wDenzalSinclaire2-ES.jpg

She realized it was Joe Roberts. At a stop, she introduced herself, and discovered Roberts is leading The Push For Change: Uniting for Homeless Youth, and the camera was there as part of a promotion for the upcoming campaign.

[At right: Canadian jazz vocalist Denzal Sinclaire rehearses with Music teacher Paulina Pekova and the Clayton Heights music students in preparation for an upcoming Christmas concert.]

On May 1, he’ll set out on a cross-Canada journey, pushing a shopping cart along the way. It’s a call to action designed to highlight the issues of youth homelessness, and to work for awareness and prevention.

“We vowed to get in touch” once school began, she said.

She was thrilled when he immediately offered to speak at the Clayton Heights Christmas Concert.

The music department includes more than 250 students, including 90 students in Grade 8.

They’re just about to release a CD (the first copies will be available at the concert.) What’s more, the students have been invited by the Royal College of Music in London to perform in April. They’ve also accepted an invitation to perform in Hawaii at the Kodiak Bowl.

“I’m so super proud of the kids,” Pekova says. “They work really hard.”

They’re not only learning music, they’re learning about life, she added.

The Clayton Heights Music Department Holiday Celebrations Concert, presented at the Bell Performing Arts Centre, Wed. Dec. 5 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15, available at the door.

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