The magic of music on P.E.I.

Second Chances Band P.E.I. offers adults an opportunity to relive their band-playing youth or to experience an instrument for the first time

Mary MacKay
Published on December 6, 2014

Allyson Gallant, left, Joe Hickey, Sandra Doncaster and Jason MacAulay are in fine trumpet form at a recent concert at Queen Charlotte Intermediate School in Charlottetown.


The third time may be a charm, but for some musically inclined minds who missed their first band playing opportunity as a teen or want to revisit that earnest era, there’s the Second Chances Band P.E.I.

“It’s a second chance for those who have played before but have given it up and now want to take it up again. And it’s a second chance for those who always wanted to but (didn’t),” says Allie McCrady, who is a co-conductor and band leader for this community band program, along with fellow retired music instructor Rowan Fitzgerald.

The idea for Second Chances Band began six years ago with John MacDonald, an amateur musician, who had rediscovered the joy of playing in a community band with the Holland College Welshman Band that plays at a more experienced level.

He noticed there was a need for a band program that focused on adult beginners and people who were playing at a junior high or early high school level. The framework and structure of Second Chances was conceived by McCrady, who was giving MacDonald lessons at the time. Fitzgerald came on board as a co-founder of the band.

“I think both (Rowan and I) very much have the philosophy that there is an incredible experience that people have when they’re making music together, whether it’s choir or band or whatever. . . ,” McCrady says.

Second Chances maintains a beginner’s band, a concert band and a Thursday evening remedial program. Members range in age from their mid-30s to their upper 80s.

“You would be surprised at what you can do if you decide that you want to do it and if you have some time to devote to pursuing it and practise. That’s kind of an essential element, too,” Fitzgerald says.

“The vast majority of these people played in junior high — and some in high school and junior high both, and some even played in university when they were there. But they’ve been on a hiatus for 30 or 40 years raising their family, operating a career and now they have an opportunity to come back, dust off the instrument again and get back into playing again,” he adds.

“Most of them just enjoy it so much and it’s just a delightful dynamic to have the opportunity ...... everybody in the room wants to be there.”

Sue LeFort was onboard the very second the Second Chances community band started six years ago.

“It’s a different type of activity than I’m used to. It just uses a different part of my brain and it’s just fun to play music with a group like this. It’s really fulfilling,” she says.

Not a whiz at reading music, for the first couple of years LeFort used to write her own version of crib notes on her music till one day the gig was up.

“Then the conductor found out and he ripped my music up,” she laughs.

“Then it was a bit like starting over for parts of it, but now I don’t write my notes on my music.”

Dr. Gerry O’Hanley jokes that he didn’t know which end of his baritone saxophone was up when he started in the beginner’s group about five years ago, but that didn’t deter this Charlottetown ophthalmologist.

“I think you bring a different animation to it or motivation (as an adult learner). You’re doing it because you want to; it’s not because mom or dad says you have to practice. It’s not the same as in high school (when) it’s a course you have to take,” he says.

“You do it because you like it; if you don’t like it you’ll do something else. You’re doing it for pure enjoyment so it makes it easier for people who are trying to coax you along the way.”

The philosophy of the P.E.I. band was the impetus for the formation of a sister Second Chances Band in Halifax, N.S., some members of which were in Charlottetown last weekend for an informal band exchange and joint Sunday afternoon performance.

Halifax band member Vince Baker took up the trumpet a little more than three years ago.

“I always liked the trumpet. I bought one 25 years ago. I (also) bought a Louis Armstrong and an Ella Fitzgerald album and tried to play along for a couple of weeks. Then it ended up on a shelf in my office for 20 years,” says this longtime accountant, who finally dusted off this neglected instrument and gave this form of musical study a go.

The meeting of the bands, which was held last Sunday at Queen Charlotte Intermediate School, was his first out-of-province performance.

“It’s a little scary (at first), but once you get playing, you’re kind of hiding behind your music stand. And if you miss notes no one notices when there are enough of you playing,” he laughs.

For Second Chances Band P.E.I. there are concerts at the end of each study term, as well as performances at senior care facilities and indoor and outdoor venues in the community.

“I really like that part of it because we work really hard and to have (an audience) — mostly it’s our family and friends come and see the difference,” LeFort says.

Even after almost five years, coming to band practice still strikes a high note for O’Hanley.

“Music. . . , the chance to hear and listen and make music, that’s a gift,” he smiles. “All you have to do is show up.”



Second Chances Band

Philosophy: The performance of music in an ensemble is an experience, which provides enrichment and joy for both the performer and the audience which shares that performance.

Purpose: Second Chances Band will provide opportunity to, acquire the skills necessary to participate in a concert band ensemble,  rehearse and perform in an ensemble that allows the participants to feel that they are an contributing and integral part of the ensemble, rehearse and perform music that is appropriate to the skills of the performers.

Programs: There is a beginner program, when sufficient demand exists for aspiring musicians to acquire the necessary skills to participate in a concert band setting. The beginner program involves a weekly cost of $15 per week for the first five weeks and $25 for the last five weeks of the first term. After that it is $50 per term. There is also an intermediate level band which allows the participants to acquire the technical and rehearsal skills necessary to participate in the concert band, which provides experienced adult musicians musically rewarding and challenging opportunities, through weekly rehearsals.

Funding: This program is funded through membership fees, which are to cover the costs of instructors, purchase of music, equipment purchase and the rental of practice and performance space. At present, these costs are $50 per term. Fees are to be paid by the end of the second practice per term The fees are non refundable. If a practice is cancelled due to bad weather it will not made up.

For more information, visit or see their Facebook page: Second Chances Band - PEI.