Fundraiser to support music programs in schools

Patricia Hernandez grabs a cardboard bowl from the counter of a Menchie’s in Toronto. She glances at all of the toppings and flavours. She begins to create an afternoon snack of frozen yogurt and candy sprinkles.

“I think they got the flavour really spot-on,” Patricia, 17, says.

The flavour is called “Up We Dough,” alluding to the hit single “Up We Go” by Canadian artist Valerie Anne Poxleitner, aka Lights.

March 11, 2015 was “Lights Day” at all Menchie’s locations across Canada. So, 20 per cent of the day’s sales were donated to MusiCounts, a Canadian charity designed to keep music education alive in schools, regardless of a student’s socio-economic status.

According to MusiCounts, secondary schools with music programs have an estimated 90 per cent graduation rate and 94 per cent attendance rate. When high schools don’t have music education, the charity says there’s only a 73-per-cent graduation and 85-per-cent attendance.

Patricia pays for her order and joins a lineup that stretches across the plaza of stores and restaurants. She and her classmates are waiting patiently to meet Lights, their favourite singer.

As her latest album “Little Machines” plays on the speakers, Lights, 27, enters the Menchie’s location on York Mills in north Toronto. Her management team follows her in, but her appearance is not a move to garner good press. The charitable cause means a lot to her.

“As a young person, I had access to instruments,” Lights said. “It enabled me to do what I do, but not everybody has that.”

Patricia understands why this is an important issue. She has experienced the power of music herself. While many students look forward to gym class or spare period, Patricia says she has always enjoyed the early morning orchestra practice. Her instrument of choice is the cello.

“I really love playing instruments,” she says. “Music is a very big part of my life.”

She doesn’t claim to be a perfect musician, but she has worked hard. Nevertheless, Patricia doesn’t intend to continue studying music after she graduates.

Mike Hurley, a communications representative for MusiCounts, believes that there is still a positive side to Patricia’s approach to music.

“The benefits of music education go far beyond a classroom. Life lessons are taught in music. The values of teamwork, practice and education are learned,” Hurley said. “These skills will last a lifetime.”

Over $7 million has been raised to support music education in Canada; 600 post-secondary schools across the country receive funding from MusiCounts.

Hurley believes that an entire community can benefit from music education, not just a student.

Gino DiGulio, vice-president of marketing for Menchie’s Canada, stands by the door of the York Mills location. He and the company have collaborated with Lights and her management for the event. It is a creative method for Menchie’s to do their annual charitable efforts, while working with a powerful face in Canadian music to help spread word about the cause.

“We want to put instruments in the hands of children who otherwise might do without,” he said. “I just think a world without music is a really sad place.”

Patricia Hernandez has tears in her eyes., having shared the same room with her idol.

“The fact that you’re doing something to share music with everyone else is very good,” she says to Lights.

Patricia gets a CD, a signed poster and a warm embrace.

Lights makes her final pass through the store, high-fiving those who showed up late.

“Music is a great way to exercise all of the stuff that builds up emotionally as a teenager,” Lights said. “It is therapeutic and cathartic … productive and beautiful.”