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applause, please

Hawksley Workman, above, the Skydiggers and singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith are among the musicians to join Centennial Secondary School’s band thanks to an initiative by music teacher David Reed.

With the series Applause, Please, The Globe and Mail recognizes the efforts of dedicated citizens and those behind the scenes who make a difference in arts and cultural programs and institutions.

In 2009, when music teacher David Reed was honoured for meritorious service to education, he expressed surprise, saying that he'd never thought of himself as doing anything exceptional.

More recently, one of his students student described Reed as an "untraditional" teacher. He is more comfortable with that less flashy adjective.

For the sake of accuracy, and allowing for the man's modesty, we can safely say that the melodious teacher at Centennial Secondary School in Belleville, Ont., is an uncommon one. Since 2000, the Queen's-educated Reed has put on concerts involving the Centennial band and guests that include a who's who of Ontario indie-rockers, from the Skydiggers to Hawksley Workman to Sarah Harmer to the Rheostatics.

"I've always had a love of Canadian music, and it's important for students to work with professionals," Reed says. For the concerts, the teacher and Cancon enthusiast arranges selections from the guest artist's repertoire. The students practice the "respectful" arrangements, engage in listening sessions of the artist's oeuvre and rehearse once with the performer. "By the time the rehearsal is over, the kids feel like equals," Reed explains. "We're all working toward that common goal."

The enthusiasm of the teacher and his students is reciprocated in kind. Andy Maize and Josh Finlayson of the Skydiggers have returned on numerous occasions, whether to perform or as speakers on such topics as the history of protest music. Singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith couldn't get enough either: The high schoolers hit the road with him for shows of his in Kingston and Toronto.

"It's taken on a life of its own," Reed says.

Last month, Reed, at his most ambitious, brought in the Woodshed Orchestra, Workman and the Skydiggers as part of a multiday Youth Arts 150 Festival that was funded by an Ontario 150 Grant. Other initiatives on his part have included guitar and choral festivals.

"I'm always chasing some new idea," Reed says. "When the good ones stick, then we try to keep doing them."

What an exceptional idea.

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