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Heavenly harmonies trump sibling rivalry

Home-schooled sisters earn high marks from Royal Conservatory of Music

When Bruce and Rema Stroink of Errington want to attend a classical chamber concert, they don’t have to get dressed up and leave the house. They merely need to call their daughters into the living room.

Kaleigh Stroink, 21 was just awarded a gold medal from the Royal Conservatory of Music for scoring the top mark in British Columbia in her Level 9 examination on harp. It is the fourth gold medal from the Royal Conservatory for Stroink, who has also completed her Level 9 exam on piano.

Her sister Hannah, 18, is a double threat on piano and violin. She has already completed Level 10, the Royal Conservatory’s highest level before students move on to the professional certification program for teaching or performance, on piano. And she has completed Level 8 on violin and is preparing for the Level 10 exam.

Youngest sister Sarah, 16, is also an accomplished piano player who plans to continue through Level 10. And she very nearly added a second instrument of her own when she began looking into the cello a few years ago.

“I was so disappointed when she said, ‘Mom, I’ve decided not to play the cello because lessons so expensive and it costs so much money to buy one,’” said Rema. “I was sort of heartbroken because you don’t want them to lose out because of money. That would have been a beautiful combination, having the cello and violin and harp.”

The Stroink sisters have excelled in music studies and performance while being home-schooled. They have learned from a series of teachers over the years, beginning with Rema, who had just enough piano training to get them started with beginner lessons when Kaleigh was seven and Hannah five.

There were some lean times when Bruce was transitioning from working as a heavy equipment operator to starting his own business, Rema said. Sarah took a year off from piano lessons and Kaleigh took a hiatus from the harp as the family tightened its collective belts.

But music has remained a priority, and the girls were soon back at their studies.

“I’ve had parents ask me, ‘How you get kids to do lessons so long?’” she said. “Well, it’s in their life. And it’s been valued in the family; my parents were so faithful attending every recital until they no longer could.”

Rema Stroink, seated, helped teach daughers Sarah, Kaleigh and Hannah Stroink in the family’s Errington home. — Image credit: J.R. Rardon/PQB NEWS

Even while their primary focus has been on instruction through private teachers and the Royal Conservatory of music, the sisters have been prolific performers.

Kaleigh and Hannah have both performed with the Nanaimo Chamber Orchestra and the Youth Orchestra of Nanaimo. The sisters play weddings, funerals, birthdays, and have performed for special events at Abakazi Gardens in Victoria, Milner Gardens in Qualicum Beach, the Chocolate Lily Festival in Duncan and the Mozaic Concert in Parksville.

They have also accompanied other musicians while looking to expand their repertoire.

“On piano, I’ve done a lot of classical, because that what RCM grades,” said Hannah. “On violin I cover the same, and hopefully in the future I want to cover jazz and improvising. That’s something I’m interested in.”

Kaleigh, meanwhile, his branching out from classical to modern composers on the harp under the instruction of Duncan teacher Marilyn Rummell, who adapts charts for individuals and groups on harp.

“Mostly what I really enjoy playing is sacred music, like I do for my church,” said Kaleigh, who directed and accompanied the church’s youth choir for several years. “On the harp, too, I play a lot of hymns and Christian songs.”

She actually was interested in trying the harp as young as age three, according to her mother. After the family located a teacher, she actually tried the harp for a year beginning at age five, but was too young to follow the theory requirements and set it aside until age 11, when her family bought her a harp.

“To most people it’s a unique instrument, because they don’t see it that much,” Kaleigh said. “I really enjoy playing for people, and I think they enjoy hearing it.”

Hannah’s interest in violin began shortly after she began piano lessons, though it would be several years before she started playing.

“My first piano teacher taught both piano and violin,” Hannah said. “So I got to see her violin students and got really intrigued by the instrument. At recitals, if there was a violin left out, I’d go and, like, touch it.”

When her sisters were starting out on piano, Sarah was only three years old and would not start playing until the age of six or seven.

“I just remember going to a lot of recitals,” she said to laughter from her sisters. “I had to go to their piano lessons, and I would sit in the car and do schoolwork and wait for them.

“It was a normal thing, to see people playing. Then when I started, it was, ‘Oh, this actually takes a lot of work.’”

Of the three, only Hannah envisions a career in music. She is working toward her teachers’ certificate on piano through RCM, and intents to pursue the performance certificate as well, with an eye toward teaching music.

Kaleigh also intends to keep playing, hopefully using it as a way to earn side money, but she is studying for her bachelor’s degree and would like someday to work as a student coach for a university home-school program, similar to the Bob Jones University program the Stroinks have gone through.

Sarah continues to practice and will likely always play piano, but it is not in her career plans. Her primary interest now is photography, and two years ago she got a DSLR camera that is her constant companion.

“I mainly take pictures of my sisters’ piano students,” she said.

Kaleigh will make two appearances on harp in December, performing Dec. 12 in the lobby of Nanaimo’s Port Theatre for that evening’s Winter Harp concert, and Dec. 19 at Milner Gardens during the Milner Christmas Magic event.

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