When you have three generations with a passion for music and a head for business, you know they will be successful.
Family owned and operated for over 45 years, Wentworth Music has built itself a reputation that goes far beyond the boundaries of the Okanagan Valley. From teaching music lessons in a back room to what is now the B.C. Interior's largest one stop music store, the Wentworth's and their music store have come a long way.
Aside from being a music store that offers brand name musical instruments, lighting, accessories and a full service repair shop, they also offer music lessons with a twist. That twist is putting on shows to sell out crowds starring their students.
Noel Wentworth, on the outside, is just an average guy. He has a beautiful wife, two lovely children and he loves music. Watch his eyes when he speaks about anything to do with music and the Wentworth Music Education Centre and you'll see a certain spark that makes his eyes light up. This is no average guy.
The Wentworths, their staff, and students just finished their twelfth show this century called Back to the '80s. They had other shows back in the '70s with an accordion band who went on the road.
Back to the '80s was like nothing any parent attending a music school recital has ever seen before, unless they've been to a Wentworth recital. Full costumes, professional lighting and stagehands, and a sold out crowd, provided a super star backdrop for the kids to perform against. The show raised money for one of Wentworth's favourite charities, the children's ward at Kelowna General Hospital. To date they've raised over $60,000.
The songs included picks from the top 100 songs of the '80s. Wentworth chose the songs so they would represent a cross section of musical style. Micki, Walking on Sunshine, 99 Red Balloons and Sweet Child of Mine were just a few of the songs performed. Then Canadian rocker Darby Mills of Headpin fame took the stage and performed Don't it Make You Feel Like Dancing and Never Look Back with the Wentworth crew. The show ended with Jump by Van Halen, and a standing ovation.
A standing ovation at the close of Back to the '80s at the Kelowna Community Theatre on March 18, 2012
Wentworth calls his shows high-end recitals. The audience members just call it a fantastic show. No this was no ordinary music recital. Then again, nothing Wentworth does appears to be ordinary. When the man sets his mind to something, good things happen.
Wentworth had met Darby Mills at the B.C. Indy Music Awards. Then in July of last year they had a chance meeting in a Calgary airport as they were returning from a New York show with some of their students. "We got chatting," said Wentworth, "and she said she'd be interested in working with us again. So I finalized a set list, told her about it and she said it was something she'd like to be involved with."
Darby Mills, Lora Wentworth (she plays a mean '80s rock 'n' roll accordion)
and Noel Wentworth (who was not supposed to have better looking hair than Darby - but ....)
And who wouldn't want to be involved in one of Wentworth's shows. They are the largest of their kind in Canada and are receiving international attention. In March of 2011 they connected with another school in Singapore. The principals of the Singapore Academy of rock travelled to Kelowna to see the Wentworth Music Education Centre. They also extended an invitation for the Wentworth students to fly to Singapore to perform in one of their shows. That has opened the doors for Wentworth to work with a number of music schools in Australia. There are only five places in the world that put on the type of show Wentworth does; they are in Australia, Singapore, Mexico City, Hong Kong and his in the Okanagan.
Then there is Rock School, an internationally recognized school that allows kids to study Rock, Latin, funk, fusion, and pop the same way classical music is studied. Wentworth is currently in the process of getting accreditation from the Minister of Education so that kids who take courses at Wentworth Music will receive credits towards high school graduation. They should know by June of 2012 if that particular dream has become a reality. If it does, the school will be teaching classes from the Rock School curriculum in Canada.
On top of that, Wentworth Music is now the head exam center for Rock School Canada. "At the moment if someone from Toronto wants to get credits through Rock School, they have to come to Kelowna to take the exam," explains Wentworth, as the spark in his eye burns a little brighter as he tells the tale of how it all came to be.
"I tried for three years to get kids high school credit by studying music they were already doing. I knew it had to be in a format recognizable to the Ministry of Education. I had a meeting with my instructors and told them what I wanted. It dead-ended and then out of the blue a guy from Vancouver called me up and told me he was teaching some courses from a program called Rock School."
After a couple years of trying to get the full program up to Canada the Wentworth luck kicked in. When the students were in Singapore, one of the administrators came up to Noel's wife Lora and introduced her to Jeremy Ward, the direction for Rock School International. He was in Singapore checking out a school similar to Wentworth's. The connection was made, and the rest, as they say, was history.
Apparently the success of the school isn't enough for Wentworth, nor is being the only Rock School exam center in Canada. Wentworth now wants three schools as successful as the one in Kelowna. "We have one in Kelowna, one in Vernon and are considering where to create a third right now," Wentworth explains, "and there's a very good reason for that."
He continues: "We got Gene Simmons attention in 2008 with the KISS tribute. After our KISS concert our kids played the B.C. Summer Games. Because we were playing Prospera Place, I thought I'd videotape the performance professionally. I took the video and posted it online and sent a link to Gene and a photo of all the kids in makeup and costumes. Two weeks later I got a message on my phone from Louis Antonelli. He said, "I'm calling regarding the KISS video – call me back.” I called him back and he told me he was a film producer who worked for Oprah and Donny Osmond, and that he'd just done Paul Stanley's KISS live DVD. He said he felt compelled to call me because he'd never seen anything like what we were doing. I told him I would like to see shows like this in every major center across Canada. He told me I should think world wide." Wentworth laughs, "At that point in time I was just thinking about expanding to Vernon – not the world."
Antonelli told Wentworth if he could duplicate what he'd accomplished in Kelowna three times, to call him and he would get him in touch with the Grammy foundation to get the help he needed.
Wentworth just grins as he thinks about the call. "Well we've done it twice and we need to grow Vernon a bit bigger. After that – who knows but we will get the third up and running and I will be making that phone call. Making the dream of travelling and performing rock music a reality for all our students."
Wentworth's next plan is to throw a party when the number of students taking lessons hits 700. Right now they are at 660. Last year alone his students logged over 20,750 miles putting on shows.
There are probably more plans to come. Remember that twinkle Noel Wentworth gets when he has a new plan or idea; the same thing happens when Lora Wentworth speaks about the school and the students. Lord only knows where the fourth generation will take Wentworth Music.