A 13-year-old violinist who campaigned to have an after-school strings program at Barriere Secondary School was given the ultimate reward this year: the use of a 104-year-old 1917 Otto Schonfelder.
Missy Kjellstrom said she was surprised this year when she was handed the Otto Schonfelder – a handmade copy of the famous Antonius Stradivarius, with an equally prestigious bow. The instrument was donated to the district by the family of John “Jack” Stewart, who had received it in the late 1930s, from well-known Kamloops band teacher and music director Archie McMurdo.
After his death in 2011, Stewart’s family gave his violin to the Kamloops-Thompson School District, so that it could be played by deserving students. Each spring, it is awarded to a student to keep and play for that year.
“It’s been handed down to people they thought really deserved it and working extra hard and doing more so I was lucky enough to get it,” said Missy, who just finished Grade 7. “I never thought I would actually get it. I’ve seen it handed to people in Kamloops but I didn’t think we would get it in Barriere because we’re such a small town.”
Indeed, she thought if anyone in Barriere got it, it would be one of her close friends. “I’m probably going to let her play it,” she said.
Missy started in the school strings program in Grade 3, even though it typically is offered to Grade 4-12 students. She had asked her teacher Kate Zahir for special permission to join the class. At the end of her Grade 6 school year in June 2020, she was concerned because she would be moving to Grade 7 at Barriere Secondary, where there was no strings program.
With her parents, she successfully campaigned to have an after-school strings program at the high school. Her dad Mikael said his wife Sarah and teacher Mr. Andrews were very involved in making sure that the strings program would happen at BSS.
“Mr. Andrews, being local to Barriere, has volunteered for years helping the strings program. As well, he has held summer strings programs as well that Missy has attended,” Mikael said.
Zahir said Missy was deserving of the violin because even during the pandemic, she “kept up her playing at a high level.”
Missy said she loves the violin because “it can be a challenge and I like challenges. I like music too. I was just really happy.”
However, using the violin comes with some special rules such as using the humidifier so the wood won’t become brittle. “I’m always afraid I’m going to break it or something,” she said. “It’s a little bit more complicated than a regular violin but I’m up for it.”
Stewart’s niece, Betty Jakel, who lives in Kamloops, said “Jack’s wife Velma and his children and grandchildren will all be happy to know that such a deserving student as Missy will be playing the violin this year.”
Stewart was born in 1924, and he graduated from KHS (now SKSS) around 1941. McMurdo, who was a band teacher and musical director for KHS in the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s, gave Stewart the violin “because he was deserving of it, and he played it all through his high school years. He always remembered the teacher who had given it to him.
“Through all those years, my uncle kept his violin, which he continued to play. He loved music and he had a talent for it,” Jakel said. “If you look at adults who are successful in their careers, whether careers in music or in other fields, you will often find that they were involved in their school music programs.”