Richard Jia making most of his Canadian experience

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Brookfield & Area Notebook, By Judy Matheson

Exchange student shares his talent with residents, staff of Elk Court

Richard Jia volunteers his time to play piano at Elk Court to the enjoyment of staff and residents alike.

It’s easy to forget exactly what type of facility you’re in when walking the sun-lit halls of Shannex’s Elk Court. Everyone you meet, residents and staff alike, are smiling and there’s the most enchanting piano music wafting through the halls. It’s enough to transport you to a place of serenity.

The music is coming from the lounge where Richard Jia plays piano to fill his free hours, volunteering to bring joy to others. He comes to Elk Court to play the piano almost daily and the staff and residents look forward to listening to his music.

Jia is an exchange student from China, hailing from Tai Yuan City in the province of Shan Xi. He is attending Grade 11 at South Colchester Academy SCA).

His home city is larger than Halifax and approximately one hour south of Beijing. He’s able to be in regular contact with his parents by the Chinese equivalent of our Facebook. There are four other students from China at SCA, as well as many from other countries, who are continually enriching our culture through the student exchange program.

His host family, Helen and Gary Morrell, are happy to have him with them and are hopeful he may return next year for grade 12. They have watched him grow and become more outgoing as his English has improved. They even bought a piano for his use.

“It’s his passion, so it was necessary,” Helen says.

They see that he gets to Truro where he plays table tennis in the club there twice a week.

Jia says he enjoys the little things here, like nature and fresh air. He’s happy at the Morrell home and is appreciative of everything they do for him. They too are music enthusiasts that readily recognize and appreciate his talent.

Jia has adjusted quickly to the change of culture and education. He says Brookfield people are friendly, as well as the teachers and students at SCA.

He’s a gifted table tennis player and Kelly Spencer, the physical education director at the school, rates him among the best players there. Spencer says he has a passion for the game and plays whenever possible. As with his musical talent, Jia is humble and hesitates to admit he rates among the best back home as well.

Piano and table tennis fill his free time, which is considerable more than he would have in China. He has fewer courses at school, which he finds easier in a more relaxed atmosphere, which he thinks is great. He hopes to be able to go to university in Canada and perhaps in Nova Scotia. He acknowledges his English has improved and he has become more relaxed playing music for an audience.

When Jia comes to Elk Court after school to play, he has no sheets of music with him. He plays everything by ear and from memory. His gift of music was well appreciated at the recent talent show held at Knox United on Apr. 4. He offered three classical pieces and received two standing ovations.

Jia has never taken lessons and only began to take an interest in the piano in Grade 7, but his mother teaches piano at a university in China so perhaps he learned through osmosis. He has enriched the lives of many in his time in Brookfield, with his humble persona and his willingness to volunteer. Everyone hopes he will return for his final year of high school and beyond.

When taking part in the Knox United Talent Show, Jia was surrounded by many musical stars, including the Ecole Acadien school band: Acajam. The band’s director, Rick Hiltz, was joined by Joanne Hatfield and Mark Hamilton, who filled in for two members unable to be there. Other members of the band include: Julien Kriszan, Keegan Burns-Carreau, Matthew Deagle, Celine Thimot and Peter Betts. They were all delightful!

This group won the People’s Choice Award in the Battle of the Bands in the Francophone school competition and was awarded a valuable 24-hour recording session at Radio Canada in Moncton, New Brunswick. The band will be performing at the NSCC on June 5; more information will be forthcoming.

Hiltz credits Yvette Saulnier, the coordinator at the school, for making the group’s success to date possible.

Other performers at the talent show included the golden voices of Tim and Lorraine Ross; the soul sounds of Art Peck; Anitra Whidden; Lori Nielsen; Shelby Ryan; the Hamilton family; the Ted Powell Drum Runners; and the Kitchen Trio. Together, all the performers made it a show to remember, and one you’ll be sorry to have missed if you weren’t there.

All the acts donated their time and talents for Knox United Church. Lori and Rod Nielsen not only performed at the show, but were also the organizing force that made it all happen for a good cause.

Judy Matheson is a life-long Brookfield resident and dedicated volunteer with many community organizations. To have your community news appear in her column contact her by email at

Organizations: Knox United Church

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