Alexandre Ethier is helping kids on the margins find success through music

Watching and listening to Alexandre Ethier deftly and ever so gently playing his guitar, it’s hard to imagine him as a onetime thug. “I was going to a really hard school at Sorel. My friends, most of my friends, were members of the hells angels. I was doing many, many bad things, especially in my teenager times.”

At seventeen he knew he was headed down the wrong path, until a simple piece of music changed his life. “My father was a classical guitarist, and I heard him playing on the couch. He was playing a waltz from Antonio Lauro,” he says. “At this moment I chose to be a musician.”

He had never even picked up a guitar before then. Now, it’s rarely out of his hands.

Seventeen was a late start for a classical guitarist, but Ethier was determined. He studied and practiced endlessly, eventually creating the orchestra called Forestare.

Ethier’s friends thought he was crazy. That is, until five years ago when the musicians won a coveted Felix Award. “Two days after, a friend of mine called me and said; hey you made a good choice man. I’m in prison now, and I look in the newspaper and see that you won a Felix. Good stuff.”

Most recently, Forestare was nominated for a 2012 ADISQ Award for their second album, Arauco, released last winter.

Ethier also plays with another group called Guitares Nomades and has a young family at home. But, for the past five years, he has found the time to teach at-risk youth how to play guitar at Share the Warmth, kids possibly headed down the same path he was on at seventeen. “I chose to help the kids with the music, because music helped me a lot. It changed my life.”

One of the first kids he met was Ben Melgar. “He was taking a lot of drugs, and many bad things. And I recognized me in him, from ten years before.”

Melgar had quit school and turned up at the music program because at just two dollars a lesson, it was cheap and something to do. He never expected to fall in love with a guitar.

“I grew up in a very poor family,” Melgar says “so this has kind of given me a chance because it’s not very expensive, a great opportunity to show me what I am capable of, and that I’m actually capable of doing something.”

He has worked hard at it, and as his talent grew, so did his life. He has become Ethier’s music assistant at Share the Warmth. He is off drugs and is back in school.

Ethier says Melgar is so talented; he could join Forestare in just a few years. Melgar’s plan is to become a music teacher.
Fiona Crossling is the Executive Director at Share the Warmth. She’s seen the music program grow in just five years, from a handful of music students to more than one hundred.

A large part of the success is thanks to Ethier, she says. “He has a particular skill for working with kids who may be on the verge of dropping out, who are finding it hard to find purpose in their lives and he just finds something that clicks with them. We had one student who was taking guitar and it just didn’t work. He realized she loved to sing, so he said, fine I’ll play. She sang and her voice was incredible and that was the beginning of something new for her.”

Discipline is also a large part of the success of the program. Students must practice on their own, and keep their grades up in school. When they have doubts or need help – they know Ethier is there for them.

“He obviously brings a lot of musical talent, but more than that, he brings a passion for young people. He’s passionate about kids who are on the margins, who may not make it if they’re not part of programs like ours at Share the Warmth,” says Crossling.

Ethier says what he gives is nothing compared to what he receives in return. “When you see your students, what you feel when they’re playing music, when they’re learning….for me, it’s a gift.”

Debra Arbec co-anchors CBC News Montreal with Andrew Chang weekdays from 5 – 6:30 pm. Watch for her “Montrealer of the Week” segment Fridays during the 6pm newscast. To see past profiles, visit: