On the day of the workshop, the young musicians in the senior strings orchestra didn’t understand what was happening at first.
Composer, Andrew Miller asked the serious-minded students to put away their music stands and try improvising using different techniques. “Andrew wanted to loosen them up and open their minds to other ways they could be creative with their instruments,” explains Jennifer Grant, General Manager, Symphony New Brunswick.
Opening young minds was the goal of Celebrating Diversity, a project which explored cross-cultural possibilities in music teaching and performance. Administered by Symphony New Brunswick in partnership with the NAC’s Music Alive Program, the project included a workshop followed by a concert for the Saint John and Area School String Program.
During the workshop, the students were introduced to Aboriginal ceremonial drumming by artist, educator and Saint John elder, Sheila Croteau. “Sheila explained the important place drumming holds in Indigenous culture and the students were fascinated. Afterward, they did their own interpretation, drumming with their instruments,” Jennifer recalls.
Also central to the project was Inuk soprano Deantha Edmunds-Ramsay who shared her original song, its significance and some of her Inuit culture.
“The students were attentive and respectful and I was impressed with their level of playing and artistry,” says Deantha. “Their performance was excellent. They dove right into the score and brought it to life.”
Deantha says she believes the project gave students “a glimpse into a ‘new’ culture which is thousands of years old”. Jennifer agrees. “The project enlarged the students’ understanding of the Inuit culture,” she says. “One cannot overestimate the value of integrating cultures for young people. Celebrating our diversity is an incredibly important part of who we are as Canadians.”