Well, it’s 5:00 a.m. on this cold morning, November 27th, which means I’ve got to get up and get going if I want to make it to Manor School on time. I get ready quickly and start loading my gear: 5 cords, 4 instruments, 3 stands, 2 speakers, 1 microphone…and a partridge in a pear tree. Oh, and most important of all, my morning coffee! It’s not yet sunrise, and I’m on route, only two hours to Manor School.
I have to admit, one of my favourite things about being a Teaching Musician for the NAC is driving all over Saskatchewan. This morning the landscape is spellbinding with the hoar frost on the trees silhouetted against the rising sun. This will be the most restful part of my day: the calm before the awesome, music-making storm.
At 8:30 I arrive at the school and the action begins. Gear is unloaded. Introductions are made. Then, I start my workshop day with Mrs. Kormos’s K–2 class. We are doing movement and music, and the kids are fantastic movers! We travel around the room at different tempos―Andante, Largo, Presto―and the students learn other Italian music words like legato, staccato, grazioso, and con fuoco. Then we try an activity called flocking where students take turns leading their flock while moving to music. There are high moves, low moves, smooth moves, jumpy moves, animal moves, and just plain goofy moves. The students move together to the music, like they are connected by imaginary wires, and whenever the music changes, they respond by changing their movements. What a creative class!
With the next group, Miss Vanrobaey’s grade 3-6 class, we focus on music-making with our hands, feet, and whole bodies―body percussion! This takes coordination. Most of the students master the body percussion exercises fairly quickly, but it takes a lot of concentration for the teachers. Students demonstrate some of the unique, and very interesting sounds that they can make, and then they work in groups to create a beat that we can perform in front of the school this afternoon. By the time our workshop is done, I’m fairly certain that we all have bruises (that’s one of the dangers of serious body percussion), but we are ready for the performance this afternoon.
My last group in the morning is Mr. McNaughton’s grade 7-8 class. If everything goes to plan, the students are going to write a rap that we will perform in front of the school. Before we start, we talk about the history of rap as a type of music that gave voice to an oppressed population. Then we brainstorm so that we can write a rap that gives voice to the experiences of these students. Together, this is what they came up with:
We are connecting the world with music
You need to use it, do not abuse it!
Music lets you express your emotions
It’s like an endless ocean always in motion
The beat of the music helps us learn
Like a torch that will always burn.
Music can come from movies and games
This is how many come to fame
We are changing the world with emotion
It makes you happy, it’s like a magic potion
Country, rap, hop, trap, it’s cool music
Don’t take it away or we’ll lose it!!!
Manor School has talent!
At lunch (which was kindly provided by the school) I had the opportunity to eat with some of the staff members, have a few laughs, and learn more about the school. Afterwards, I was delighted to see students in the hallway practicing their beats for the afternoon performance. I can’t wait to see how it all comes together.
The large-group presentation is the last event of the school day. We begin by singing the Music Alive Song: “bringing voices together” as the song says. Maybe, next year, we’ll spend a little more time learning the Cree section. The theme for the presentation this year is family and friends so I begin the performance by asking “What do family and friends have to do with music?” To my surprise, one of the high school students gives me the perfect answer, the answer I was hoping they would arrive at by the end of the presentation: “Music connects people.” After some more music, some Mozart, and the Macarena, we get to the big finish: the grade 7-8 rap accompanied by the grade 3-6 body percussion beats. With a lot of enthusiasm, and a few minor glitches, we perform the piece to applause from the other students.
After thank-yous, selfies with students, and packing up the gear, I’m on my way home. It may be a long day―starting before sunrise and making it home just after sunset―but it’s a lot of fun! Thank you Manor School!