It was a highlight in Kalolin Johnson’s life.
The young musician from the First Nations community of Eskasoni has performed in many places including Ottawa. But Kalolin has never before sung to an audience of 2,000 students, elders and dignitaries in her own community.
At the concert, Kalolin performed We Shall Remain with the NAC Orchestra, a song she wrote with her father Tom Johnson and music teacher Carter Chiasson. “It was such an important opportunity because they know me here,” says Kalolin. “This is my hometown and it made me feel really proud.”
The orchestra also performed I Lost My Talk, a multimedia work based on the poem by Mi’kmaw poet and elder Rita Joe, about her experience at a residential school. “You listen to I Lost My Talk and you put yourself in the shoes of a residential school survivor,” Kalolin says. “Bringing that song home to Eskasoni was really beautiful.”
Kalolin is very familiar with Rita Joe’s moving work. In 2016, her school took part in The Rita Joe National Song Project, funded by NAC supporters. The initiative inspired students in five communities across Canada to write and perform a song to express what the poem meant to them. Kalolin and her fellow students at Allison Bernard Memorial High School were nominated for an East Coast Music Award for their song Gentle Warrior.
“Music education programs like the Rita Joe National Song Project are so important in our community because they show the potential of our kids. We see the gifts students have that we might not have seen if they weren’t given these opportunities,” Kalolin says.
The NAC Orchestra couldn’t agree more. That’s why the Canada 150 Tour included over 80 education and community engagement activities, uniting the musicians with 6,000 students, educators, community leaders and artists across the four Atlantic Provinces.
Kalolin is grateful to everyone who helped make the concert in Eskasoni possible, including generous supporters. “If it wasn’t for your generosity we couldn’t talk about topics like residential schools through music,” she says. “Thanks to you youth in my community had the opportunity to hear a live professional orchestra. That experience showed them something they can aspire to and gave all of us the chance to be touched by music.”