The best gift ever:  NAC Music Alive Program makes an impact in the lives of Calgary students

Samantha, walter 2 (heather scholz) - for web
© Photo: Heather Scholz

In the opinion of NAC Music Alive Program (MAP) Teaching Artist, Samantha Whelan Kotkas, the most important moment of the entire day happens at the very beginning.  That’s when educators and students see Samantha and her MAP partner, Walter MacDonald White Bear, walk into the school together.

“It sends a powerful message,” says Sam.  “Here are two people from two different cultures and two different artistic perspectives working together.  Culturally, it’s a real eye-opener.”

From that moment on, Sam and Walter do their best to give students a cross-cultural experience they won’t soon forget.  Their program marries music from composers like Mozart and Vivaldi with Indigenous poetry; traditional drumming with the trumpet.  And the students love every minute of it.

“The rural areas of Alberta don’t get a lot of exposure to music presenters,” explains Walter.  “The students are very receptive to something they don’t see every day.  They get to experience live music and see their peers in a new way.”

In fact, students at Falconridge School in Calgary were so enthralled by the visit last fall they said all they wanted for Christmas was to see Sam and Walter again.  “The principal emailed us and told us the kids wanted us back as a Christmas present.  I was so touched.  When you get that feedback, you see what a difference the program is making,” says Sam.

Sam and Walter did go back to Falconridge and were greeted with personal letters from the students. “One little boy who really enjoyed playing my drum, thanked me for joining his band,” Walter recalls.

The two presenters, who have been MAP partners for five years, deeply appreciate the opportunity to be part of empowering Alberta’s rural, Indigenous and underserved communities through music and the arts.  “MAP sparks creativity and it also gives educators the chance to learn something about their students that could change the direction of their schooling,” says Sam.  “When Walter and I walk into a school together, I hope it helps to break down barriers and open minds to different viewpoints and cultures.”

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