NACO’s Canada 150 tour: On the march for Music Monday in Charlottetown

Piper Jordan Chowen leads a parade of children up Great George Street in Charlottetown, P.E.I. on Music Monday.Photo Peter Robb

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. • A children’s crusade marched up Great George Street in the cradle of Confederation on Monday chanting ‘We Love Music.’ Led by a 21 year old piper, young and old were walking for music education.

All across the country, in classrooms, churches and concert halls from Charlottetown to Vancouver, on the 13th Music Monday, tens of thousands of children were taking part in some musical moment. The event is the brain child of the Coalition for Music Education.

The national chairman of the coalition, Ed Favaro was on hand for the event in Charlottetown which involved about 1,000 young musicians. He’s from Cape Breton. While the national Music Monday event is in Ottawa at the National Arts Centre, he says, he wanted to be in a smaller centre.

“I chose to be here. I really like what goes on in the small centres, not that I don’t like what goes on in larger centres. I was here last year in Summerside. It’s a favourite event for me. You can bring the whole province together.

“I think the Atlantic region has the strongest music programs across the country.”

The coalition is actively pushing ministries of education to ensure that there are qualified teachers in every school, Favaro says. He knows of what he speaks.

“I have been involved as a music educator and an administrator in a school district in Sydney, Cape Breton. … I think about what music did for me as a child. It gave me confidence. It gave me all those necessary skills that kids need to have to be productive citizens.”

It certainly has helped piper Jordan Chowen, who plays with the College of Piping, in Summerside.

“I started at around seven years old. I got involved with fiddle and step-dancing. I got involved in piping at the age of 12. I’m the first one in my family to start it.

“Music education is so important. Children learn that hard work comes with a reward. It teaches discipline as well. It’s a good way to express yourself.”

Normally the NAC Orchestra is in Ottawa on Music Monday but this year it falls in the midst of NACO’s Atlantic Canada tour, in the P.E.I. capital to be precise. So NACO’s music director Alexander Shelley rolled up his sleeves and took part in events in Charlottetown and he was joined by the violin soloist James Ehnes who has been giving his time to music education regularly on this tour.

Shelley has been working with young musicians across Atlantic Canada on this tour. On Monday, he led a mass choir and string orchestra in a performance of the Music Monday anthem, Sing It Together which was written by well-known rockers Marc Jordan and Ian Thomas. The anthem capped an enthusiastic hour-long concert, which included a brief solo by James Ehnes, in Charlottetown’s Trinity United Church. The rest of the day in the P.E.I. capital was full of such events.

“I can see the way the teachers are working with (their students) that they are all trying their best,” Shelley said after leaving the stage. “That side of it has been an absolute joy. Also I’ve been getting a true sense of how these communities work and what music has been happening. That’s been very interesting to me.

“For our part, I hope we have been able to offer some support and positive inspiration.”

NACO’s principal clarinetist, Kimball Sykes, was mentoring woodwind players Monday morning. For him, it’s about paying it forward.

Sykes started playing clarinet when he was 10. He picked up the saxophone and playings gigs on that helped him get through school. He returned to the clarinet when he was offered a job as a second clarinet on a tour with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. After university he worked in Hawaii before joining NACO.

“Like most of us, we feel a certain responsibility to give back. … Today, I talked about technique … and I talked a lot about professional opportunities and just opportunities to continue music throughout their lives,” he said.

In the evening, NACO performed to a pack house at the Confederation Centre for the Performing Arts. The programme included Dvorak’s New World Symphony, Korngold’s Violin Concerto in D major performed by James Ehnes and I Lost My Talk, which is a musical setting by Edmonton’s John Estacio of the poem by the Mi’kmaw poet Rita Joe.

The National Showcase Concert for Music Monday at the NAC in Ottawa was hosted by soprano Measha Brueggergosman and Liberal MP Seamus O’Regan. It also featured the premiere of a new film Strong As A Nation by Cole Forrest a young indigenous filmmaker and poet.

There were other special concerts across the country including:

• A performance by the Shallaway Jubilate Ensemble in St. John’s, NL.

• An outdoor concert at The Forks in Winnipeg, Manitoba featuring the Nelson McIntyre Collegiate Ensembles, and Marion, Archwood and Nordale schools. In Brandon, Manitoba, a new work by Canadian composer Pat Carrabré was to be performed.

• In Calgary, the focus was on jazz. Led by Sean Craig, the JazzYYC Youth Lab Band and Bishop Carrol Jazz Choir was to perform an arrangement of Sing it Together. Both groups were to also perform Nufsicisum, by Phil Nimmons.

• The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra played for 1,700 kindergarten to Grade 3 students in a concert that also featured the Running Thunder First Nations Dancers, the Métis Child Jiggers and grand master fiddle champion Daniel Gervais.

• A concert at the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus featured a roster of local indie artists including world music artist Tamas Pal, soul-fusion outfit BassLine, Samara York, a singer/songwriter from Richmond Hill and the Ensemble Chroma Quartet from the campus.

In Vancouver, the VSO’s Bramwell Tovey was to conduct a mass performance with Canadian children’s singer Charlotte Diamond. 

• The Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) hosted the students of Collège Saint-Maurice, a jazz duo and a special performance by Grammy winner Jennifer Gasoi.

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.