Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine


Walkin’ In Space

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Why is it that personal growth always has to come in a bittersweet flavor?

I experienced that taste this year when I became a participant in a huge community initiative led by a new hero of mine, Roger Berrington. The program is called CanU, and it is designed to inspire “at risk” children from our city’s middle schools to visualize themselves one day attending university.

This past year, I had the opportunity to design and instruct the CanU Jazz Academy, with my jazz pedagogy students as assistants. It was a perfect opportunity for my class of seven students to experiment with blending Eurocentric and Afrocentric teaching ideals. Long story short, we struck gold! In 14 of weeks of teaching, 18 kids with no prior experience were able to play and sing several of their favorite songs, convincingly, in front of an audience of roughly 500 peers and adults at the yearly wrap-up party. Those kids rocked the house, and the audience erupted into cheers from the very first note! Our little jazz buddies came away feeling like rock stars!

There were some in that group who took to the music lessons like fish to water. One girl who looked a lot like my daughter was a natural at the drums. She was rhythmic, flamboyant and powerful from note one, even though she barely had the technique to hold the sticks. Another boy had a voice like an angel and learned piano and guitar. All of them felt safe and proud and excited about what they were learning to do. They found new focus in their schoolwork because of our class. Their parents noticed a jump in their self-esteem. Their teachers and parents said that the kids considered CanU Jazz to be the best part of their week.

Of course they wanted to continue. So did I. This is where the bittersweet taste comes in. I have been making every effort to integrate them into my summer Jazz on Wheels program, and to develop more intensive learning opportunities for the keenest ones, but I’m finding it difficult to find the resources.

I believe it’s just as important to nurture young artists as it is to fund young scientists and doctors. Artists, writers and musicians see the poetry in the struggle of everyday life, and bring an aesthetic and philosophical point of view to that struggle.  I believe that this is the greatest tool for civilizing our society. Through art we learn that there are no unimportant people and through music we learn that there are no unimportant voices.

I was transformed by the music of those fifth graders at the wrap-up party. I felt the same way that I’ve read that many astronauts feel when they orbit the earth. From space, you can see that borders between countries are completely artificial. Ultimately, we are all passengers on this frail, pale blue dot.

I want to take this opportunity to invite you to take a walk in space with me by supporting the arts in Winnipeg. You’ll be helping create a better world.

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