Featuring First Nations, French & English Students From Across Canada
After 18 years as a Canadian artist writing and recording music, I have to be honest…this album featuring songs written with students across Canada is one of the most exciting I’ve ever been part of.
Songs From Schools is a songwriting series I have been producing in schools across Canada for the last few years. Songwriting offers students a unique opportunity to work together creatively and discover the value of diversity and being gifted differently. I typically spend a week in a school and by Friday we have a finished song and accompanying video that serve as a lasting reminder of the student’s investment. The video and the song are both great resources to help focus students throughout the year on the values and vision they wrote about.
Listen to Our Story/Écoutez Notre Histoire features 10 songs written with students from Kátł’odeeche First Nation in NWT, Oneida Nation of the Thames in Ontario, Francophone students at École Central in Fort St John, B.C. and English schools in Winnipeg, MB, Fort St John and Victoria, B.C. This album captures not only the energy and excitement of Canadian youth, it is an amazing display of cultural diversity and the shared experience of youthful hopes and dreams.
What Goes Into A Project Like This
Songs From Schools is a week-long Artist in Residence project. Students spend a week with a professional songwriter writing, recording and performing an original song together. They also incorporate a wide variety of artistic disciplines like visual art installations, acting and stop animation to develop their story and to document the creative process for a video. The video is uploaded to YouTube and Facebook, making it convenient for students to share their song and story with their families, friends, relatives, and members of their community. These videos are also great for schools to celebrate their staff and students and what makes their school such a great place.
In their first session on Monday, students are swept up into the ambition of the project, when they discover that there will be an assembly on Friday afternoon, where every student in their school will perform and record their song. A song that on Monday doesn’t even exist yet…because they haven’t written it yet. This sets the tone and captures the excitement of the creative challenge.
For most students, this is the first time they have ever been part of a creative project like this. Writing and rehearsing an original song in their classroom, recording in hallways, common areas and gymnasiums allow students to experience live music in ways that many have never known.
The Songs From Schools project requires a lot from all of the students. It starts with brainstorming sessions to find common themes and elements for their song. Who are they? How would they describe their school to someone who has never been there before? What do they like best about their school? Do they have a motto? A mascot? Once we have some of these building blocks, then we need to figure out how these elements can fit together in a song and what we want that song to say and sound like. Creativity is not a linear process, it often comes in flashes of inspiration that spark wildfires of imagination. And there is no such thing as failure when you’re being creative, mistakes are just opportunities to learn. It’s very important to create a safe place for students to take creative risks. These songwriting sessions are excellent opportunities to teach the practical value of the roots of empathy.
The Sets’ani Project
Sometimes schools are interested in writing about a specific theme. Chief Sunrise School from the Kátł’odeeche First Nation in NWT wanted to write an anti bullying song. When I arrived they knew that they wanted to call it, Sets’ani, which means, ‘Be a Friend’ in their South Slavey traditional language. So that’s what we did. You can WATCH THE VIDEO HERE if you’d like to be inspired by the sweetest little anti bullying dudes ever! Writing and creating the song was just part of the project. We also came up with an anti bullying game that identified the power of words to hurt or to encourage.
For th, game we designed a series of cards with words on them. Most of the words were encouraging like, beautiful, smart and helpful. The traditional language teacher worked with the students to translate each of these words into South Slavey. We would place an equal number of cards face down on the floor to match the number of students playing at any given time. Students would all pick up a card without looking at it, and then when everyone had a card, they would turn them over the reveal the word. Most students would have cards with nice encouraging words on them. One student would have a bad word written in black, things like ugly or stupid. And one student would have the word, Sets’ani, written in green. It was the responsibility of the student who got the sets’ani card, to take the bad word away and replace it with a good word.
The game worked really well for these students who were JK-G1. Even if a student didn’t read yet or know the word, they knew that the word written in black ink was the bad one, and if they got the sets’ani card in green, they knew it was up to them to do something to make it better. The song, the game and the video all supported the story the students wanted to tell. At the end of the project they had an official media release in their community, where the Chief and Council came out, members of the RCMP and the media were there, filming interviews with the little project creators. It was adorable!
The Buddy Bench
Students at Bert Ambrose Elementary in Fort St John, B.C. wanted to write about the Buddy Bench that they had just got for their playground. The Buddy Bench is a great invention. It’s usually a brightly coloured bench that has special significance on a playground. If you don’t have anyone to play with, or you’re feeling lonely or sad, all you have to do is go sit on the Buddy Bench. It’s the responsibility of each student on the playground to keep an eye on the bench, and if they see a buddy in need, it’s up to them to run over and invite them to play.
The Buddy Bench is an idea that’s catching on in schools around the world. So about six months later, I found myself at another school in Hudson’s Hope, B.C. and part of the project was filming the creation and installation of the Buddy Bench on their playground. We used this song for that project as well. Hudson’s Hope is a small community, and there is one school with students from K-G 12. I enlisted some of the high school students to give a rousing speech in the middle of the school performance, because I knew if the oldest students in the school endorsed the Buddy Bench, it would make it that much more powerful for the younger grades. Watch the Hudson’s Hope Buddy Bench VIDEO HERE.
Multi Media Storytelling & Songwriting
Producing a video provides an opportunity for students gifted in many different ways to participate in the project in a way that plays to their strengths. Documenting the creative process as they work together, creates awesome visual elements that reinforce the story behind the song. It’s also great for students to have a way to share their song and experience with friends and families. Many schools use the assembly as an opportunity to invite moms and dads, grannies and grandpas come out to celebrate the creativity of their students.
These Students Showcase Canadian Cultures
The songs on, Listen to Our Story/Écoutez Notre Histoire, all come with a great back story. Best Day Ever and Sets’ani, were written during sessions with JK-Grade 1 students at Chief Sunrise Education Centre, Kátł’odeeche First Nation in NWT. ONYAT’A:KA, Shekoli and Christmas Town were written during sessions with students from Standing Stone School at Oneida Nation of the Thames, ON. We were incredibly blessed in both communities to have elders help us incorporate traditional language into the songs.
Change le Monde and Écoutez Notre Histoire were written during sessions with students from École Central Elementary, the French Immersion school in Fort St John, B.C. Central books these creative sessions at the beginning of each year and use the creative process throughout the week and the song and video we create to set the tone for the entire year. Broyden Bennett, the principal at Central told me they play the songs over the intercom throughout the year whenever they have a general assembly, so that as the classes are walking through the halls to the gym they are all singing the song they wrote together. He said it works great to focus their attention, and remind them of who they are.
The Awesome Song and Fill My Bucket were written during sessions with students from Grosvenor School in Winnipeg, MB. The Awesome Song benefits from some awesome actions that has made it a favourite song all across the country.
Canadian Youth Experience Professional Recording Sessions
Recording Songs From Schools was a story in itself and involved setting up portable recording equipment in schools and churches…basically anywhere we could find a space. Students from The Northern Lights Youth Choir in Fort St John came out and sang on Sets’ani, Christmas Town, Best Day Ever and ONYAT’A:KA.
An awesomely loud group of kids from Ecole Central met in the common area right after school to record, The Awesome Song, Change le Monde and Écoutez Notre Histoire. (and to mock me for my poor pronunciation of French. Don’t worry, it’s OK though, we’re friends!) And students from Viva Youth Voices in Victoria, B.C. gave up weekends and a Pro D day to record Fill My Bucket, The Buddy Bench and Shekoli. Having an opportunity to do a live recording on location, with a professional recording artist in front of an audience, was an experience the students will never forget.
The Lasting Value Of This Student Songwriting Series
Songwriting is a process of creative vulnerability. It requires everyone involved to offer their best ideas and not get mad or sad if their ideas are not immediately embraced. It involves empathy and energetic support for those around us. Because if someone offers an idea, and someone else says, “that’s stupid” it shuts everyone down, no one is going to want to put their hand up and have that said about them. So we really focus on creating an environment that supports creative risk taking, and most importantly, ensures we’re all having fun.
Songwriting is an opportunity to bring our talents, gifts and ideas together to serve the song and create something bigger and better than any of us could on our own. From talking to teachers, I know that this creative process can have lasting effects on the dynamic of a classroom for an entire school year. Writing, recording and performing a song together can be a great team building experience.
What I Want From You
I hope you take the time to listen to these songs, especially if you are a parent or a teacher or someone who works with youth. This is such a unique collection of songs written with such a wide diversity of students from communities across Canada, I’m making it available to you for FREE! You can CLICK HERE to get your copy. When the music page opens just click on the BUY NOW button and feel free to enter 0 and you’ll be able to download all the songs. You can leave a tip if you want, all the money raised goes back into making Songs From Schools happen. But seriously…you are absolutely encouraged to enjoy this album for free. I’m certain your students will love it.
Feel free to leave comments, ask questions or contact me at 250-896-2572 or firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like information on booking a songwriting series in your school.
Hi, my name is Rik Leaf. I love everything I get to do as a recording artist, producer, slam poet, and writer. But I particularly enjoy working with schools and communities where I can help students discover the unique opportunities their talents, interests and abilities can provide. Songs From Schools is one of the most exciting projects I’ve ever been part of!