Katherine Wheatley

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

HELLO EVERYONE. I just finished a YOUTHSONGS project with all the kids at Nelson Mandela Park Public School in Regent Park, Toronto. 17 classes between Grade 1 and 8 wrote, recorded and performed 11 songs. I LOVED IT! The grade 8's wouldn't quit. I had to keep working with them while eating my lunch. In photo to the right, they're putting the finishing touches on "We Believe". A rap song.

To the left, Grades 2 to 5 from Nelson Mandela Park Public School are singing "You're never on your own when Regent Park's your home." We're at the opening of the Luminato Festival - Yonge and Dundas Square in Toronto and we're singing to a few thousand people. In the middle of the song, the kids do a spoken part. They say "My family's from Afghanistan (or Portugal or Korea or Syria or wherever they're from)" in english. Then in their native language they say "...and in Regent Park, I feel at home". While they were doing this part, little eruptions of applause came from sections of the audience - first when Farsi was spoken, then Urdu, then Chinese and so on. The final bit was spoken by 2 kids whose parents are Ojibway. When they did their part, their was a hearty response. It was quite lovely.

All photos by permission from Lu
minato, the school or Six String Nation Guitar. The photos to the left and above were taken by an intern at the Luminato Festival.

We used the Six String Nation Guitar. It's made of 63 different bits of Canadian history (eg. Trudeau's paddle, Nancy Green's Ski, The Golden Spruce, Rocket Richard's Stanley Cup ring). Jowi Taylor
brought the guitar to the school and asked the kids to write about their home, and to find a piece of Regent Park that he could sew into the guitar case - joining material from Karen Kain’s Sleeping Beauty costume, one of Don Cherry’s suits and one of Pierre Berton’s famous bow ties. Now, when Jowi takes the guitar across Canada, he can tell the kids' story.

Six String Nation Ph
otos by Doug Nicholson

Luminato - Toronto Festival of Art + Creativity supported this project. They were fabulous to work with. Regent Park is undergoing massive change. It's the oldest social housing project in Canada. Every building except one is being torn down and new homes and pub
lic spaces are being built. Right now, RP is 100% social housing. The "revitalized" RP will be a mix of social and private residences. Luminato asked me to write songs with the kids about their home and their feelings about the revitalization. The kids' feelings are mixed. They're sad to lose the old spaces and old neighbours but excited about the new facilities - elevators that work, grocery stores within walking distance, a swimming pool. Some of their songs deal with those feelings. Some of the songs reveal their frustration at how Regent Park is portrayed in the media. Those same songs assert the incredible strength of their community. All of the songs demonstrate the kids’ passion for their home. Please check out a few samples. They can be found by linking here and clicking "audio". http://www.sonicbids.com/KatherineWheatleyYOUTHSONGS

you'd like to purchase a cd of these songs, please e-mail me. katherine.wheatley@sympatico.ca The money will be used to support more arts programmes at the school. I haven't got it all set up yet. I'll put you on a list and let you know when the CD will be available.

All my best, Katherine

“Youth songs was the best school-wide program I’ve seen in my career as an educator.” - Nelson Keane, Principal, Paisley Rd. P.S.


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