South Surrey-artist-led musical-ecological program continues with virtual concert videos

Holly Arntzen and Kevin Wright collaborate with students by Zoom

Holly Arntzen and Kevin Wright performing with The Wilds. Contributed photo

Holly Arntzen and Kevin Wright performing with The Wilds. Contributed photo

The pandemic may have slowed the program created by Holly Arntzen and Kevin Wright (of The Wilds) to bring music – and ecological education – to B.C. classrooms.

But it didn’t stop the determined South Surrey-based duo by a long shot.

Proof of that is the release last month of two virtual video concerts – Sing Out For The Earth.

In them, the writers and performers have made full use of available technology to collaborate with two relatively remote coastal B.C. schools: A.J. Elliott Elementary (33 students), located in the fishing village of Sointula on Malcolm Island, off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island; and Haisla Community School (75 students), which is in the First Nations village of Kitamaat, just south of Kitimat.

Produced by Arntzen and Wright’s ARTist Response Team (ART), the 20-minute concerts feature the kindergarten to Grade 7 students singing original songs penned by the pair to celebrate our oceans and watersheds, and nature in general.

They’re the culmination of a pandemic-necessitated pivot for ART, which, instead of physically touring their program to schools throughout the province, saw them channelling their energies into creating and developing online videos to help teachers bring music and ecological education into the classroom.

Making it all possible, they said, was continued support from two of their long-term, not-for-profit sponsors, the BC Used Oil Management Association (BCUOMA) – a group dedicated to the collection and recycling of used lubricating oil, oil filters, oil containers, used antifreeze and antifreeze containers – and the Tire Stewardship of B.C.

“They’re key to this,” Wright said. “Without them we wouldn’t have been able to do anything.”

“We had a number of school programs lined up and ready to go for last spring, and then in March of last year we were hit with the reality of the pandemic,” Arntzen said.

“Our thought was, ‘how can we do this so teachers and parents have something to work with?’” she added. “We threw ourselves into creating videos, and these two schools wanted to go ahead and put it into practice.”

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“We sent them a series of videos so that they could learn the songs,” Wright said.

“We got to a certain point that Holly and I would do a Zoom meeting with the kids and the teachers well before they did their performance; we would do Q and A, and we’d watch the rehearsals and give them feedback.”

The children’s response to the materials they provided was wonderful – and very heartening – they agreed.

“They were like a breath of fresh air,” Wright said.

Sing Out For The Earth is a way to create a special musical experience for students in a year when so many of the special activities we normally participate in were unable to take place,” A.J. Elliott principal Melody Wright noted in a media release for the debut of the concerts.

“Students practised for several weeks, learning songs and actions, and preparing introductions for the songs. We filmed the students singing, and sent the footage to ART, to be edited into a professional, fun, virtual concert,” she added.

“We knew that this was a fantastic opportunity for our students to show resilience and innovation during a time when so many activities were being cancelled,” said Haisla Community School vice principal Leana Brady.

“The musical program brought the students together as they learned and sang about our natural environment. It has been a successful, fun and entertaining learning experience, and the students are very excited to share their performance with everyone. Also with it being a virtual platform, it allows anyone, anywhere to watch, learn and enjoy.”

It’s likely the process of putting the videos together – and the steep learning curve involved in filming and editing and mixing the sound – will actually provide a long-term benefit to the program, even after live music programs are allowed in the schools again, Arntzen and Wright noted.

“We’ve called it a blessing in disguise,” Wright said.

“What we’ve realized is that these videos may be useful to schools we may never visit,” Arntzen added. “We may get an uptake on these in future, particularly in schools that are even more remote.”

To view the virtual concerts, and for more information on the ART programs and activities, visit voicesofnature.ca



alex.browne@peacearchnews.com

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