By Jen C
As the first snows of winter blew through Ottawa this week, Jackie and Laura were far north on a music-filled trip to Iqaluit. With the incredibly beautiful snowy lands of Nunavut as a backdrop, the founding Artistic Director of the Cantiamo Girls Choir of Ottawa, Jackie Hawley and its accompanist and composer-in-residence, Laura Hawley, were building connections through music. They were setting the stage for an exciting exchange trip with Cantiamo singers and musicians from the Inuksuk Drum Dancers that will happen this spring and summer. Jackie and Laura also held a teacher workshop for 16 enthusiastic participants from three different schools. “We sang and laughed and learned,” said Jackie. “I did some warm ups in which one of the purposes is to engage ‘shy singers’. One of the teachers in the group told me afterwards that she was a ‘shy singer’ and these exercises worked well for her and got her singing freely!”
Jackie’s involvement in doing training for the Nunavut Sivuniksavut here in Ottawa started more than five years ago, when the NAC asked her to do a vocal workshop for the student leaders from Nunavut. She already had a strong interest in choral music in Canada’s North, having been impressed by a choir from Arviat at a festival in Newfoundland some years before. As Jackie recounted, “it was a fascinating coincidence, although I believe it was meant to be, that this choir was led at the time by Marcy Piercey, who is now our contact in Iqaluit and the leader of the Inuksuk Drum Dancers.” That initial spark of interest grew into a multi-year program to connect young people musically, culturally and personally and to help build lasting bonds of friendship through a mutual love of music. It’s called Nipiit Katittut – Voices United (NKVU) and it has everything to do with mentoring one another, learning about each others’ communities first-hand and celebrating different cultures, languages as well as shared music.
As part of the 2017 Nipiit Kattitut – Voices United “In the Heart of a Friend” project, a composer from each community will work together to collaborate on a shared piece of music – the premiere of a new Canadian composition. While in Iqaluit this November, Laura had the chance to meet and talk with with songwriter Looee Nowdlak Arreak. “She and Laura and I had some very meaningful conversation and there are already some beautiful text, melodic motifs and performance ideas forming,” said Jackie.
Jackie and Laura were also able to present the proceeds of their October fundraising concert to the Iqaluit Music Society, to help enable them to continue to offer incredible music experiences in the North. Darlene Nuqingaq has been the volunteer teacher and president for over 20 years, and it has been that long since the violins were re-strung. “Needless to say,” said Jackie, “it is a challenge to get instruments, support supplies and music and given the significance of the positive power of music, I thought it was fitting that Cantiamo, in accordance with our mandate to mentor, do a fundraiser for this group so they can continue to enrich the lives of northern Canadians.”
Young people in the Inuksuk Drum Dancers and the Cantiamo Girls Choir have lots to look forward to this year as the long-awaited exchanges shift from planning into music-filled reality. In May, choristers from Cantiamo will travel north and work with their Iqaluit peers to facilitate choral workshops with elementary school students and share music in performances at the Elder’s Center and in church services. The young people will together premiere the Arreak- Hawley song in a celebratory concert for the whole community that will feature singing, dancing and drumming.
Through a partnership with the Ottawa Chamber Music Society, the Juno-nominated and world-renowned Gryphon Trio will also travel up to Iqaluit with Cantiamo to perform in the concert and offer music lessons to students there.
Then from the end of June and through July 5th, including Canada Day, it will be the Inuksuk Drum Dancers’ turn to travel south to Ottawa. They will participate, along with Cantiamo, in the annual Unisong Festival, singing with choirs from across the country to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday. Together with the Gryphon Trio, the three groups will present a joint concert in the nation’s capital.
Jackie and Laura’s trip to Iqaluit last week is indeed part of a project that will create a lasting legacy in both communities. Thank you to the National Arts Centre for their support for this trip. Thanks also to Rhythmic Trident Publishing, First Air and Dr. Mary Piercey!