Original Song

Gathering in a classroom that looks no different from the other middle school rooms in the building, 9 students have spent their last five Thursdays from 4:15pm to 5:45pm brainstorming on song lyrics to present at the new Rural MASC-Awesome Arts Festival. From grades 6 – 8, adolescent anticipation with a hint of reluctance fills the air, but jokes are plentiful as they tease each other playfully about everything from their sweaty recess hair to the lack of skills acquired from using fidget spinners. As I settle the youth, we take a look at words that fill pages inside personalized song folders, and I could see the students eyes fill up with surprise, as they notice how the song that they have been working on for the past five weeks now have a format and melody.

As the facilitator of the Original Song workshop, my responsibility is to engage the participants in critical thought about what diversity and inclusion means to them, and how to transfer their thoughts into a full song that can be performed live on stage in front of an audience. The task is not an easy one for students who are not accustomed to living within a diverse community.

song3The rural township of Kinburn is mainly farm area and long stretches of road, however, with opportunities to share their stories and ideas, the brainstorming sessions have offered the group a means to find ways to speak about how they feel on the topics. Words such as “competition”, “ocean”, “equality”, and “humanity”, are proposed as the students tell me what comes to mind when they think of the terms diversity and inclusion.

A voting process is used to minimize their word web, and after three sessions, the students are using these words to write lyrics on their own to an instrumental song generously supplied by a top hiphop/urban music producer in Ottawa by the name of Nick Giurgevich. Selecting which lyrics will fit the three chorus, two verse song requires delicate decision making; every student feels as though all their lyrics should be in the song, however, with some craftiness from myself, I find a way to use at least two lines from each student’s writing to be a part of the original song. With a catchy melody and a powerful message about judging and competition, the students finally get to see their work come full circle, as they spend the next two sessions rehearsing for their production on Thursday, June 15 at their home school, Stonecrest Elementary.

They’ve created a fabulous song with a powerful message. One that they can be proud to perform and share!

-Jamaal Jackson Rogers




As in all the storytelling/animation projects I’ve done with Awesome Arts, there was the great pleasure in witnessing everyone:

  • recognizing the essential nuggets in their own stories (and the parts that weren’t as important), how to put them together more effectively, how to make them sing — both of the people who ended up recording came with a strong sense of story and seemed to relish the refining process
  • becoming invested in one another’s stories — able to give useful and kind feedback on what was and wasn’t working in each others’ tellings; although Jennifer didn’t end up recording her story, Wilf and Amanda were able to help her see the difference between a speech (which is what she started with) and a story
  • coming together as a group enjoying a joint venture

Amanda and her family are relatively new arrivals in Carp, having emigrated from England a few years ago.  Her family story doesn’t have anything to do with Carp but, as you heard, is funny and very human.  It took a few tries to get a comprehensible explanation of curtain wire, commonplace in England and critical to the plot, worked out.  Amanda’s father-in-law used it to repair the choke in his wife’s car — it came unravelled at an inopportune moment…

Wilf, on the other hand, grew up in Carp and his story about Bert really captured the tone of rural Ontario life in the 50s and 60s and the semi-acknowledged place of a misfit like Bert in the community.  As Wilf himself observed, the edited version is a story about a trick; the longer oral version is a portrait of an individual in his community.  I’m glad the latter will be posted eventually!

In order to turn some of the oral stories into stop motion animation videos, they need to be edited down quite a bit. Tina Le Moine, the follow-up artist that will be transforming the stories into animation, does a marvellous job of that but I realized that the the oral stories and the stories used for the animation are quite different. To honour the two art forms (storytelling and animation) as well as the original story told, we came up with the idea of sharing both on Youtube. The longer version will be shared with no animation, it will be a stand along oral story. The other will be the shorter, edited, animated story. The participants and artists were pleased with this solution.

I think one of the reasons I enjoy projects like this so much and find them so valuable is that people need and want to tell their stories.  When we tell our stories, our connection to one another is affirmed and we recognize what we have in common.  When you’re working with older people, that need for connection, for being heard, for experience being acknowledged and valued becomes even more pressing — although I could say the same about many of the other groups I’ve worked with — immigrants and people young and old who’ve found themselves in stressful, difficult situations.  And then there’s the satisfaction of shaping and telling your experience in a way that others are clearly happy to listen to…  So — definitely worthwhile and a deep pleasure!

– MASC Artist Katherine Grier


Slam Poetry

In the primary wing of her school, Amber adds an extra 3ft to her view as she scales a bench that sits right below an unused bulletin board. She has found the perfect backdrop for a scene in her poem to be filmed, and she couldn’t be more excited to nail this last segment and call it a wrap. She speaks with confidence, and the cameraman Randy Kelly encourages her to try one more take for extra footage. With a smile that exudes gentleness, she begins with, “Don’t change who you are just because of what other people think.”

Amber is one of the seven students at Stonecrest Elementary who have been involved with the Slam Poetry workshops through the MASC Rural Awesome Arts program. Amber and her six classmates came on board without much prior knowledge of what to expect from a slam poetry workshop, but their eagerness to learn and participate was evident from the start. Amber finished her poem the night of the first workshop and presented it the following day, even though she says she never wrote a poem before. Because of her quick writing skills, Amber was chosen to create a Cinepoem (a “music video” for the poetry world) that will be screened at the Awesome Arts Festival.  The other five students will perform their pieces live, and the titles range from, “Dear Canada”, to, “The Season”.

The Awesome Arts Slam Poetry participants explored creative writing techniques and use of literary devices to create poems that have rhythm and cadence. These poems tackled diversity and inclusion from a Canadian perspective, and the participants were challenged to select a different writing style and prompt for each piece.

As she jumps off the bench, Amber giggles as I tell her that her video will be uploaded to YouTube for viewing and sharing, and I could tell by her eyes and laughter that she has no problems with that at all.

– Jamaal Jackson Rogers


What a great group to work with!

I met the story tellers Amanda and Wilf and together with them and 4 other participants we listened to the stories and formed teams to work in. I had set out a whole box of materials with which to work and we dove right in and created characters and backdrops. It can be a challenging task to work with someone else’s story, but the participants were fast to grasp the concept of animation. All they needed was some guidance, some inspiration on how to animate a scene and off they went. We even had people take materials home to work on some characters. One participant made a wired puppet with movable limbs!

Over the weeks teams were rebuilt, ideas changed, we had some good laughs together and git was wonderful to see the movie come together. Truly a great experience for me and the participants. Two of them will go on to make movies, one music video is in the works, and the other participant is helping me and a fellow Ottawa based film maker finish an animation project.

-Tina Le Moine



LEAVE NO JIGGER BEHIND! Overview of first Métis Jigging workshop at Stonecrest Elementary

The first workshop went well! The students were very enthusiastic and engaged. I started with a brief overview of the Métis and Métis dancing. I shared my story and explained what we would be doing over the next couple of weeks — learning the Red River Jig! Then I performed the dance to show them what it will look like. They asked questions along the way.

We tried a few different ways of learning the basic jig step. Some of the students were a bit shy to introduce themselves in the opening circle and to share anything about their background. One or two struggled to get the steps but overall most caught on quickly. I’m going to focus on ‘leave no jigger behind’ in the next session. We’re going to slow it down again and all wait until everyone gets it before we move on. I tried to emphasize diversity of learning styles means we all have different ways of catching on.

Also, I really loved when the Marina, the Stonecrest Elementary principal, joined in. She was very supportive in helping students one on one with me and gave me great feedback after the session. If possible I’d love to show them a few videos in the next sessions — with full speakers and LCD projector. I will also get them on stage to do blocking and prepare them for the live performance at the Awesome Arts Festival.

Ginny Gonneau, Métis Jigger, MASC Artist