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



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