Orchestrating social justice

Tara Bradbury
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The National Arts Centre Orchestra. — Submitted photo

You can ask Canadian child-poverty activist Craig Kielburger his favourite musician, but you’ll already know the answer.

“I know it’s a cliché, but I’m a big Bono fan,” Kielburger told The Telegram.

Kielburger is partnering with the National Arts Centre Orchestra on its Atlantic Canada performance and education tour next week, and will deliver an interactive presentation via broadband to 400 youth from choirs in St. John’s and Ottawa.

Kielburger, 28, founded the international charity Free the Children with friends when he was 12, after reading a story in The Toronto Star about a 12-year-old Pakistani factory worker, Iqbal Masih, who had been murdered after speaking out against child labour.

Since then, Kielburger — who has degrees from Trinity College and York University, and who was made a member of the Order of Canada in 2007 — has been travelling the world, working in developing countries and speaking to young people.

To date, Kielburger said, Free the Children has built about 650 schools and established projects in 45 countries.

It’s not his first time working with musicians — Nelly Furtado and Hedley are some of the most recent artists to join Kielburger in his Free the Children work — and he recognizes the value music can have to inspire social justice, whether it’s Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” or K’naan’s “Waving Flag,” of which Free the Children was one of the charities that received a portion of the proceeds.

Free the Children often uses music in its work overseas, he said.

“Music is truly universal and breaks down barriers. We can’t go to a single community without it. Every time we visit a village, we’re greeted with music,” he said. “It’s more for pure enjoyment here, but in developing countries, it’s also how one educates. We use music to educate youth about HIV and AIDS, and how they can protect themselves. It’s a lot easier, sometimes, to use music to share information, when you can present the message as a song.”

It has also helped encourage youth to get involved, Kielburger explained, lending a cool factor to volunteering for charity.

“When we started Free the Children, we would practically get shoved into lockers. We were not cool,” Kielburger said. “If you’re in the 12-to-21 age group and you see guys like Hedley, who are your role models, going to India and helping to build schools, you might want to get involved, too.”

Kielburger's presentation, called “Building Community Through Music,” will be the culmination of an online project which invited young people to share video submissions on how singing can transform communities.

It’s one of a number of events the National Arts Centre Orchestra has planned for its tour, which will feature nine concerts and 80 music education events, including workshops, sectional rehearsals, lectures, private coaching, school visits and question-and-answer sessions in St. John’s, Charlottetown, Halifax, Moncton, Fredericton and Saint John Nov. 13-15.

Under conductor Julian Kuerti, who has led orchestras across the continent, the tour will feature

16-year-old pianist Jan Lisiecki of Alberta as well as local artists such as fiddler Danielle Green, the award-winning Shallaway choir and St. John’s native Sean Rice, a clarinettist.

It’s all about building connections with young audiences, said Genevieve Cimon, the National Arts Centre’s director of music education.

“This tour offers us a chance to showcase the incredible talent in Atlantic Canada and the region’s strong music education programs and to celebrate its strong legacy of music teaching, but it’s also a wonderful opportunity for the NAC Orchestra to encounter promising young artists and to introduce them to some incredible teachers, which we hope will lead to meaningful relationships that will continue well beyond the tour,” she said.

Rice is an example of what Cimon’s talking about: as a

19-year-old MUN student, he was invited to perform solo with the orchestra on its 2002 Atlan­tic Tour. Rice went on to study at the Juilliard School in New York City, and is currently finishing a doctorate in music. He is now the National Arts Centre Orchestra’s second clarinet.

Rice, Green, Acadian fiddler Samantha Robichaud and actor John Doucet, in the role of Mozart, will perform a “Let’s Go Mozart!” student matinee at Holy Heart Theatre in St. John’s Nov. 15, bringing the composer to life for children.

Rice, who went to high school at Holy Heart, will interact with Mozart onstage, playing part of his clarinet concerto with the orchestra.

While Rice’s experiences with children and music are entirely different from Kielburger’s, he’s noticed the value music has for youth and the impact it has on them.

“I’ve found that there are so many more questions to be asked than I thought there were from children. I’m amazed at how much longer I’m there after a performance to answer questions that they have, and I think that’s really wonderful,” he said.

“When I went to school, the opportunity to play in bands was readily available, but it seems like as time’s gone on and with budget cuts or whatever, it’s not as easy to do that anymore as a child in school. The fortunate thing is we have an institution in Canada that can come and tour and bring music to other places. Of course, there’s a great music scene in St. John’s with the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra and the university and a lot of the schools still do a great job of providing excellent music programs, but it’s nice, also, as Canada’s national arts centre, to come and visit places we don’t get to see a lot. As students, it’s an incredible opportunity.”

There’s been plenty of interest in the tour events in St. John’s, Rice said, and many local schools, as well as MUN’s School of Music, will get master classes from some of the orchestra’s principle wind and strings players.

A number of the orchestra’s principle musicians and internationally acclaimed instructors will take up short musician-in-residence positions at MUN while they’re in town, including Rice and Pinchas Zukerman, the orchestra’s music director and world-renowned violinist.

Rice acknowledges classical music may not be many young students’ cup of tea, but says this doesn’t mean they can’t appreciate it.

“Even when I was in junior high and high school, I didn’t listen to that much classical music as my choice of relaxing music,” he explained. “I think in younger children, especially, we can see the most appreciation immediately because they’re very open to new things and very accepting. When you get to the age group in high school, it’s a littler harder to target them, but I don’t think that means there’s no appreciation for it. I think it’s just a phase of growing up. I appreciate the difficulty of high school students to find themselves at that stage.”

The orchestra is inviting the public to follow its Atlantic Tour online at www.nacotour.ca, where it will post videos, podcasts, photos and blogs.




Organizations: Trinity College, National Arts Centre Orchestra, The Telegram.Kielburger York University NAC Orchestra Juilliard School Holy Heart Theatre Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra School of Music

Geographic location: Atlantic Canada, India, Charlottetown Moncton Fredericton Saint John Alberta New York City

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Recent comments

  • Rosemary Thompson
    November 05, 2011 - 15:50

    Dear Tara Thanks for the great story. Everyone can come and experience the NAC Orchestra on Tuesday November 15th at 8:00 p.m. at the Arts and Culture Centre. Tickets are available @ artsandculturecentre.com Shallaway will be singing, and CBC's Anthony Germaine will be our host!! Looking forward to seeing everyone. Rosemary Thompson, Director of Communications for the NAC. @backstagerosie on twitter, and Rosemary Thompson on Facebook.