by Andre Morrisseau
Education has long been the outstanding barrier between Canada’s Aboriginal peoples and their equitable place at the table of prosperity in Canada today. The 2% cap on Aboriginal education funding put in place in 1996 has served to exacerbate a situation that see’s Aboriginal youth attending substandard schools with a lack of facilities that mainstream Canadian youth not only take for granted but demand.
The national game of ping pong played out between Federal and Provincial governments has served as the gray area that has led to a national crisis that gets a lot air play but a major lack of fair play.
Toronto based Artist Management and Independent Record Company Coalition Music started in 1991, whose current client roster includes Our Lady Peace, Simple Plan, Finger Eleven and others is using young people’s love of music to make a difference and keep Aboriginal youth in school.
Within the renovated walls of a former convent in Toronto, Eric Lawrence and co-founder Rob Lanni built studios, rehearsal spaces, professional development and educational programs, and a performance space, in an effort to provide artists a place to create, learn and hone their skills.
Currently they are working with Wasse Abin High School (Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve, Manitoulin Island) and Nbisiing High School (Nipissing First Nation, North Bay) bringing the unique TEMPO learning experience to Northern First Nations youth.
TEMPO is a registered charity started in 2013 delivering ‘The Music Business’ high school credit program working in partnership with school boards and Aboriginal communities locally and around the province, offering music business education and entrepreneurship programs at the high school level.
As with most of the arts, there’s a major gap between those having the skills and those with the ability to build a sustainable career. Unlike law, medicine or even athletics, there’s no clearly defined path to a career in the music business.
Artists need help. Tempo is fully committed to their education and professional long-term development. Everything they do is about helping artists help themselves.
The Music Business: Grade 12 interdisciplinary credit course, OSSD accredited (Ontario Secondary School Diploma). Course has 50% focus on creative elements like song writing, performance and recording, and 50% focus on general and music specific business concepts, like law and copyright, marketing, branding, and communications. Recommended for students with an interest in music or the music industry, who have some degree of past musical experience, (lessons or self-taught).
As a course feature, all students have an opportunity to record their original songs written in the course at Coalition Music.
Delivered through summer, night, and day school programming in collaboration with The Toronto District School Board’s Wexford Collegiate School for the Arts (day school) and the Toronto Catholic District School Board’s Continuing Education Department, (night and summer school). They have delivered over 18 semesters since 2011, with over 2,000 instructional and mentorship hours to date, and worked with over 540 youth since its inception.
In March, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne visited Coalition Music to tour the facility and to announce Coalition Music as a recent recipient of the Ontario Music Fund as well as recognizing the economic value and impact of the music sector.
The primary message their organizations actively communicate to artists, students, industry professionals, and all levels of government is that musicians/recording artists/songwriters are more than entertainers. They are starter companies, small businesses. They face the same challenges and obstacles as any other.
Aboriginal youth represent the fastest growing demographic in Canada today with more than 50% of the Aboriginal population being under the age of 25. Their challenges from education, suicide, isolation and systemic racism place them in a situation where hope is built into the hearts and minds of anyone with a love for music. Tempo offers an attractive avenue of creative expression that demands special nurturing and an understanding of who our Aboriginal peoples are unlocking the extraordinary talent that has graced the country with giants such as Buffy St. Marie, Tom Jackson, and Susan Aglukark to name just a few.
CMI and TEMPO are built on three pillars: Mentorship, Networking, and Collaboration. Coalition was already running their high school credit course program when they were approached by Rogers Media with access to funding specifically for diversity and asked if they had any way educationally to do that.
They had a previous relationship with the principal of the high school at Wassi Abin at Wikwemekon on Manitoulin Island and approached him about the TEMPO program they were already running in Toronto. They knew that if their high school had someone who could teach the kids they could put the whole package together so that it’s delivered as a credit course at their school.
It was through the great connectivity with Coalition Music and TEMPO that they would come up and visit and work with the students three times during the semester and then have them come to Toronto and work in their recording studio throughout the course of the semester. As a program, it is an accepted credit course for any high school student in Canada, outside of Metro Toronto, working as a perfect fit for Ontario and Canada’s often isolated Aboriginal students and schools.
Students also coordinate a culminating live music event in their respective communities to showcase the music they’ve written through performance and to implement the entrepreneurial and music industry knowledge they have accumulated over the course of the semester. In 2014, the Wasse Abin Music Business Class live music event called Rezfest (named by the kids at Wiki) sold out the local arena with over 400 community members in attendance.
The true excitement and accomplishment of the Coalition Music/TEMPO’s Music Business Program will be on display for the entire country to share when program participants sisters Shayne and Taylor May from Wikwemikong Unceded First Nation on Manitoulin Island share their first released single “Drowning.”
The song was written as part of “The Music Business” program offered at their high school, in collaboration with Coalition Music and TEMPO. Ashley Buchholz, lead singer and guitarist of Toronto-based USS, produced Shayne and Taylor’s first commercial release after being given the opportunity to workshop with their class.
When Shayne and Taylor May hit the main stage at APTN’s Aboriginal Day Live and Celebration on June 20th in Winnipeg, a circle will have closed around their dreams as they share the optimism that creative education endeavours such as the work of Coalition Music, TEMPO, and their original programs can create and bring to life.
To hear the original song “Drowning” go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7RdNWkSC1-Q