It ain’t bad news when these blues are back in school

Blues musicians on a mission. Blues Brothers stencil graphic: Neeters, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Blues musicians on a mission. Blues Brothers stencil graphic: Neeters, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Sometimes it takes fresh eyes to appreciate things one might take for granted. Take “Blues in the Schools“, in which real blues musicians drench kids in that genre and its thematic principles. A program in Ottawa has been doing that with great success since 1999, which almost makes it ho-hum stuff around here.

Anyway, Blue Note host Ellen Rocco emailed me about a press release on this year’s events taking place Feb 24 – March 6, which she thought was pretty amazing. And she’s right. It is cool.

We hear all the time about schools losing so-called non-essential content, like music and art. It’s nice to know that isn’t always the case. Of course, this particular example becomes yet another reminder that urban schools often get more than their rural counterparts. But good for whichever schools can manage to boost their offerings. And obviously there’s more to be done to help rural schools find ways to do things of this ilk too.

This particular program is a community outreach effort by a long-standing Ottawa summer music event, Bluesfest, which got its start in 1994. Here’s more info for 2014’s RBC Royal Bank Bluesfest, taking place July 3-13.

Bringing blues appreciation to the schools (among other goals) is even a mandate of the Bluesfest mission statement. Now, schools have to apply, and it’s too late to do that for this year. Participating schools also have to come up with a $900 fee, which isn’t very unreasonable, although for some schools that alone would be a show-stopper. As listed in this Ottawa Sun article, some 30 musicians are about to take their art to 24 Ottawa-area schools.

How’s that work? Here’s the two-week drill, from the program’s webpage:

The artists work with selected groups of students as part of the daily curriculum. The program is divided into two components – phases one and two.

PHASE 1 – Assembly-style presentation:
– One hour-long presentation per day (preferably the first period in the morning or the first period after lunch);
– Different performer per presentation (maximum of four presentations);
– Presentations can include lectures, singing, or musical demonstrations;
– Presentations are open to the whole student body.

PHASE 2 – Core Group Sessions:
– One-hour sessions with selected core groups (no more than 30 students per day);
– One artist/educator and one local musician throughout;
– Teachers work with the visiting artists/educators to present the program;
– Focus on more in-depth look at the history of music and music playing techniques;
– Showcase performance for the student body during the final day of the program;
– Opportunity to perform at the RBC Bluesfest in July.

Here’s a CTV News story by Vanessa Lee featuring one such session at Lisa Filoso’s grade 2 class at Corpus Cristi School featuring JW Jones and Rev. Billy C. Wirtz.

Pretty clever, eh? Turn them on when they’re young, then hope to see them in the crowd every July somewhere down the road! But seriously, music is a key element of life. Why not share it as often and as early as possible? And it’s far from a new idea. Mark Monahan, Bluesfest’s executive and artisitic director, says their 1999 program was modeled after similar work bluesman TJ Wheeler had done in New Hampshire. (Monahan explains that and more in this video from 2011.)

Bluesfest and Blues in the Schools have been many years in the making. By this point, they enjoy an established organizational structure and substantial corporate support. But even that sturdy oak began as someone’s small acorn.

Maybe there’s too little time – and certainly there’s a shortage of money. But wouldn’t it be cool if your child’s school had more visits from working artists who could share genuine creative passion?  If only!

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