Nobody can deny the overwhelming power of music. It overcomes divides, bringing people together in a way that nothing else can. And for performers, it can help calm the mind, strengthen cognitive skills, boost self-esteem and so much more. Thanks to an innovative program from the Soundbone Traditional Arts Foundation in Ladle Cove, Notre Dame Bay, more young musicians are getting the chance to gain performance experience, while keeping our musical heritage alive.
Established in 2009, the non-profit Soundbone Traditional Arts Foundation is dedicated to preserving and promoting the musical, dance and storytelling traditions of the province. This past summer, Soundbone hired their first ever cultural ambassador to perform concerts at various locations along the Kittiwake Coast. The program was supported with funds from the Canada Summer Jobs program, with Soundbone covering administrative and mentoring costs.
From June 26 to August 11, Madison Mouland (a high school student and singer/guitarist from Musgrave Harbour) delivered 59 performances and conducted 27 song circles for 819 people in eight communities at various venues – everywhere from community centres and fire halls to hospitals, nursing homes, public libraries and parks. Mouland attended the Vinland Music Camp for several seasons (a traditional music and dance workshop founded in 2001 by Soundbone’s president, Eric West) and plans to study music professionally at university.
West says the pilot project was a resounding success, with great support from the various venues and communities. In addition to providing direction and performance opportunities for young musicians, he adds, the Cultural Ambassador Program strives to provide stimulation and community interaction for seniors, whether they’re living alone or in care facilities. Claudia Karrasch, treasurer with Soundbone and general manager and supervisor of the Cultural Ambassador Program, says the pilot project definitely achieved its goal.
“We sent our cultural ambassador to several seniors homes along the coast. The seniors bonded with Madison. They loved to hear the old songs, they loved to dance, and just to sing a song with her,” she says.
In addition to helping improve the quality of life in communities, Karrasch adds, the program provides the opportunity to consider the multiple functions of public buildings.
“So public libraries don’t need to be connected with the school only, they can be connected to cultural events,” she says.
“It’s such a joy for children and youth to have multiple opportunities in communities, going to concerts in the park, but also attending workshops. It’s just wonderful.”
While the initial pilot was confined to the Kittiwake Coast, West says he’d like to see the program continue on an annual basis and is encouraging other organizations and partners to develop similar programs throughout the province. Currently, Soundbone is reaching out to businesses to sponsor this summer’s program (with Soundbone helping with the mentoring and training process).
“The idea is to bring (young musicians) into a central location for their first week, to have workshops with professional musicians, to help them develop their technique and ability to interact with the audience, selecting the right repertoire…that’s what we want to do,” he says.
Ideally, West says, potential sponsors would have an interest in supporting community development, the arts and health, as well as creating employment opportunities for youth. The program, he says, is a win-win for young musicians, their mentors and the community at large.
“We have the young musicians performing in interpretation centres and parks as well. So there is a small tourism component. But it’s mostly mental health/performance/leisure – all the different issues that we’re trying to address within, particularly, rural Newfoundland,” he says.
“One of the things we really want to encourage in our program is the interactive element…its been shown that there’s a lot of positive outcomes from this kind of activity. People really respond to it. A lot of these people who are living on their own, they don’t have a lot of visitors. Just a young person coming in, (performing) some songs can really make a big difference. And the young people are getting a lot out of it too.”