Throughout its career, Tamarack has taken its music into the classroom, to students at all grade levels. We have tried to demonstrate that not only can education be entertaining, and entertainment educational, but that folk music provides a direct link between many areas of study and the world outside the classroom.
Our classroom performances - at whatever grade level - are lively, casual, and interactive. They are designed to provide information, stimulate discussion, and spark interest among students. As the grade levels get higher we keep the same music and increase the complexity of the discussions.
Workshops can be of any length that is convenient for the presenter. Classroom or school performances are generally about an hour and include a Question & Answer discussion period. Songwriting workshops in schools can fit into the regular school period. Obviously, the longer the workshop the more detail that can be covered. Tamarack is happy to provide residencies, wherein we stay in the same school for several days and work with students on an on-going basis.
Adult songwriting workshops are best if they run at least 2 hours.
School concerts require at least a small pa system; usually Tamarack travels with our own system. Songwriting workshops and classroom performances require no pa.
Songwriting workshops are best if they involve no more than a regular classroom, i.e. 20 - 30 participants. The smaller the number, the more we can be involved with each participant, and the more they are likely to get out of the workshop.
Songs and stories that illustrate some of the connecting points between the U.S. and Canada (immigrants such as the Loyalists, Mennonites, escaped slaves), and some of the points of divergence (those same Loyalists and escaped slaves, the War of 1812 and Free Trade).
We have songs about the early settler experience, as well as the fur trade, early iron smelting, mining, logging, fishing and farming industries. We have songs about more recent events such as the building of the Alaska Highway, and the St. Lawrence Seaway (both projects shared by the two nations). And songs from Qu¸bec, which help illustrate some of the differences in the way the U.S. and Canada deal with cultural minorities. Discussion points include our perceptions and misperceptions about the U.S., and American perceptions and misperceptions about Canada.
We have numerous songs that feature the landscape of Canada - the rocky fields that hindered northern settlers, the trees and minerals that generated wealth across the Canadian Shield, the prairies and their fertile soils, the rivers that provided power and transportation, the northern tundra and muskeg bogs. These songs not only help explain Canadian geography and geology, but they show very directly the effects that the land has on a people and the way that a nation develops. They also explain very succinctly the power that the land has over individuals in their struggle for survival, and the power that people have over the environment.
School Songwriting Workshops:
Tamarack has conducted numerous workshops on the craft of songwriting. Tamarack songwriting workshops can be tailored for almost any age group. We work with students from elementary grades all the way up to university level, and we also do workshops with adults. Anyone with an interest in music, songwriting, history, or their local community can enjoy the hands-on interactive approach that Tamarack takes to their workshops.
During the process of writing the songs, participants will learn elements of songwriting such as structure, rhythm, rhyme, melody, harmony and meter. They will discuss the topic at hand, whether it be local history, family history, or an issue of immediate topical concern, and work as a group towards a consensus from which they can focus a point of view. Then they will write together as many songs as inspiration and time allow. The students provide the lyrics and the melody - we're there to keep the process from bogging down; we make suggestions when the group is stuck, we help them make decisions about what elements of the song are working and which ones aren't, but in the end the song belongs to the students.
We work with participants to help them discover and develop their creative skills. We encourage students and teachers to work together with members of the community (family, friends, neighbours, seniors, business people) to discover elements of local history that are particularly song-worthy and then to create a body of songs about those people and events. All members of the community can benefit from these workshops, especially when the public is invited in at the end of the process to hear the songs that the students have written.
Tamarack has also helped schools through the process of recording their songs and releasing them on commercially available cassettes or CDs. These can be used as fund-raisers, or simply as permanent records of the creativity of the students.
Here's how a couple of these workshops have gone:
In Lytton BC we spent some time at the Mestanta Technological Institute, a school run by the local native community. I'm not sure that the staff or the students were all that keen on having another bunch of outsiders come along to tell them what to do, but the administration thought they'd take a chance. Over the days that we were at MTI we visited all the classes, from kindergarten up to senior high school.
The students were a bit shy, and at first thought that the idea of writing about their 'boring' town was pretty dumb. After we asked some questions and talked with them about how different their town was from our town and why we thought that that made it interesting, they started to tell us stories about the local ferry, the cougars that raided the town occasionally looking for stray pets, the forest fires that devastated the mountains from time to time, the salmon runs, the sacred valleys - and then the songs poured out as fast as we could write them down. They taught us some of their language so that we could incorporate it into the songs. And they invited their families and community elders to come to a concert where they could hear the students sing their new songs.
I think that we learned more than the students did. And we left Lytton having made a lot of new friends.
In Gooderham ON we spent 3 or 4 days in a small elementary school. Before we came, the teachers had asked the students to learn as much as they could about their village. They asked their parents, grandparents, and any local people they could talk persuade to tell them stories about what Gooderham had been like in 'the old days'. Why did people come there? Why did they stay? What work did they do? Did anything exciting ever happen there?
By the time we arrived the school was awash in paintings and photographs and newspaper clippings, and stories that they students had extracted from their elders. The first day we just listened as student after student told a special story that they had uncovered. Once we all had listened to all of the stories, the students decided which ones would make good songs and we spent the next couple of days helping each class to write their special songs. Again, we invited the community to a concert to hear the students sing the new songs. It was magical.
And one of those songs was good enough that we included it, with the children singing it, on our Tree CD.
Tamarack has done a number of projects with Tree Canada, a non-profit foundation dedicated to the renewal of Canada's urban forest. With Tree Canada, we have designed a programme of songs about trees and how they influence our environment and contribute to our quality of life. This upbeat, energetic performance can stimulate discussion about environmental problems and solutions. It is especially aimed at showing students that they can have a direct hand in improving the environment and become responsible agents of positive change. These songs are featured on our Tree CD, and are appropriate for all ages.
The Highland Clearances From a Canadian Perspective:
For over a century, the Clearances removed thousands of Highlanders from their homes and dispersed them around the world. Many found their way to Canada. Contemporary accounts describe the Highlanders as "lazy, shiftless, dirty, worthless ..." Obviously the nation would be better off without them.
The Highlanders who made it to Canada went on to pioneer much of the country. They built railroads, industries, banks, governments, churches. They are revered now as the backbone and sinew of Canadian society - upright, God-fearing, hardworking... Could they be the same lazy, shiftless folk who were sent packing from Scotland? Or could it be that Canada was just more appreciative of the skills, dreams, and ambitions that the Highlanders carried?
Tamarack has spent much of its career examining Canadian history and turning it into some of the best contemporary songs being written these days. With this programme, they turn their attention to the role that the Scots have played in building Canada. In the 18th and 19th centuries the fur trade - run almost exclusively by Scotsmen - drove a web of trade routes across North America. The trade linked Europe, Canada, Hawaii and the Orient. Canoe, Red River cart, sailing ship combined to bring the rich furs of the west to the world.
Following the battle of Culloden, Highlanders found themselves serving in the British Army, and were a major part of the force under General Wolfe when he captured Quebec. Later Scots would drive an iron road through the Canadian wilderness, ringing the death knell for aboriginal societies, and opening the land for development by farmers, ranchers, cowboys, oilmen, and real estate speculators.
The wealth of the growing nation funnelled through Scot-run banks, the wealthiest and most powerful people sat piously in Presbyterian churches built by the skilled Scottish stone masons who were also building the canals of the military and the mansions of the elite. When Canada sought nationhood as a Confederation, it was Scotsmen like Sir John A. MacDonald who led the way and created the governing institutions and drafted the constitutions and laws of the northern half of America.
These are the elements that make up Tamarack's portrait of those cleared from the Highlands to the wilds of Canada. The cycle concludes with Tamarack's own return to its ancient roots in 1998 with its first tour of Scotland, and the songs inspired by that trip.
Tamarack On the Grand:
Commissioned by the Elora Festival, this adventure explored
central Ontario's beautiful heritage river, The Grand. The project
was presented as a CBC television special, and toured through
parks and schools along the river watershed. A study guide was
created for use in schools.
Tamarack On the Prairies:
Commissioned by Saskatchewan's Junior Concerts, this collection
of original and traditional songs about Prairie life toured
Saskatchewan schools and was released on a cassette album.
Tamarack is acclaimed for the band's ability to bring history
music. We'd be happy to talk to you about creating a unique,
specific and entertaining presentation for your area, group,