'Cleansing the Highway of Tears': Toronto students learn about MMIW in cross-country musical collaboration

Classical music students in downtown Toronto have added an orchestral arrangement to a song about B.C.'s Highway of Tears, written by a Lheidli T'enneh singer-songwriter in in Prince George.

Music teacher inspired by Prince George, B.C., singer-songwriter's performance on CBC Radio

Teacher Angela Rudden says it's important for her to teach her Toronto students about the experience of living in remote Indigenous communities. (Riley Sparks)

Classical music students in downtown Toronto have added an orchestral arrangement to a song about British Columbia's Highway of Tears written by a Lheidli T'enneh singer-songwriter in Prince George.

Kym Gouchie wrote Cleansing the Highway of Tears while taking part in a healing walk during the summer of 2016.

Gouchie is a Lheidli T'enneh singer-songwriter based out of Prince George, B.C. (Kym Gouchie)

The walk was aimed at raising awareness about the women and girls who have gone missing or been murdered along Highway 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert.

"Being out there on the highway with vehicles passing by, you have no idea who's approaching you, is a very, very scary and vulnerable feeling," she said.

Being out there on the highway ...  is a very, very scary and vulnerable feeling.- Kym Gouchie

"When I sing 'we are cleansing the Highway of Tears when we walk,' it is placing a positive energy over that highway. It's creating prayer and thoughtfulness and creating awareness of that highway."

Gouchie was invited to perform the song at a forum about missing and murdered Indigenous women hosted by CBC Radio's The Current in October 2016.

The performance was broadcast nationally and caught the ear of Angela Rudden, principal violist with the National Ballet of Canada and a music instructor at Toronto's Dixon Hall Music School.

"I feel so strongly about the sadness of this situation, of the Highway of Tears," she said.

"Whenever I hear stories about that, it kind of makes my heart really heavy and I just want to cry."

Listen: 'How CBC Radio prompted a cross-country musical collaboration about the Highway of Tears'.

'They felt the power of this song'

She recorded Gouchie's performance when it aired later, and brought it to the school.

Rudden and her students then set about writing an orchestral score to accompany the song.

"I sat here with my viola and I just sort of figured out a background track that would work," she explained. 

"I'm not that great of a composer so the kids would say 'I think that note is wrong.'"​

Rudden believes the project is helping the kids learn about more than just music.

"The thing that is so important about this song for these kids in downtown Toronto is that they would never consider the idea that one would have to hitchhike on a highway to get from one place to another," she said. 

"You can tell it really touched them and they felt the power of this song."

Gouchie recorded a new vocal track to go along with the arrangement and is including it on an upcoming album.

"We're conveying a message to the world," she said.


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