Alberta music students claim top prizes in CBC Music Class Challenge

The CBC Music Class Challenge winners include students from schools in Lethbridge and Calgary, who claimed a pair of the top spots in the 2018 competition

Schools triumph in musical challenge featuring 15,000 students from across Canada

Meagan Thorlakson is a music specialist at Ecole Agnes Davidson School, in Calgary. The school won the elementary vocal competition. (CBC)

The Calgary Arts Academy chose the Arkells. The Ecole Agnes Davidson in Lethbridge chose a medley of tunes, by a trio of certified Canadian songwriting legends.

In the end, both southern Alberta schools ended up winners in the 2018 Canadian Music Class Challenge, making them a select group of winners from over 1,000 submissions and 15,000 students across Canada who entered one of seven different categories in the national competition. (A third Alberta school, Edmonton's J. Percy Page High School, also won.)

Music specialists Garrett Thorson (Calgary Arts Academy) and Meagan Thorlakson (Ecole Agnes Davidson) joined Homestretch host Doug Dirks Monday to talk about their experience with the competition, the power of musical education and what their plans are for the $5,000 worth of musical instruments they each claimed with their victory.


For Thorlakson, the trilogy of winning tunes that took Ecole Agnes Davidson to victory in the Elementary Vocal category came from two things: one was a theme and the other was a preoccupation of Lethbridge residents.

"I thought about what aligned with our school values, and narrowed it down from there," Thorlakson said.

"We're talking a lot about gratitude this year."

That led to a trilogy featuring Leonard Cohen's classic Hallelujah, Gilles Vigneault's Mon Pays — "about being thankful for all the different seasons" — and Joni Mitchell's classic Big Yellow Taxi, an ode to preserving the environment that resonates with Lethbridge sensibilities, she said.

"Lethbridge is huge on nature — every other person is a hiker or kayaker," she said.

The winners of the CBC Music's Canadian Music Class Challenge were revealed this morning. This year there were more than 1,000 submissions and 15,000 students from every province and territory took part. Ecole Agnes Davidson School in Lethbridge won in the category of Elementary Vocal. They put together a medley of Hallelujah, Mon Pays and Big Yellow Taxi. Meagan Thorlakson is a music specialist at Ecole Agnes Davidson School and the teacher behind the award winning performance. She joins Doug on the line from Lethbridge. 6:40

A little bit different

For the Calgary Arts Academy, Thorson said the journey to choosing the Arkells song that propelled the school to victory in the Passion Prize category was to look for a tune to perform that was a little bit off the beaten path — just like his school.

"We've always been a little a little bit different," Thorson said.  "We wanted to go for a song that we didn't think a lot of folks would choose."

Calgary Arts Academy music teacher Garrett Thorson took the advice of a friend and selected the Arkells' tune People's Champ for his students to perform as part of the CBC's 2018 Canadian Music Class Challenge.

Then, a colleague of Thorson's made a suggestion.

"I have to give credit to a good friend and co-worker Alison for saying hey you should do People's Jam. That sounds like a really, really fun tune. And turns out the kids were into it," Thorson said.

A Calgary elementary school has a lot to celebrate today. Calgary Arts Academy has won this year's Passion Prize in CBC Music's Canadian Music Class Challenge. The prize is $5000 to the class who shows the most passion while performing their song. They won for their performance of Arkell's "People's Champ". Garrett Thorson is the director of music at the Calgary Arts Academy. 7:02

If anything, the victory for Calgary Arts Academy was a validation of the school's unique focus, Thorson said.

"Our mandate with the government in Alberta is to teach the curriculum through arts immersion. So everything — every piece of the curriculum — we touch in the year is cross-curricular across subject areas and built into some kind of art form," he said.

What do the students get out of it besides the opportunity to play some of those $5,000 worth of instruments?

How about identity and a sense of purpose?

"I sure hope it's positive," Thorson said.

"We have a lot of fun and we we've made a lot of memories so far," he added. "We're hoping to take this group out into the community like we did last year. We had a had a big public show at Ship and Anchor, where they played a half hour sets and it was really cool — so [just] trying to make opportunities for these kids and make sure they know how awesome they are."

Other victorious schools included Cloverdale Traditional School in Victoria, B.C. (Elementary Instrumental), Ecole Elementaire Publique Julie Payette of Kanata, Ont. (Junior High Instrumental), Mildenhall Montessori School, of Etobicoke, Ont. (Junior High Vocal), Orchard Park Secondary School of Stoney Creek, Ont. (High School Instrumental), and J. Percy Page High School of Edmonton (High School Vocal).

With files from the Homestretch

About the Author

Stephen Hunt

Digital Writer

Stephen Hunt is a digital writer at the CBC in Calgary. Email:


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