River East Collegiate students pair hip-hop performance with big band sound, heavy subject matter

Music students at River East Collegiate will be performing original music this week at the 2016 Optimist International Band Festival.

Winnipeg students to perform their original music at Canada's largest concert band festival

River East Collegiate students pair hip-hop performance with big band sound, heavy subject matter

CBC News: Winnipeg at 6:00

5 years ago
Music students at River East Collegiate will be pairing a student's original rap lyrics with a concert band sound this week at the 2016 Optimist International Band Festival. 3:49

Music students at River East Collegiate will be pairing a student's original rap lyrics with a concert band sound this week at the 2016 Optimist International Band Festival.

"Last year Mr. [Jeff] Kula came to me and asked me if I wanted to do something with the wind ensemble and I said for sure," said Grade 12 student Matt Redd.
Grade 12 REC student Matt Redd was approached by music instructor, Jeff Kula, to perform his hip-hop song, 'One Shot Away From Being a Hashtag', with the concert band and the festival. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

Redd, who's non-stage name is Matthew Borley, has never been involved with the school band, and has no formal music training, but liked the idea of pairing one of his raps with the concert band's sound.

The school's wind ensemble will be performing Redd's hip-hop song called One Shot Away From Being a Hashtag.

Performing original student-composed music at a high school band festival is not common and pairing it with a hip-hop song even less so. And to take it even farther, the song is about teenage suicide and how the topic is reflected on social media.

Social media and teen depression in song

"And suddenly everybody is her friend, and everybody pretends like they've been hit with this heat, and now all you see is everybody tweet about her, hashtag pray for Ashley," the lyrics read.

"When I first introduced it, there was many comments [from students] after rehearsal saying 'this is really timely, and really something that is associated with our generation,'" said Jeff Kula, Instrumental Music Director at REC.
Music teacher, Jeff Kula, says it's rare to have an all student composed performance program at a band festival like this. He describes beinga part of it as one of the highlights of his teaching career. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

Redd wrote the song based on various stories he has heard regarding teenage suicide. He said this song in particular stemmed from a relationship he had with someone who suffered from depression.

The song is a reflection on how teens handle grief surrounding suicide in a world dominated by social media. The song is about a fictitious character, named Ashley, who takes her own life.

"You see on Twitter… They hashtag [the person's] name and they post pictures, and all of a sudden everyone cares. And it's like, if half of these people cared as much as they do now, before, she wouldn't have done this in the first place," said Redd.
Winnipeg hip-hop artist, Matt Redd, is a student at River East Collegiate. He will be performing one of his original songs at a band festivsl this week with the REC Wind Ensemble. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

Redd said that he gets his inspirations for writing from real life experiences, things he's experienced or observed.

"I don't write about anything I don't know personally, or at least from a second-hand perspective," said Redd.

"I wanted the song to not so much help people who were having suicidal thoughts but to make people who weren't so familiar with it understand the consequences of what happens if you always turn a blind eye to the people who need help," said Redd.

He studied hip-hop music on his own for two years before he started refining his song-writing skills. Redd has released several of his songs online and performed some of them locally. He opened for Winnipeg pop band Panicland last spring at the Park Theatre and will do so again in March. He placed number eight on a local radio station's list of 10 Winnipeggers to watch in 2016.

Student adds wind instruments to rap

Fellow student, James Klassen took the music bed on Redd's original song and adapted it to fit the wind instruments used in the band.

"From a musical standpoint, the instrumental that [Redd] chose the piece very well. So I found that I had to recreate a lot of the voicing and a lot of the sounds that they had in the original recording and transfer it over to a band setting," said Klassen.​
Grade 12 student, James Klassen, arranged the music for the hip-hop performance. He will be premiering his original instrumental piece, 'Forlorn', at the band festival as well. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

Getting the opportunity to perform original music in front of an audience is a thrilling experience for the students, who each use various sites to promote their craft online.

"It's going to be pretty crazy. Kind of going from my bedroom and just listening to whatever my program renders on speakers, to actually having 20 to 30 people playing it in front of a bunch of people. It's kind of like, your ideas coming to life and being shaped into something new that you never thought it would," said Klassen.

"In my years of teaching, this is probably one of my highlights…because it is an all student performance program. I just feel very lucky that I happen to be in a place where all of these talented students gather," said Kula.

Klassen will also be performing the world premiere of his original instrumental piece called 'Forlorn'.

Student Kerey Harper is also performing original music. Harper plays guitar and composes electronic music. He has performed for the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra New Music Festival, the Juno We Speak Music Concert Series and at the Cluster New Music + Integrated Arts Festival.

The band festival runs from February 23 to 26 at the convention centre. It is the largest concert band festival in Canada and will have participants from across Manitoba, as well as from Saskatchewan and Ontario.