Whitehorse students use jazz to help teach other students in Yukon village

Students from a school in Whitehorse spent part of the week using their jazz skills to help teach younger students at a school in Haines Junction.

The workshops meld jazz with school subjects, including math and social studies

Students in Vanier Catholic Secondary School's jazz program performed music for students at St. Elias Community School. (Steve Silva/CBC)

Students from a school in Whitehorse spent part of Wednesday using their jazz skills to help teach younger students at a school in Haines Junction.

Every fall for the past 10 years, students in the Vanier Catholic Secondary School's jazz program, a year-long course, have gone on a tour of communities, which includes performing in schools and holding open-mic nights.

Austin Au, 17, a Grade 12 student in the program, said the tour helps students approach learning in a more holistic way.

"If you're hiking up a mountain, you got to be on different paths of the mountain to really understand the whole mountain," Au said.

"You can't really learn one concept without looking at it from different views."

Kimberly Hart is the music teacher at Vanier Catholic Secondary School. (Steve Silva/CBC)

"It's been invaluable, I think, to create those relationships between the communities," Kimberly Hart, the school's music teacher, said Wednesday.

She lead her students in four workshops at St. Elias Community School that morning.

One class focused on inequality, so Hart discussed the music's relationship to slavery in the United States.

"We talked about work songs that were developed from the cotton and tobacco slavery," she said.

Hart and her group explained and performed call-and-response jazz songs with the students, which entailed the audience and the performers having a conversation — of sorts — through music. 

Ella Lawrence is a Grade 6 student at St. Elias Community School. (Steve Silva/CBC)

Ella Lawrence, 11, was one of the students taught by the group. She said she enjoyed learning about the music's origins and relevance to social studies.

"It's cool to learn hands-on because you're not just reading from a book," the Grade 6 student said.

Hart said, having previously taught music in Dawson City, she knows how hard it can be for kids to get the chance to see live music, namely in more remote communities, so she started the tours to fill part of that void.

A few years into the tours, she said she introduced workshops because she wanted it to be more of a collaborative experience.

They visit a few communities during each tour.

"It takes us about five years to come back to the same community," Hart said.

Tours of communities by students of Vanier Catholic Secondary School's jazz program happen every fall. (Steve Silva/CBC)

In a Grade 2 classroom that morning, St. Elias students studied math. 

Hart had the students count by twos, fives, and 10s while the performers, who are in Grades 10-12, individually played their instruments based on the number the younger students yelled out in unison.

Counting has a lot to do with music, she said.

"Music that has a straight beat, you have that even subdivision, and that swing music, you have that sort of uneven subdivision and feel," Hart said.

She said she's created workshops for other subjects, including geography, which entailed playing music created in different countries.

For a previous health-related workshop in Watson Lake, Hart said she showed students how each band member plays a different part in creating the end product — music. That was to convey how different parts of the digestive system play a part in helping creating the end product — feces.

Austin Au is a Grade 12 student at Vanier Catholic Secondary School. (Steve Silva/CBC)

"It's a great opportunity for a student like me in Whitehorse to go [to] all these different places where I normally wouldn't go just to play music and interact with the students," Au said.

"We really dig into what they're learning, so we help them learn and they help us learn."

His own jazz quartet was born out of the program, and the group has gone on to play at weddings and other events, he said.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?