Alberta voice teacher coaches N.W.T. kids via FaceTime

A vocal coach in Alberta could play a role in grooming Canada’s next big musical sensation, using FaceTime to teach virtual classes with students more than 2,000 kilometres away.

Jack Cooper connects with students in Tuktoyaktuk

Marcus Kimiksana, 15, says Jack Cooper's FaceTime classes with Mangilaluk School students in Tuktoyaktuk are 'awesome.' (submitted)

A vocal coach in Alberta could play a role in grooming Canada's next big musical sensation, using FaceTime to teach virtual classes with students more than 2,000 kilometres away.

"Remember a certain famous singer who was discovered in his bedroom [on YouTube]?" jokes Jack Cooper of Cooper Studios in Sherwood Park, Alta., on discovering the next Justin Bieber.

"Music can really help people build confidence," he said.

Last week the veteran vocal coach used FaceTime on his iPhone to pilot a virtual vocal class with students in Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T.

Cooper has taught music to young people in the North for decades, first as a school teacher and later as a vocal coach. He's travelled to some of the N.W.T.'s most remote communities offering music workshops but says those visits are fleeting and expensive, with him "staying a day or two then leaving for the south and there's no follow up."

Cooper thought why not use FaceTime.

"Doing it this way there's a continual follow and you can really work with the kids."

But Cooper said he didn't know if it would work given that internet service can sometimes be hit and miss in the community. And there was another unknown: how do you keep a group of high school students engaged from so far away?

No-phone rule waived for music class 

Mangilaluk School has 225 children in kindergarten to Grade 12. The school has teachers with backgrounds in music, but like many remote schools, there's no dedicated music class.

Marcus Kimiksana, 15, says students aren't allowed to use their phones during class.

"The principal phones our parents," he said.

But for Cooper's coaching sessions, the class calls up Cooper using an iPhone hooked up to a smart board. Last week they worked on breathing techniques and performance.

"What's awesome about [this class] is that we get to talk to Jack Cooper," he said.

"We learned scales. I just loved that. I just love singing."

Last Christmas Kimiksana found his voice while performing a solo of John Lennon's classic, Happy Christmas (War is Over), at the school's Christmas concert.

"It's really fun," he said. "I really want to learn one song: Johnny Cash's I Walk The Line."

Coach hopes to work with other schools 

Teacher Julie Donohue sat in on the virtual vocal lesson. There will always be a teacher's aide in the classroom to help prevent any monkey business.

"They are always interested in something new that hasn't been tried before," she said.

She says using this technology is another tool to help her students get the best education possible.

"There's no other way to be able to have that type of communication with someone who is so far away, and the expense of bringing experts up to this area is just so huge that's not always a reality.

"Something like this is easier to manage and we just hope for the best — that the internet is working!"

Cooper said he plans to start with two classes a week. If all goes well, he hopes to work with other northern schools.


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