'A whole world of musical experiences': Boosting music diversity at P.E.I. schools

Students on Prince Edward Island are learning more music from different cultures, thanks to a new pilot program bringing musicians and dancers into Island classrooms. 

Pilot project bringing culturally diverse Island artists into the classroom

Funk fusion dancer Reequal Smith worked with a class of Grade 6 students at Spring Park Elementary School. (Karri Shea/ArtsSmarts)

Students on Prince Edward Island are learning more music from different cultures, thanks to a new pilot program bringing musicians and dancers into Island classrooms. 

As P.E.I.'s student body becomes more culturally diverse due to increased immigration, the program aims to broaden the music curriculum and teach children the many kinds of music being created and performed on the Island.

"If a child is going through a music program and only learning one thing, one style of music, they may grow up and never realize that, 'Oh, actually there are different ways to write music and to read music,'" says Karri Shea, a music teacher and the coordinator for the ArtsSmarts music diversity pilot program. 

"There's a whole world of musical experiences, and you never know what might speak to you." 

Developing the program with the P.E.I. Education Department, Shea reached out to the P.E.I. Association for Newcomers to Canada and the DiverseCity Festival, who put out a call for artists interested in working with young music students. 

Shea landed 13 musicians and dancers representing the Mi'kmaq, Tibetan, Chinese and Cuban communities, to name a few, and they were paired with 10 schools across P.E.I. 

Staff are now working with the artists to create teaching videos to share with all P.E.I. schools. 

Montague students learn Persian dance

1 year ago
Duration 0:25
Persian dancer Monelli Rahmatian teaching kids at Montague Consolidated. (Karri Shea/ArtsSmarts)

One Grade 6 class at Spring Park School worked with dancer Reequal Smith, who's from the Bahamas and runs Oshun Dance Studios in Charlottetown. 

"The dancing part was really fun," said student Sebastian Connor. "Even though it was, like, a different style of music, you could still use… what you like in the dance." 

The students were just enthralled … it was almost like magic.- ArtsSmarts coordinator Karri Shea

Lexie Singleton said she also loved the dances Smith taught them. 

"At the start I wasn't so confident with my dancing," said Singleton. "When she showed us… I got more confident with it." 

Coordinator Karri Shea says she hopes the cultural diversity of P.E.I.’s music curriculum continues to grow. (Jeff Eager/Hummingbird House Productions/ArtsSmarts)

Their music teacher, Nancy Thornton-Smyth, also saw the effect Smith had on her students. 

"Some of them were very hesitant at first to let themselves go and really buy into it," said Thornton-Smyth. "By the end… they were really enjoying it." 

Students' confidence growing

Persian dancer and instructor Monelli Rahmatian worked with Grade 3 students at Montague Consolidated. 

"The experience I had in the classroom was like none other," said Rahmatian, who lives in Stratford. "To be able to share… the connection between nature in Persian culture and the poems, and the dancing."

After just five sessions, she said she could see the students' confidence grow. 

"Even the hockey boys, you know, they're all kind of clumped up together. By the end, they were all dancing in a circle together and they were clapping for the girls and the girls were just dancing," said Rahmatian. 

Acadian musician Emmanuelle LeBlanc taught a call-and-response song and foot percussion to students at Greenfield Elementary. (Karri Shea/ArtsSmarts)

Emmanuelle LeBlanc from the Acadian folk trio Vishten taught students at Greenfield Elementary in Summerside an Acadian call-and-response song, and some foot percussion. 

"Back in the day, there might have been… a lack of instrument[s]. Maybe there was only a fiddle that was present or we needed kind of, like, some rhythm to get people to dance. And this foot percussion was used a lot for that," she said.

LeBlanc was happy to teach kids a part of her culture that's been on P.E.I. for hundreds of years. 

Acadian folk music is "something that they may hear just at a local hall or at a concert or something," she said. "But it's also something that's not current. It's not on the radio. It's not on TV.

"To be able to go to a school and teach that to kids, I think is a good lesson on how you can learn things from people."

The second part of the pilot program was creating professionally filmed videos of the musicians and dancers to distribute to music teachers across P.E.I. Here, Persian dancer Monelli Rahmatian is filming with filmmaker Jeff Eagar. (Karri Shea/ArtsSmarts)

Shea said the goal is to have the artists' videos ready for P.E.I. music educators to use over the course of the next school year. They will also be available to the public online. 

She hopes the cultural diversity of P.E.I.'s music curriculum will continue to grow. 

"Even if we just learn a little bit, as long as we are respectful in the way we present it, as long as we're listening to the voices of those members of those cultures… the benefits to the children are immense." 

More from CBC P.E.I. 


Isabelle Gallant

Senior writer

Isabelle Gallant is a radio producer and web writer who has worked for CBC in Edmonton and Toronto. She grew up in Halifax and Charlottetown and is now happy to be back home on P.E.I.