Saskatchewan

Indigenous artist teams up with Regina Symphony to connect with high school students

Spoken word artist Zoey Roy teams up with the Regina Symphony Orchestra to teach high school students about Indigenous culture and history.

Collaborative performance addresses reconciliation and racism

Zoey Roy performs with Regina Symphony Orchestra Chamber Players as part of Enough is Enough, a program for high school students. (Submitted by Regina Symphony Orchestra)

Indigenous artist Zoey Roy wanted to learn how to make music when she was young.

"When I was a kid, I really wanted an instrument. And for a while I had one. But, being in the music program wasn't sustainable because we couldn't afford it," said Roy, a spoken word artist and educator.

Now, the Cree-Dene-Metis woman is using her voice as an instrument in the Regina Symphony Orchestra (RSO) in Schools program, called Enough is Enough, which was developed to inform and challenge students' perceptions of Indigenous culture and history. 

The RSO program features a half-hour, pre-recorded RSO Chamber Players performance, showcasing Roy, a teacher's resource guide for a six-lesson plan with activities and discussion questions. Students and teachers can follow the printed poems that Roy penned, as they watch the video. 

Enough is Enough

The program covers Indigenous-related topics including racism, reconciliation and residential schools that can be used as part of Grade 9 to 12 social studies or English language arts classes. It was shared with all of the southern Saskatchewan school divisions earlier this month and will be available for the next year or two.

Roy, a renowned speaker at local, provincial, national and international stages and conferences, has taught workshops in more 500 classrooms. And she jumped at the chance to partner with the orchestra.

"I had always wanted to work with orchestral sounds and also the discipline, which is so far from my own creative practice," said Roy, who is based in Kingston, about 260 km east of Toronto.

Shawn Earle, RSO's education and outreach manager, put the Enough is Enough project together and said he hopes students and teachers find it helpful. 

Artist Zoey Roy rehearses with the Regina Symphony Orchestra Chamber Players and Karl Hirzer, associate conductor of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, as they prepare the Enough is Enough performance. (Submitted by Regina Symphony Orchestra)

The idea to get Roy involved came from RSO musical director Gordon Gerrard, who was familiar with her work with the orchestra in the Forward Currents Festival, an event that combines art, music and education in an immersive environment.

Roy is an educator that specializes in youth engagement and community-based solutions to deep-rooted colonial issues in Canada, including suicide prevention and life celebration, Indigenous creation and creativity, and racism.

"The ideas that she had and the values of the RSO really, really aligned, Earle said, adding it seemed like a natural collaboration.

Roy wrote six poems to accompany for each of the musical works that Omar Ballantyne composed and Juliet Palmer arranged. Karl Hirzer, the associate conductor with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted the performances for the recording in November.

Roy, a member of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation, about 140 km northeast of Saskatoon, welcomed the challenges in merging the juxtaposition of classical music with spoken word. 

Indigenous ways

For the piece titled 'We are the Buffalo,' Roy drew from a conversation she heard between Metis men recalling their time as farmers in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. There, she sensed sadness in their pride. She also heard this sadness in the elders. 

"I wanted to illustrate those nuances a bit. And to try to get people to be inspired by Indigenous ways of knowing in a way that motivates them to be a part of it. We are not sad. We are here. We are super here," Roy said. 

She said she appreciated the having the RSO's trust to follow her creative process for actualizing this collaboration. 

"Music matters," she said. "It makes a difference in our lives because it opens our minds to how we see ourselves and what we can be a part of, what our lives can look like… That's a message that I would like to share."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Florence Hwang is a Point of Presence media librarian based in Regina. She also contributes as a web writer and associate producer. She can be reached at florence.hwang@cbc.ca.

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