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How it works

I spend one to three weeks at a school, depending on the size, and write songs with each class. I start by giving them a crash course in songwriting. The class chooses a topic and we write the song - lyrics, melody, everything. Sometimes the school chooses to celebrate a theme, like peace or local history. Each class finds a unique way to celebrate that theme. We record the songs and each student receives their own cd of all the class songs. Finally, there's a concert for parents and friends. Please click here for the full press kit. It has testimonials and a more thorough outline of the programme.

Below are a few photos and songs. At the very bottom, you'll see a blog I wrote about a Youthsongs project I did recently. If you're interested, it may give you a good idea of how it all works.

Photo by Doug Nicholson

With students from Nelson Mandela Park Public School. We used the Six String Nation Guitar to write and record the songs.

Performing "Regent Park's Our Home" at the opening of the Luminato Festival, Dundas Square, Toronto.

Sample songs

Regent Park's Our Home   Listen!
Grade 4/5, Nelson Mandela Park Public School

Me And My Friend Sam (a song about the environment)   Listen!
Grade 3/4, Paisley Public School, Guelph, ON

The Healing Song   Listen!
Grade 7/8, Wausauksing First Nations

Blog: Nelson Mandela Park Public School

youthsongsHELLO EVERYONE. I just finished a Youthsongs project with all the kids at Nelson Mandela Park Public School in Regent Park, Toronto. 17 classes between Grade 1 and 8 wrote, recorded and performed 11 songs. I LOVED IT! The grade 8's wouldn't quit. I had to keep working with them while eating my lunch. In photo to the right, they're putting the finishing touches on "We Believe." A rap song.

youthsongsTo the left, Grades 2 to 5 from Nelson Mandela Park Public School are singing "You're never on your own when Regent Park's your home." We're at the opening of the Luminato Festival - Yonge and Dundas Square in Toronto and we're singing to a few thousand people. In the middle of the song, the kids do a spoken part. They say "My family's from Afghanistan (or Portugal or Korea or Syria or wherever they're from)" in english. Then in their native language they say "...and in Regent Park, I feel at home". While they were doing this part, little eruptions of applause came from sections of the audience - first when Farsi was spoken, then Urdu, then Chinese and so on. The final bit was spoken by 2 kids whose parents are Ojibway. When they did their part, their was a hearty response. It was quite lovely.

All photos by permission from Luminato, the school or Six String Nation Guitar. The photos above were taken by an intern at the Luminato Festival.

We used the Six String Nation Guitar. It's made of 63 different bits of Canadian history (eg. Trudeau's paddle, Nancy Green's Ski, The Golden Spruce, Rocket Richard's Stanley Cup ring). Jowi Taylor brought the guitar to the school and asked the kids to write about their home, and to find a piece of Regent Park that he could sew into the guitar case - joining material from Karen Kain's Sleeping Beauty costume, one of Don Cherry's suits and one of Pierre Berton's famous bow ties. Now, when Jowi takes the guitar across Canada, he can tell the kids' story.

Luminato – Toronto Festival of Art + Creativity supported this project. They were fabulous to work with. Regent Park is undergoing massive change. It's the oldest social housing project in Canada. Every building except one is being torn down and new homes and public spaces are being built. Right now, RP is 100% social housing. The "revitalized" RP will be a mix of social and private residences. Luminato asked me to write songs with the kids about their home and their feelings about the revitalization. The kids' feelings are mixed. They're sad to lose the old spaces and old neighbours but excited about the new facilities - elevators that work, grocery stores within walking distance, a swimming pool. Some of their songs deal with those feelings. Some of the songs reveal their frustration at how Regent Park is portrayed in the media. Those same songs assert the incredible strength of their community. All of the songs demonstrate the kids' passion for their home.

youthsongs youthsongs
youthsongs youthsongs

All my best, Katherine

"Youth songs was the best school-wide program I've seen in my career as an educator." - Nelson Keane, Principal, Paisley Rd. P.S.

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