On Songs and Voices
Reflections on Shubenacadie by Cathy Elliott
I’ve always prided myself on being a good songwriter since I was thirteen.
My experience of being shown a good way to use my energy and creativity to change my future isn’t unlike that of the kids I meet in places like Ogoki Post, Webequie, Pelican Falls, Indian Brook and the reservations on Prince Edward Island.
Teens need to feel they’re making a difference in their lives. They need to explore how the world works, and some times that exploration can take them down roads that are unhealthy and dangerous. Whenever we show them that they have a voice, a way to empower themselves and others through the arts, they’re so surprised.
When I was a kid, I was always the new kid in school. A little odd. I could draw, and instead of that being something that brought me closer to the other girls in school, it isolated me and alienated them. “you think you’re so smart”. The teachers loved me but the bullies did not.
Thing was, one day, an older student saw this happening, and stepped up.
She simply said to me, “Come to my place for supper. I know what you’re going through. I was teased because of my height.” At her place, she handed me a guitar, showed me three chords and left me alone with it.
That guitar opened up a whole new world for me. At last I had a way to empower myself and others! I started writing about love, life and peace.
I tell you this story because it’s the one I told the kids in Indian Brook. They were afraid to sing. One of the girls said she loves to sing but never never never in front of other people. I also told them that the first song I was ASKED to write I sang on the intercom to the entire school.
I felt safe because I couldn’t see the people out there. But when I walked out of the Principal’s office, those same bullies came up to me and said they loved my voice and my song.
After that, my life changed. Really changed. I sang in concerts, on tv, in plays, in front of the students I love.
The girls said, okay. We’ll sing behind the shadow screen. That was the plan.
The day came, and the song we all wrote was called “Courage”. ( in Mi’kmaq. It’s Melkiko’ti) When we were brainstorming, I asked the class what point of view they wanted, and if this was a song to sing to themselves or to others. The class chose to empower others with their song instead of reassuring themselves.
These two young ladies were just about to prove how courageous they could be.
We all did the Shadow Puppet play called “The Nothing Man”, about a brave boy and his friendship with a Big Foot from the Yukon called Nuk- Luk. That went over beautifully, and as Alan Syliboy and his band waited, we got ready to sing our song. The girls complained that they
couldn’t hear their voices over the system. I told them there were
two live mics in FRONT of the screen, and after a few seconds, they took a big breath and said, “Okay. Let’s do it. But can we just stay off to the side?”
I said sure, but you have to hold my mic for me. We arranged ourselves and got started. They started singing with the band and me, and inched further and further out on the stage. They had such a great time, I said “Let’s do it again!” The audience had the lyric sheets in their hands, and in a leap of faith, the girls grabbed the mic stands and moved even FARTHER on stage! They asked if they could sing it alone. This time I didn’t sing at all. They led the audience!
I’m so happy this was all caught on video by one of our other
students from the audience. That moment will live with me forever.
After the show, the girls and I went to an activity room along with Alan, and recorded the song with them singing. They will, I hope, continue to persue singing and making their own music.
Keetra and Skye’s voices will be heard over the ShubieFM network and on Youtube. Their faces, as they concentrated, are caught on video and will be part of a short documentary. I have all the faith in the world that they will never forget their first time on the stage, in FRONT of their entire school. And that they’ll want that experience again.
And that some day, they’ll continue to empower themselves and others with their beautiful voices.