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How a music mentorship is bringing students and Indigenous artists together

Mohawk College Applied Music students are taking part in a cultural musical exchange with Indigenous artists Rick McLean and the Six Nations Women Singers. Musical Sharing: An Indigenous Artists and Mohawk College Student Cultural Engagement and Exchange Initiative is also incorporated into the curriculum of other college programs, including Journalism, Graphic Design and Television Broadcast to allow more students to be involved.

The artist-led mentorship, taking place from January through April, is an opportunity for Indigenous artists to engage with students in a meaningful way and share their musical experience. Framing the initiative as an act of reconciliation grew out of the original plan for an initiative showing the potential of unconditioned shared space for cultural engagement and exchange for broader application.

“I just thought, ‘How can we share the knowledge that music is a form of individual and communal wellness, as having a social capacity beyond the monetary?’ which is often overlooked in today’s economically-focused education system,” Bob Shields, who teaches Applied Music and is organizing the event, said. “Let’s create a space where different people can come together, through which the intrinsic social capacity of music is made apparent.”

Black and white photo of hands playing a guitar.
Playing music together is an engaging way to exchange culture and values. (Pixabay)

The ensemble aims to create an unconditioned creative space to avoid expectations and foster a more authentic environment.

“Reconciliation is opening up your ears and listening to what the community’s needs are,” Johanne McCarthy, a teaching and learning consultant for Indigenous education and a member of the Six Nations community, said. “Making that extra effort to follow through with what the community’s expectations and desires are for reconciliation instead of your own expectations and desires. Because sometimes, they’re two very different perspectives.”

Students in the program were selected to take part based on their interest in other community-based work and musical interest.

A man sitting at a drumset.
The different musical instruments played by Mohawk College music students in the ensemble are guitar, vocals, drums, bass, banjo and piano. (Bob Shields)

“I’m really excited about the cultural exchange element of it,” Calvin Mulder, guitarist for the ensemble, said. “I’m really excited to meet with these Indigenous community members and learn from them.”

Other students say they are looking forward to the unconditioned aspect of the project.

“I think the idea of just being able to get together and be ourselves, and to express ourselves in the most organic and sure form of who we are, is what we’re driving towards on our path,” Jadon Haughton, the ensemble’s drummer, said.

The students and the Indigenous artists will continue to meet throughout February and March for their mentoring sessions, which will lead up to the April performance day event, when they will be performing together.


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