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Mohawk College music student looks forward to playing banjo in music initiative

When people think of the banjo, their first thought may be folky country music. However, for first-year Mohawk College music student Penny Martindale, the banjo was a way to learn something underappreciated.

“My dad plays the bagpipes, so I kind of have an appreciation for folk instruments that get a bad rap in terms of their sonic palette because I mean, bagpipes can sound good, banjos can sound good,” Martindale said. “It’s just a matter of what you play.”

Penny Martindale stands in a room holding her banjo and smiling.
Penny Martindale, the banjo player for the Mohawk College student ensemble, began playing music before she started high school. (Penny Martindale)

Martindale is one part of the student ensemble taking part in Musical Sharing: An Indigenous Artists and Mohawk College Student Cultural Engagement and Exchange Initiative. Martindale said Bob Shields, the leader of the initiative, reached out to her about joining the initiative.

Shields said he chose students who stood out to him in his previous classes.

“[The students] were picked for a reason,” he said. “They seem to have an affinity towards this kind of music, its capacity and creativity beyond the economic sphere.”

Martindale said she chose to pursue music school because life is too short to do something unenjoyable.

“I live every day like it could be the last,” Martindale said. “I chose music school because I like music a lot.”

As for the initiative, Martindale said she’s excited to get experience with other musicians.

“I haven’t had a lot of experience with playing with other musicians [or] being so exposed to playing with other musicians,” she said. “I’m just excited to learn how to listen, how to connect with artists who maybe just play completely different stuff than what I know.”

Even though Martindale said she is excited, there is a level of nervousness as well.

“I always look at music as like a conversation, and I do have a degree of social anxiety,” she said. “So, it is a bit of an issue where it’s like, ‘Oh, no, if I mess this up, it’s going to go bad.’”

A bass guitar lays on a wooden floor with the string end closest to the camera.
In addition to banjo, Martindale is learning to play the bass. (Pixabay)

This initiative is also a way for students like Martindale to connect with Indigenous artists to learn about their music and communities. According to Leah Hogan, manager of Mohawk College’s Indigenous Education Department, this opportunity allows students to grow friendships with the musicians.

“I just feel like this is probably the first time that we’ve ever done anything like this, to reach out to communities, different artists, and to connect the students with people who are seasoned, who have experienced sharing their gifts, and building that relationship,” Hogan said. “I really hope to see a continued relationship between the artists and the students, and continued collaborations, mentorships and friendships.”

Martindale said she is excited to learn about a style of music that she has little to no experience in: one that has almost been hidden by educational systems.

“[Music in Hamilton] is all very jazz-oriented, and there’s a lot of stuff with jazz, but I like the idea of learning something completely new,” she said. “That’s like the part that excites me, kind of broadening my horizons as a musician.”

As for future programs and initiatives similar to this, Martindale said she would definitely play in a similar event again, and she is grateful to be part of this initiative.

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