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Mohawk College students are learning through singing, dancing and collaboration

For the second year, Musical Sharing: An Indigenous and Mohawk College Cultural Engagement & Exchange Initiative is happening at Mohawk College.  The initiative facilitates a collaboration between Indigenous singers and music students from the college to foster a multi-perspective understanding of the world.  

Indigenous musicians The Six Nations Women Singers (SNWS) and Nicole Joy-Fraser alternate each week, meeting with the music students to share their teachings.  

“Participants consciously elevate music’s potential for relational justice, rooting their efforts in the ethics of care, trust, responsibility, and respect,” initiative coordinator Bob Shields explained. “All participants agree to participate in an unconditioned creative space, through which they come together as equals, to share and exchange ideas that speak to the social capacity of music.” 

The sessions start with a Talking Circle and snacks. Then people gather together and start playing music.  

Skye Jones (l) and Nicole Joy-Fraser play traditional Indigenous instruments.

Nicole Joy-Fraser is an Anishinaabe artist who is originally from the Horse Lake First Nation. She talked about a significant experience she had with the students. 

“I remember the first session that we jammed one of my original songs, hearing it back from everybody I got goosebumps,” Joy-Fraser said. “Having that manifest in that way, sharing and then hearing it being played back, that was really special.” 

Each meeting consists of teachings that allow the students to make connections and reflect on Indigenous history. But it also provides a sense of togetherness and belonging. 

Writing in Aboriginal Music in Contemporary Canada: Echoes and Exchanges, SNWS leader Sadie Buck said: “There is no such thing as bad singing because the whole purpose of music is its job. The whole point is to dance. Everything has a job. Everything has a place. Everything has a context that it’s supposed to be used in.” 

In the sessions with the SNWS, students are taught about a style of Haudenosaunee music called call and response where the leader sings a verse, and the rest of the singers repeat that verse in the same tone. 

Participants are seated in two rows facing each other while they sing with each other. This is a common way of gathering for Haudenosaunee people because of the way their longhouses were built. 

Seven Mohawk College students are taking part in the student ensemble and each plays a role in music sharing, whether it is playing the instruments they are studying in the Applied Music program, or singing, drumming, and dancing in an Indigenous musical tradition as part of the collaborative creative process. 

Trumpeter Sebastian Puerto-Arteaga is one of seven Mohawk College students taking part in the initiative.

Trumpeter Sebastian Puerto-Arteaga explained why the initiative is so important to him. 

“It’s an act of reconciliation,” Puerto-Arteaga said. “The initiative is not something that you see in a lot of colleges. So, it’s about that, doing something that maybe has never been done before.” 

The final performance is only one element of the bigger picture. Between storytelling and musical sharing, a bond has been created that deepens the meaning behind the initiative. 

The final Event Day performance takes place on April 4, which will conclude this year’s initiative. 

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