Kuujjuaq’s school ukulele club tours several Nunavik communities

“You can do anything with music”

The ukulele club from Kuujjuaq’s Jaanimmarik School perform on stage in Salluit alongside their instructor Sarah Russell. (Photo by Tommy Gordon)

By Elaine Anselmi

KUUJJUAQ—The members of Kuujjuaq’s ukulele club carry binders packed with sheet music. The young musicians have nine performance-ready songs, to which audiences in several Nunavik communities have been treated.

When Nunatsiaq News spoke to the group, which is made up of Grade 6 and 7 students at Jaanimmarik School, on Feb. 27, they were headed to Salluit the coming week and then to Kangirsuk right after.

But they’re used to the travelling show.

The hotel in Kangiqsualujjuaq “was so nice,” says Aiva Lingard, a Grade 7 student who, along with Christina Lock, have been in the club since it started two years ago.

And just before Christmas, the troupe performed at the Pigunnaniq Festival in Kuujjuaraapik, hosted by arts education organization YouthFusion. They played ‘You are my sunshine’ and were brought back up onstage to play alongside the Iqaluit musician, Aasiva. (The ukulele is also her instrument of choice.)

The Jaanimmarik ukulele club brought student photographer and videographer Tommy Gordon along to document their recent trip to Salluit (seen here) and Kangirsuk. (Photo by Tommy Gordon)

The group plans to travel to Iqaluit next school year, hopefully to perform with Aasiva again.

Each of the students are working on different challenges or skills in the club beyond plucking their four-stringed instruments, like overcoming shyness and learning to accept change.

The two boys in the group, Anthony Watt Lariviere and Linus Onalik, both in Grade 6, are working on singing along more with the group, explains instructor Sarah Russell. And the whole group sounds better when they do, the others agree.

“Whenever the boys sing, I get more hyper, more happy,” says Kayla Lefebvre, a Grade 7 student.

When the group picks up their instruments, Russell happily exclaims, “You’re singing,” to the boys, who are quickly making gains in their challenge.

Everyone here learned to play only once they joined the club.

Niivi Snowball, a Grade 7 student, says she already had a ukulele when she joined, but only really started playing with the group. She says her guitar-playing father helps her out, as he can quickly pick up the chords.

Once Lingard joined the club, she says she got a call from her grandfather one day telling her to come over because he had something for her. A bright blue ukulele was waiting for her. “I didn’t expect it,” she says.

Some students have their own ukuleles, while others borrow. A generous donation from the community helped the club purchase better-quality ukulele cases, which are needed with the club often “on the road.”

The club’s trips are possible thanks to generous grants from the federal New Paths for Education program and ESUMA, which both gave the project $25,000.

For the different songs in the club’s repertoire, the members will hop on different instruments when needed. Lock has been playing piano for five years and accompanies the ukuleles on keyboard for a few songs. Both Lingard and Watt Lariviere play drums in others, and Watt Lariviere and Onalik play Inuit drums for another.

Halfway through the practice, Russell stops the group just to say how happy she is to see everyone taking their place without being told.

The song of the moment is ‘Ring of Fire’ by Johnny Cash; Lock is on the keyboard, Lingard is on the drums and the others are in a semicircle around Russell, also strumming a ukulele. Everyone knows what to do.

In the communities and at home in Kuujjuaq, the club performs for younger students and elders.

In Salluit, they’ll play for the Kindergarten to Grade 4 students and host a workshop on playing the ukulele. Then they’ll play for Grades 5 and 6, and a community concert. They also bring local musicians from each community up to play with them.

But the group says playing for older classes is more nerve-wracking.

Russell broaches the subject, saying, “maybe we could play for Secondary 4 and 5,” receiving a quick and concerted response of “no, no, no,” from the students. They giggle nervously at the prospect of performing in front of the older students.

They have performed before for an older class in Kuujjuaq, and Russell explains it went well and was appreciated by the group. “You’re trying to graduate, and it’s hard,” she says. The show was a lighter part of their day, she says.

Jonathan Nassak, a 22-year-old former Jaanimarek student who was to chaperone the Salluit trip, agrees with Russell that he definitely would have appreciated something like that back in his final years of school.

The group starts to come around a bit to the idea.

“I’m trying to bridge secondary and elementary because you can do that with music,” Russell says. “You can do anything with music.”

Share This Story

(4) Comments:

  1. Posted by Dennis Lock on

    Your dedication and love for the kids is genuine and they will never forget this. As a parent of one of the kids in the group we are very thankful for all you have done. Great work!

  2. Posted by Don Bossé on

    What a wonderful story and I am very impressed with what Ms. Russell is doing for her students with the use of music. music can be a powerful tool to teach many disciplines. They are very fortunate to have the opportunity to lean and perform music. This is a good news story and I was happy to have the chance to read about your students. Keep the music making going!

  3. Posted by Kids and music on

    That’s the greatest, kids music and their teacher. There’s a major concern hidden behind all the goodness in the school system in kuujjuaq. That’s the number of days that kids in both schools are victims of teachers absentee. There’s actually announcements each morning on local radio, to alert parents, just before the start of the day, which classes are closed. It’s just a bit too much. Kids are missing so many days of school. Now, the traveling with school groups are nice, but it adds to the already missed class days, taken off in the first place. There’s little or no substitute teachers to fill in the sick days of regular teachers. We are having an issue with this. As the kids progress through the years, with being behind the rest of the provincial standards, this absence routine is adding to the already deficiencies in their learning. KI needs to address this immediately.

  4. Posted by Fame and fortune on

    Maybe the teacher will win global prize just like Maggie MacDonnell and/or arctic inspiration award if she starts seeing $$$ signs

Comments are closed.