Strike up the band: Gjoa Haven students eager for new instruments
Qiqirtaq Ilihakvik is 1 of 2 Nunavut schools that won $15,000 to bolster music program
A Gjoa Haven high school is eagerly awaiting $20,000 worth of new flutes, trombones, a banjo and other musical instruments after winning two awards through a national music charity.
Qiqirtaq Ilihakvik School — as well as Netsilik Ilihakvik School in Taloyoak — were each awarded $15,000 in June when MusiCounts announced its annual grants for 73 schools across Canada.
“We sent the application out and were just absolutely thrilled to get a response,” said Ben Sajo, a teacher and music program director at the Gjoa Haven school.
“We give our requests to the music stores of our choice, and they send the bill to MusiCounts. We are allotted the grant, but we are also allotted shipping. We have no idea how much the shipping costs.”
Qiqirtaq Ilihakvik was also one of six schools across the country to receive the newly created MusiCounts Legacy Grant.
That means the school gets an additional $5,000 in honour of Canadian singer, songwriter and producer Deborah Cox, who became the first Black woman to be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2022.
Each legacy grant is awarded in honour of a hall of fame inductee.
Sajo said the awards will be a boon to the small high school of just under 150 students.
Given the school’s small size, the music program includes 15 students, from every grade level.
“We have a pretty good collection of guitars and pianos and a couple of fiddles that are a bit broken down,” Sajo said of the program’s current instrument collection.
“But that’s extremely limiting for having a real substantial high school music program.”
Wildfires and the evacuation in Yellowknife delayed shipment of the instruments. Most were finally sent out Sept. 12.
The school is getting flutes, clarinets, trombones, trumpets, a banjo, two mandolins and a synthesizer with a vocoder. A vocoder is a synthesizer that creates harmonies out of a single person’s voice.
“Which is really funky,” said Sajo, listing off more instruments.
“A drum machine for programming beats, an electric drum kit, a double bass and cello. And we’ll also have a double bass pedal for some thrash metal, should the opportunity arise.
“We’re going to [have] all the equipment that any southern high school would have, and more.”
MusiCounts is an affiliate of the non-profit Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, the umbrella organization for the Juno Awards and the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
Its mandate is to “break down the barriers youth face when accessing music education,” according to the charity’s website.
Sajo said he is proud of his program and his students.
“I am a musician; my background is as a composer,” he said.
“When I was in high school, you know, I had the privilege of seeing so many different kinds of musical ensembles — concert band, community orchestra, jazz, all of these different opportunities where I could hear different sounds, different means of making music,” he said.
Sajo said he believe’s it’s not fair that kids living in the North shouldn’t have the same opportunity.
“They have every right to be able to have an orchestra of their own up here should they desire. The gear that we’ll have here will inspire some local Gjoa Haven composers or new producers,” he said.