Carol Coutts has been working as a music teacher at Basinview Drive Community School for several years. Part of her teaching mandate includes introducing the works of Canadian singers and songwriters, usually by inviting regional musicians into her classroom to share their talents with her students.
One of those musicians is Keith Mullins, a Cape Breton-born-and-based singer and songwriter who travels to schools across Canada and the U.S. to work on music projects with students. So when Coutts mentioned to Mullins needing a fundraiser idea to gather money for a new playground at the school, recording a CD immediately came to mind.
“Carol has got so many amazing artists in the school, this was kind of the next level, the next thing to do,” Mullins says. How do we bring this all together?” In January, Coutts, Mullins and several musicians from around the region starting making music with the students at Basinview. The project wrapped up in May. The result was Basinview Rocks, a CD of 10 songs recorded with students in Grades Primary to 6 and musicians from around the region. They include Joel Plaskett, Jeremy Fisher, Meaghan Smith, Mark Bragg, Hawksley Workman, Thom Swift, Bedford’s own Willie Stratton, David Myles, Ashley Moffat and Mullins, too. All 500 students at Basinview took part in at least one of the recordings.
Coutts organized all the artists, prepared and directed the students while Mullins remixed and laid down all the tracks. Some artists like Jeremy Fisher wrote new material for the project. Others used songs they had previously released. Mullins included a song, Play, Play, Play, which he says “totally makes sense” for the project.
“It was so amazing,” Coutts says of the recording experience. “We knew we had something special. It sounded amazing.”
Some 1,500 copies of the CD were produced for sale, with Coutts doing most of the selling (CDs are still available). Even the CD cover was the result of collaboration by the students. The design is made up 500 squares, each one painted by a student at the school. In the centre of the design are rocks resembling those that sit on the school’s property.
The parents finally got to hear what all the fuss was about in the spring when the school hosted two concerts during one night. Six of the 10 musicians who took part in the project showed up to sing with the students to audiences totalling 1,200 proud parents. Sound and lights were provided by Trevor D’Souza. It was an experience Coutts says she and the parents won’t forget.
“When everything came together I think people realized there was magic happening,” Coutts says. “It was overwhelming…By the end there was uncontrollable sobbing in the audience.”
The process taught the kids numerous lessons well beyond sculpting songs. Meeting real life, regional musicians, she says, takes the music industry out of the video and online culture to which kids are exposed, making it a local, interactive experience for them. “I think it says something about our own culture,” she says of the musicians’ willingness to share their time and talents. “It’s our roots. There is real music happening here and now.”
Mullins agrees. “To see the artists, to see what they do and breaking down the whole mystery of a songwriter,” he says. “Musicians are people, too. … to see each person do what they do, I think, is great in itself…To play music for a living takes a lot more than being able to play music. It’s a business. You have to be able to get gigs. You’re always travelling around. It’s tiresome. You have to put your whole life into it … I think they saw a side of that.”
The students also learned about the business of music, including production costs, how to sell CDs, and career options in the music industry. They also learned the importance of music how they can use their talents to give back, including to their own school.
“We used something in the arts to raise funds to support physical activity,” she says. “One is not exclusive of the other.”
The process even moved the professionals. “Especially after the CD release concert and after they heard the tracks, they were really moved,” Mullins says. “Artists get caught up in a kind of bubble sometimes and for them to hear the sound of 100 singing students is so beautiful. It doesn’t matter if they are all on pitch. The sound of that many kids singing at the same time melts you…it was really moving.”
For Coutts, the experience taught her something very valuable. “I learned when you surround yourself with people who are passionate about something as you are, you can make incredible things happen,” she says. “And don’t be afraid to try.” She suggests teachers looking for ways to engage their students to find their passion and share it with everyone.
“Think outside the box to benefit not only the school, but the community as well.”