On October 4th, 2014, Edmonton area music teachers met at Westboro elementary school for Drum, Dance, Chant presented by Sherryl Sewepagaham. Sherryl treated workshop participants to a lively day of songs and dances of the First Nations and Métis people.
Sherryl Sewepagaham’s resume must be be very, very, impressive. She is a gifted music teacher who also served as an Edmonton Catholic Schools music consultant. In addition, she is a recording artist and budding music therapist. Among the many hats Sherryl wears, she is also active with many community organizations composing songs that nurture and inspire. One such project is her composition for Music Alive, part of the National Arts Centre’s Arts Alive program.
Sherryl’s recent involvement in the music therapy program at Capilano University and her desire to help other people influenced a lot of what we learned throughout the day. She shared with us her feeling to enhance the spiritual side of music to help others. Sherryl’s work with children highlighted the need to aid students in distress; she noted how songs can trigger memories and emotions and noted her intention to use music to help children. Many songs we learned during the day were composed for just those reasons including the “Children’s Blessing Song” that she was commissioned to write for Vancouver Childhood Services. Written in a First Nations style with syllables, a feeling of comfort and joy is fostered in a way that goes beyond words.
The drum also played an important role in our day and its deep significance was impressed upon all participants. The protocols regarding the playing of drum were particularly interesting. Sherryl noted how for a long time the drum was considered to be a man’s instrument but how women were now able to “take it back.” Also important is the idea that the drum is not merely an instrument but also a sacred item that is a reflection of the drum’s owner. It provided the heartbeat and soul for many of the songs learned in the day.
Throughout the drumming, dancing, and chanting, Orff pedagogy played a key role. Orff-based considerations by Sherryl were presented for many songs including “Song For Yotin,” which featured a fantastic I-V arrangement for xylophones and recorder. Also included was an opportunity for improvisation and composition as sherryl guided us through the experience of Chief Dan George’s “My Heart Soars,” with percussion groups matched up to sections of the poem based on woods, skins, metals, and pitched percussion. First Nations music blended easily with Orff approaches and orchestrations throughout the workshop.
At the end of the day, everyone involved left with a number of high quality musical ideas to bring back to their students. First Nation and Métis culture is very important in Canada and it is therefore worthwhile to represent First Nations and Métis culture to our students with honour, respect and, integrity. With Sherryl’s numerous insights and inspiring compositions, many music teachers around the Edmonton area will now do just that.
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