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Iqaluit Music Society celebrates 25 years

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Iqaluit Fiddlers perform in the crowd-favourite annual 2019 Community Christmas Concert co-hosted by the Inuksuk High School and The Iqaluit Music Society. Front Row (L to R): Arielle Allain, Amaija Healey-Akearok, Alexa Senkow, Brian Harris-Galia. Second Row (L to R): Brogan Savard, Nuatii Paterson, Jonah Laird, Malaya Kennedy. Third Row (L to R): Tamuda Chakonza, Soleil Duval, Liam Joanasie-Nuyalia, Lesedi Kabelo, Ariana Atienza. © Mathew Nuqingaq

One never realizes the lasting impact of a kind word of reference, an offer of support, or even a music lesson until reflection years later. This year marks a special anniversary for me: 50 years ago, at the age of eight, I received my first violin lesson as part of the Halifax City’s Public Schools’ Music Program. I grew up in Halifax. I moved to Kimmirut, Nunavut, in August 1987, and then to Iqaluit in 1990 to teach elementary school. Music has always been an integral part of my classroom program. I have now lived and taught in NWT (then) and Nunavut (now) for 33 years. Twenty-five years ago, The Iqaluit Fiddle Club was formed, and this past summer, The Iqaluit Music Society held its 25th Annual Summer Music Camp! I fondly remember the thrill of being able to make my violin sing, every time I witness a similar sense of pride in the eyes of our beginner fiddlers. 

My journey of passing on the gift of music education began over 25 years ago with a reference from David Boileau, Iqaluit’s long‐time soundman and supporter of local musicians, suggesting I represent the Qikiqtani region at the Northwest Territories Fiddle Jamboree in Hay River in September 1994. There I met well‐known fiddlers from across the North: Lee Mandeville, Colin Adjun, Cole Krook, and Frank Cockney (to name a few). During the day, we were each assigned a beginner fiddler to teach; and in the evenings, there were community dances with the fiddlers each taking turns to play their favourite tunes to the delight of the dancers. It was at this jamboree that I first met Andrea Hansen, co‐founder of Strings Across the Sky (SATS). She gave me strategies on how to teach my assigned young fiddler, seven‐year‐old Jenna Daniels. At the closing of the Jamboree we were all challenged to return to our home communities with a commitment to teach youth how to play the fiddle. I accepted the challenge. 

In 1995, the Iqaluit Fiddle Club was formed with a kind donation from Ann Hanson, our first donor, which allowed us to purchase small violins that we still use today. With the sponsorship of Canadian North Airlines, and Andrea Hansen, volunteering her time to come to Iqaluit, we were able to have a mentor to share teaching strategies and beginner tunes that we continue to teach, like Pingo Push, and Boil’Em Cabbage. In 1997, our young Iqaluit Fiddlers had their first trip south to perform with Andrea Hansen, other SATS fiddlers from across the North, and The Toronto Symphony. The group included Andrew Morrison, lead singer, and Brendan Doherty, bass player, of the now popular Iqaluit band, The Jerry Cans. 

Our first trip with SATS, gave us a zest for travel, a reason to practice, and a desire to share our culture with others. This led to many other journeys across the skies with the financial support of many partners such as: Canadian North Airlines, the Nunavut Government, Iqaluit City, many community organizations, The National Arts Centre’s Music Alive Program, Canadian Youth Exchanges Programs, and many generous music education advocates and visiting instructors. Over the years, the Iqaluit Fiddlers have travelled to the west coast and performed with the Coast String Fiddlers, to the east coast several times to learn from and perform with youth from The Maritime Conservatory of The Performing Arts in Halifax, and St. Ann’s Gaelic College in Cape Breton, and further North to Pangnirtung to attend the First Qikiqtani Music and Dance Summit. We have travelled to Ottawa several times on music exchanges with The Leading Note Foundation and with The Inuksuk Drum Dancers, the Ottawa Children’s Choir, and Cantiamo’s Girls Choir, and have performed on The National Arts Centre’s Stage with Susan Aglukark and the NAC orchestra. We have opened for John Allan Cameron in Cape Breton and performed for Adrienne Clarkson in Iqaluit with the Coast String Fiddlers. We have performed locally with Gordon Stobbe, James Ehnes, The Gryphon Trio, and Ensemble Made in Canada. The list goes on. 

We celebrated our 25th Annual Summer Music Camp this year with safe Covid‐19 health protocols with outside workshops led by eight of our alumnae, and a special guest performance by one of our very first fiddlers and music campers, Andrew Morrison. All these alumnae are inspiring role models and, now as Nunavut music instructors, they are passing on the legacy of music education to younger children across our territory.