School of Rock

Students at the elementary and high school in Stanley Mission are the latest to participate in the Regina Cultural Exchange Arts Program. Photo by Kaitlynn Nordal

A northern Saskatchewan community is the latest to partner with The Regina Cultural Exchange Society as part of its musician and residency program.

Thanks to donations of various instruments, elementary and high school students in Stanley Mission, a First Nations community roughly 80 kilometres northeast of La Ronge, are learning it’s a long way to the top if they want to rock ‘n roll.

Darryl Flett, principal at Keethanow Elementary school in Stanley Mission, contacted the Exchange about doing an arts program at the school.

Flett applied for the music program because he wanted to give his students something different and something they would find engaging.

Rowan Pantel, who is the provincial outreach manager for the Saskatchewan Cultural Exchange, then contacted musician Eliza Doyle about being involved in the program.

Doyle, whose parents are bluegrass musicians, got into music after her dad gave her a banjo at 19 .

“My dad and his friends were cleaning out an old shop and they found this old banjo on the wall,” said Doyle. “(They) were sitting around and were like ‘Who should we give this old banjo to?’ and then someone suggested to my dad ‘What about your daughter? Maybe Eliza wants the banjo.’

“From there everybody who I met in university I kind of gravitated towards musicians and artists even though I didn’t play myself … From there I only went to two years of university because I got hit with the music bug and I would just travel across Canada playing music with people, I joined bands and eventually I got my degree.”

Before touring with The Dead South for two years, Doyle worked at Maverick High School in Swift Current. The school is designed for at-risk youth and alternative programming.

“I loved bringing music to people, especially people who might not have the opportunity learn it or might not even know about it,” said Doyle “So when the opportunity comes up that I can come into communities and see music bring people together and see a kid strum a guitar for the first time and hit that chord and see how it really sparks something in them it’s truly rewarding.”

Doyle moved to Stanley Mission on Jan. 3 and will be there until Feb. 10 as part of the instructional program. Doyle hopes that after her residency there will be enough support from the community to keep the programs going.

Pantel hopes the program succeeds and gives the residents of Stanley Mission not only a hobby but also an artistic outlet.

If the program does well and Stanley Mission wants them to come back they will look into applying for additional funding to send Doyle back, Pantel said.

“A lot of kids are interested, they are engaged, they are wanting to come there after school,” Flett said.  “They are bringing their own guitars; some of the kids in Grade 2 are bringing guitars to school as well. So it’s a big change and motivation for the students.”

Flett had always wanted to learn to play guitar but never got the chance so he has been going to the classes as well.

There were no music programs in Stanley Mission before Doyle came. Flett hopes they continue.

“I hope we can be able to find some funding for a music teacher and musical instruments,” Flett said.

“The community and also the councilors are in full support. They are all coming out to take some music lessons as well in the evening. So they are taking part in lessons that Eliza is offering in the evenings and that’s at the school as well so it’s going really well.”

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