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Music program major component of life at Arviat high school

A growing number of students and staff members couldn’t imagine their daily routines without the soundtrack provided by the vibrant music program at John Arnalukjuak High School (JAHS) in Arviat.

John Arnalukjuak High School (JAHS) staff members, from left, Don Peters on trumpet, Maria Illungiayok on guitar, Ashley Stephen on clarinet, Curtis Metcalf on euphonium, Maria McEachern on flute, Rachel Ardiel on African drum, Diane Billington on guitar and Gord Billard on trombone pull double duty as members of the JAHS orchestra in Arviat this year.

With a number of precautions in place to ensure student safety from Covid-19, JAHS is continuing on with its program led by music teacher Curtis Metcalf.

It features a school orchestra, a six-person performance-guitar group and a basic introductory course to guitar learning.

There are no less than 55 students enrolled in the basic guitar program alone. However, 25 of those students are studying without actually playing due to a shortage of instrument inventory at JAHS during the Covid pandemic.

Principal Don Peters said music and drama are major components of promoting attendance at JAHS.

He said as a principal he feels quite fortunate to have such talented and dedicated instructors as Metcalf (music) and Gord Billard (drama) heading up the two programs.

“We’re happy to report that our student attendance at JAHS is more than 90 per cent this year,” said Peters.

“These are surreal times for most people right now. Promoting strong, positive activities for our students in a safe environment is paying dividends in a number of different ways, especially with the school being closed to parents this year.

“Music is really catching on here. We’ve got kids from every class participating and everyone is following the guidelines for social distancing, etc.”

The performance group of six guitarists play at a very high level, and the string-benders have already performed at the Elder’s Centre this past March.

Members of the performance guitar group, clockwise from left, Aaron Issakiark, Jordan Tassiuk, Curtis Metcalf, Don Peters and Ethan Okatsiak play a morning concert at John Arnalukjuak High School in Arviat this past school semester.
Photos courtesy Gord Billard

Metcalf said the shortage of instruments is just one more challenge to be overcome during the ongoing pandemic.

He said the school is renting most of its band instruments from a company in Winnipeg, although it does have about 20 guitars of its own, as well as 15 keyboards.

“Our students can tend to be pretty shy and music, like drama, helps them express themselves more effectively,” said Metcalf.

“If you’re up there playing the trombone, or whatever instrument, you can’t hide. You have to perform and that growing confidence level helps our students in other areas, as well, including their personal life.

“One of our students’ biggest fears is public speaking and I always notice them cringe when they’re first told about public performance, yet, in the end, it can be so helpful in developing their self-confidence, especially when it comes to publicly voicing their opinions.

And, having smaller groups this year due to Covid may lead to more performances, which, in turn, may lead to students gaining more confidence as a result of having more opportunities to perform.”

Billard said he’s been absolutely thrilled to learn the trombone in JAHS’s little school orchestra.

He said he loves the camaraderie he feels when he is among the other orchestra members.

On a personal level, I just find it all really cool — the feeling of accomplishment you get out of learning a piece of work, especially when it’s something arranged by your music teacher, such as Whale Cove Rock,” said Billard.

I’m teamed up with a second trombonist, Grade 11 student Alex Angalik, and it’s really cool to be sitting next to a student and learning together.

“It adds a whole other level of atmosphere at the school, and it’s especially enjoyable to have music being done by students and teachers together.”

Billard is turning his attention back to the JAHS Drama Club this week, as he and his young thespians begin work on their first presentation of the year.

“We’ve talked about revisiting the Breakfast Club, so I plan to take their temperature on that and see where they stand with it.

I also want to introduce them to a one-act piece written by Lindsay Price (Theatrefolk) called Scenes From a Quarantine (a vignette play in one act).

“We had a lot of critical success, I guess you might say, with another of Price’s efforts a few years back called, The Bright Blue Mailbox Suicide Note.”