||Volume 20, Number
3, November/December 2007
Songs of peace
Making the world a better place
Simon Fraser Elementary School Peace Choir
By Murray Dobbin
Marisa Orth-Pallavicini has been the teacher-librarian at Simon
Fraser Elementary School in Vancouver for six years, and today she is
also the choir master of the schools Peace Choir. Both
themespeace and musiccome naturally to Orth-Pallavicini.
The politics of social justice permeate her life and that of her
husband, Vancouver City Councillor David Cadman. And music is key to
her life as well, she has been co-writing the music for the
Euphonious Feminist Non-Performing Quintet for 12 years. She believes
music is a powerful force for good in the world and that belief was
at the root of her decision to form and lead the choir.
"The Simon Fraser Peace Choir began in April of 2006 when I
had an invitation to bring together a choir to perform at the Opening
of the Mayors for Peace and the International Peace Messenger
Cities conference, which was part of the World Peace Forum in
Vancouver in June of 2006. As teacher-librarian at Simon Fraser who
had led student choirs in the past, I decided that this was a
wonderful opportunity to start a choir with a purpose: to sing for
peace, and to try to do what we could to make the world a better
Membership in the choir was voluntary and was open to all grades
except half-day Kindergarten because of rehearsal scheduling. The
Peace Choirs first concert was performed at the Orpheum Theatre
on a Saturday morning in June. "It was a very exciting start for
our choir. One of the people who heard us that day was Reiko Ono, a
survivor of the atomic bomb dropped on the city of Nagasaki during
World War II. She was so impressed with the choir that she asked to
come and visit our school."
In September 2006, the Peace Choir members met again and decided
to sing for the schools Remembrance Day assembly. After each
concert, membership in the choir is again open to all students, so
that students can join after having seen a choir performance.
"The Peace Choir meets when we have a concert to practise for or
when they need to learn a new song. The repertoire of the choir is
now up to 12 songs." They meet at lunchtime once a week and on
Wednesday afternoons during the last period of the day. The choir has
grown from its original 40 members to 71 and they need to hold
separate rehearsals for primary and intermediate students until the
last week of rehearsals before a performance because the space is
limited in the library.
Word of the choir gets around. Last December, they received an
invitation from the teacher-librarian at Emily Carr Elementary School
to do a concert. That led to an interest in Simon Frasers
Student Council (Orth-Pallavicini is their teacher/ advisor) project
to raise funds for children in Malawi who had been orphaned or
seriously affected by HIV/AIDS. The council was raising money by
selling beaded AIDS ribbons made by the children in Malawi and their
caregivers. "The students and staff at Emily Carr decided to
have a penny drive and sell some of the pins to support our
efforts," says Orth-Pallavicini, "The Peace Choir worked on
a song, For Nkosi, sung in English and Zulu, and a script
explaining the issue of HIV/ AIDS. This was a real challenge for them
but it turned out wonderfully."
Teacher newsmag spoke to five of the young students in the
choir: James Cuevas, Anika Hundal, Amber Looi, Misa Lucyshyn, and
Kieryn Silver. All were enthusiastic about the singingJames
revealed, "I used to just sing in the bath tub and in the shower
but in the Peace Choir I could really sing." But they were just
as excited by the theme of the choir and its overseas project. Misa
Lucyshyn said, "Whats important about peace?
The world is not all peaceful. If children see violence every day
they will grow up to be violent and afraid. If children grow up in
peace they will grow up to be peaceful people that will make the
world better and safe."
All five were especially proud that they were helping people in
Africa who were suffering from AIDS or who were orphaned by the
disease. The impact of the lives of orphans on the lives of Canadian
children was obvious. "The children in Africa have just been
forgotten," said Amber. "Their parents have died of AIDS
and now they just have to find a way to fend for themselves.
Its very sad."
All the choir members have their favourite song, it seems, but one
was top of the list for several. That was For Nkosi. The song,
written by Orth-Pallavicini and her fellow songwriter, Pat Davit, is
a dedication to Nkosi Johnson. This slight 11-year-old South African
captured the hearts of millions of TV viewers, when his address at
the 13th International Aids Conference in Durban, South Africa in
2000, was televised worldwide. Subsequently he and his adoptive
mother, Gail Johnson, established a series of Nkosis Havens for
mothers with AIDS and their children. Nkosi died in 2001. His
entreaty to everyone"Do all that you can, with all that
you have, in the time that you have, in the place where you
are"is featured in the song.
After the choir performed at Emily Carr Elementary School on March
12, the school community raised just over $500 selling the beaded
AIDS ribbons. In June 2007, the peace choir recorded a CD of eight
songs called Songs for Peace with the support of the parents
and the school. These CDs are still available at a cost of $10
to cover recording and production costs.
For Orth-Pallavicini, the choir experience has been both a joy and
a challenge. The biggest surprise? "I had expected the older
kids to be the most eager to join initially but was actually deluged
by the youngest onesGrade 1s and even Kindergartenwanting
to join. And even more surprising, the young ones loved the more
complex songs and had no trouble with foreign languages (like Zulu).
They were fine with complicated lyrics and for many of them English
was their second language."
The challenge in the HIV/AIDS project is "...keeping alive
the links and connections with real people in Africa. Those personal
connections are powerful learning experiences. We get letters from
CAYO (Counselling of the Adolescent and Youth Organization) the group
on Malawi we work with. CAYOs Executive Director Fryson Chodzi
visited the school last June."
The next major external gig for the Peace Choir will be at the
BCTFs Public Education Conference on Friday evening, January
25. Orth-Pallavicini is a little nervous as any choir master is when
challenged by an important performance. But shes confident her
children will be ready.
Murray Dobbin, a Vancouver author and writer, is acting
assistant director and Teacher editor, BCTF Communications and