Symphony Nova Scotia’s Adopt-a-Musician program inspires creativity

Halifax students showcase their newfound skills at We Are the Stars concert.

Students from three Halifax elementary schools and Halifax West High School showed off their skill and smiles at Symphony Nova Scotia’s Adopt-a-Musician program’s final concert on Thursday.

The concert — We Are the Stars — took place at the Halifax Central Library. Symphony Nova Scotia musicians have been “adopting” student musicians for 12 years.

Once a week, for seven weeks, students from Halifax West High School practiced under the direction of one of Symphony Nova Scotia’s violinists, Celeste Jankowski.

“The learning curve was huge,” said Faris Kapra, a Grade 10 student who was part of the high school string ensemble. “It made us become something more than just a high school group.”


For the final concert, students performed a piece called Agincourt by Doug Spata. The song depicts a battle scene and was set in a challenging 7/8 time rhythm, which was new to many students in the group.

Westmount elementary and Grosvenor Wentworth elementary school students get ready to perform their original composition. (Photo: Rachel Collier)

“We learned a lot of skills that professionals would use, in both our technique and our style of learning,” said Kapra.

“We learned to go home, learn everything perfectly there, then come to school to really make the music. That was different from what we had been doing,” he said.

Violist Kerry Kavalo worked with 23 students from Westmount elementary and Grosvenor Wentworth Park elementary schools.

The students learned basic composition skills and how to create through a collaborative process. In the end, they composed and performed an original piece named West-Grove Tune.

St. Catherine’s elementary school’s Grade 5 class created a narrative tale and a percussion arrangement to perform at the concert. They named their story The Dragon Slayer and Hybrid Dragon.

St. Catherine's Elementary School Students (Photo: Rachel Collier)
St. Catherine’s elementary school students show off the instruments that they used. (Photo: Rachel Collier)

When creating their performance, the class practiced math, language and presentation skills.

They also discussed the complex natures of the main characters of their story and practiced working together.

“The program is good because it changes the dynamics of the classroom from what it usually is for academic purposes,” said Susane Lemieux, the Symphony Nova Scotia oboist who guided the class.

Lemieux noticed that students really had to pay attention while working in a new style.

“It was great to see when they started to get ideas and to speak up,” she said.

The program often depends on schools’ administrative support.

“They could be doing other curriculum work, especially this year with all of the snow days. We really had to convince everyone that it’s worth it,” said Lemieux.

Mind Ball brings mental health to the party

“Its a party with heart and a purpose,” say the party organizers.

Between 300 and 400 young adults danced the night away last Saturday at Halifax’s second Mind Ball.

The Mind Ball was an opportunity for people to get dressed up, get together, and to let off some steam. The party’s additional purpose was to contribute to destigmatize mental health problems and illness.

“The party definitely meets expectations,” said Nicole Kink who attended the event. “It’s great to get people talking about mental health in a social and less formal context too.”

Nicole Kink and Megan White get goofy with Mind Ball’s lively atmosphere and costume booth (Photo: Rachel Collier)

The Mental Health Commission of Canada reports that about 20 per cent of Canadians live with mental illness and that mental illness continues to be met with widespread negative attitudes.

It also says that these negative perceptions around mental health are one of the main reasons why more than 60 per cent of people with mental health problems or illness won’t seek the help that they need.

Mind Ball organizers Allison Ghosn and Rebecca Singbeil recognize this issue within Halifax.

Ghosn and Singbeil attended various mental health events around Halifax and noticed a pattern.

“It was generally the same group of people at every single event,” says Ghosn.

Singbeil and Ghosn wanted to create a mental health event that would reach a demographic of people who weren’t already engaged in learning about mental health issues.

“We needed an event that people would already want to go to,” said Ghosn who realized that the 18-30 year olds are important to target when it comes to mental health awareness.

This group of university students couldn’t give up the opportunity to both dance and to express their support and desire for more positive mental health perceptions. (Photo: Rachel Collier)

The Canadian Mental Health Commission says that 70 per cent of adults with mental illness report that symptoms began in their teens or early 20s.

“So we decided, we’re going to have a party but were going to try to put as many pieces into it as we can that will promote awareness,”said Ghosn.

“Sharing educational facts that contradict mental health myths is the most effective way of reducing stigma among adolescents,”  says Lynne Robinson, a mental health expert at Dalhousie University.

“Interacting with people who actually have mental illness is another very useful strategy for people of all ages,” she said referring to an analysis of strategies used to reduce stigma.

Another Halifax blizzard prevented some elements of the party from taking place.

However, multiple local artists who are passionate about mental health did show up to help stimulate conversations and thoughts about the topic.

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Ghosn and Singbeil welcomed artists from Atlantic Cirque, Brave Space and Outsider Insight among others.

DJ Zora the Sultan set the musical tone for the party’s busiest spot – the dance floor.

An area called the Mind Lounge was set up away from the dance floor. It had bean bag chairs, bottled water, a quiet atmosphere, peer support, paints,  and other mental health resources.

“We want people to get comfortable with mental health, give it an image boost. We wanted an event where people wouldn’t hear mental health and say ‘oh that’s not for me,’” says Ghosn.

“We need to break down the us vs. them perceptions. Everyone has mental health and it is something that everyone needs to take care of, ” she says.

Ghosn and Singbeil have already started imagining possibilities to keep next year’s event interesting.

“I don’t want to give too much away, but we’re thinking of something that might be say, a three day, daytime type of event for next year,” says Ghosn.

Journalist talks about reporting in Israel

Yonah Bob describes his experiences in a region where there is no shortage of stories.

While many Halifax residents stayed inside to avoid messy streets and snow clogged sidewalks on Thursday, about 20 people made their way to the Lord Nelson Hotel to hear what journalist Yonah Bob had to say about Israel.

Originally from Baltimore, Bob has worked various jobs. He has worked for the international law division of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign affairs, and for publications like the BBC, Sky News and Russia Today. He currently works as a legal affairs correspondent and an international affairs commentator for the Jerusalem Post.

No shortage of stories

“I never have to worry about finding a story to write about,” said Bob who has posted four stories since he left Halifax Friday morning. Topics include IDF’s treatment of Palestinian miners, the IDF’s effort to avoid civilian casualties and an IDF war probe report.

“There’s something about three major religions having holy sites in one tiny city,” he said. Bob says he is more likely to have trouble deciding which story is the most important to write than finding an important story.

“There are definitely two narratives being told,” he said.

“I live on the Israeli side. I only see the suffering of the Israelis,” he said. “At the same time Palestinians only see Palestinian suffering.”

About 20 people made it out through roughly cleared streets to hear Yonah Bob talk about Israel (Photo: Rachel Collier)
About 20 people listen to Yonah Bob talk about Israel (Photo: Rachel Collier)

Bob said stressful events and memories affect his writing. He has reported on his friends mourning the deaths of their friends, and he has been threatened by rockets fired by the Palestinians.

He told the story of an attack that happened while his wife was in the shower. “Put on a towel! I’ll get the kids!” he shouted to her. They had to rush to a bomb shelter as rockets hit their city.

Bob said he believes that by being aware of his biases he can do a better job at being impartial.

He also said that getting reliable contacts from both sides can be an extremely sensitive task, but it’s also crucial to the quality of a story.

Fear and anxiety

Israel has been through three wars since 2009. Some cities have experienced multiple attacks every day for extended periods of time during the heat of conflicts.

“Rockets have been raining down on Israeli cities,” said Bob. “The amount of fear and anxiety of ‘Jo Shmo Israeli’ is very high.”

He said that the people are terrified of groups such as ISIS, Hamas or Hezbollah.

“There are a lot of Israelis now that feel that every time we withdrawal from land in order to get peace, we get more war and closer on our borders,” said Bob.

“Then there is the fear that you have, you know, a dangerous enemy like ISIS. If we withdraw from another place, maybe we withdraw from the West Bank, and ISIS takes over or Hamas takes over, suddenly the security issues are even more complicated and dangerous. That seems to be the prevailing opinion of your centre Israeli.”

“Central Israelis bounce around,” said Bob about political ideologies and support trends. “Sometimes things stay the same forever in Israel, but sometimes with the snap of a finger they turn around.”

Bob said he believes that fear is one of the main reasons why many typically centrist Israeli voters decided to vote for Benjamin Netanyahu in the recent Israeli election.

Still optimistic

It gives Bob hope to see diplomats who oppose one another on the record, but who can put aside their differences in search of a resolution.

For example, as an intern for the Israeli embassy to the United Nations, Bob said he sat in on meetings where Israeli and Arab diplomats yelled back and forth in heated debate. Afterwards, diplomats from differing parties kidded around about how, if they were in charge, they would fix the conflict together in no time.

Bob also referred to the six Palestinian reporters who reported that rockets were illegally being fired from residential areas after they left the Gaza strip. He said it was a brave act, and noted that “they probably won’t be invited back to the party the next time.”

This is an understatement, considering that the reporters were threatened of being beaten if they reported on the story while still in Gaza.

“I have no idea when, but I’m an optimist, I think that someday there will be peace,” said Bob.