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.

Libyan man learns English one dance, song, conversation at a time

English today, microbiology tomorrow? “I know it’s a big dream, but I can do it,” said Abdurrahman Elajmi.

On Sunday, Abdurrahman Elajmi, along with about six other people from China, Japan, Korea and Kuwait were participating in a program called Community, Culture and Conversation. The program aims to help international newcomers learn English and integrate into the community.

Elajmi was practicing English, square dancing and trying to sing along with the popular folk song, “Farewell to Nova Scotia.”

Seven months ago, 25-year-old Elajmi spoke only Arabic and knew no one else in Halifax. Originally from Libya, he came to Canada to study and make a better future for himself.

“I can’t explain my feelings. It’s so hard, so hard.” said Elajmi, remembering the day he first arrived in Canada.

He didn’t know where to buy food, what clothes to wear or anything about Canadian customs.

“We’re trying to provide that safe space for people, a space of belonging,” said Tatjana Samardzic, the program co-ordinator and regional immigrant services library assistant with Halifax Libraries.

The program is organized by Halifax Public Libraries in partnership with Saint Mary’s University.

Participants in the Community, Culture and Conversation group practice their square dancing skills.
Participants in the Community, Culture and Conversation group practice their square dancing skills. (Photo: Bronwen McKie)

The meetings, led by Saint Mary’s University masters of education students, follow an informal discussion-based format aimed at helping participants improve their English.

Meetings take place every Saturday and Sunday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., with the most recent meeting marking Week 6 of the eight-week program.

The Sunday Community, Culture and Conversation meeting explored the history of traditional Nova Scotian music and the music scene in Halifax. Educators suggested local music venues and events to participants and there was a live musical demonstration during the meeting.

Other sessions have focused on garbage and recycling, the Nova Scotian medical system, shopping for food, places to eat and recreational activities.

“I feel excited when I learn. I like it,” said Elajmi.

“We’ve attracted not huge numbers of people, but I think the people that have been coming, some have been returning and coming regularly. So, to me, that’s a measure of success,” said Samardzic. “People find it valuable, they benefit from it. It’s useful to them.”

The Community, Culture and Conversation program is geared toward international students, but other programs are offered through the library for adults as well. They include conversation groups, citizenship classes, tax return assistance and English language classes, to name a few.

Detailed information regarding these programs can be found on the Halifax Public Libraries website or in the “Welcome Newcomers” section of the library magazine called Guide. All programs are free and most don’t require registration.

Heather MacKenzie, Diversity and Accessibility Manager with Halifax Public Libraries, said discussion-based groups seem to work well, and that there are plans for new groups based on this model to start later in 2015.

Halifax has a large international population. At Dalhousie University alone, 14 per cent of the 18,500 students are international students. That’s about 2,600 people.

Statistics Canada estimates  population of Halifax to be approximately 414,400 people, and in 2012, estimated that 3,288 people immigrated internationally to Halifax.

Elajmi studied at the East Coast School of Languages for six months, to improve his English skills.

He hopes to earn a master’s degree in microbiology and become a laboratory doctor specializing in creating drugs to combat diseases like Ebola and malaria.

“I know it’s a big dream, but I can do it,” he said.

Right now, he’s happy every time he adds an English-speaking contact into his phone.